Letter to the Editor: the Greatest Legislation
The recent dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington D. C and the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy in France has focused a great deal of attention upon the veterans of this war, "The Greatest Generation" as designated by Tom Brokaw.
Another anniversary of great consequences should have been noted in late June as well,
June 22 was the 60th anniversary of the enactment of the the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944", commonly known as the "G I Bill of Rights" , Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt this could properly be termed the greatest legislation passed in the 20th century.
In its enacted form, the GI Bill provided six benefits: education and training; loan guarantees for homes, farms or businesses; unemployment pay of $20,00 a week of up to 52 weeks; job-finding assistance; top priority for building materials for veterans hospitals; and military review of dishonorable discharges,
A great deal of drama surrounded the GI Bill on its road to enactment. The original bill was introduced in Congress by Rep, John Rankin of Mississippi on Jan, 10, 1944. A day later Sen. J. Bennett Clark ot Missouri Introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Opposition surfaced, primarily over the unemployment provision of the bill. Fear was expressed that this would lead to what would be called the "52-20 Clubs" or the idea that there would be veterans with no plans to become employed as long as they could collect $20 a week for a year. After much log rolling in the Senate the provision survived and the Senate version, of the bill was approved without a dissenting vote on March 24, 1944,
In the House, however, it was a different picture. Rankin, as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Legislation, refused to allow the bill out of his committee. A southern segregationist, Rankin was concerned that blacks would take undue advantage of the unemployment provisions and lead to the "52-20 Club." A subsequent public affairs blitz orchestrated by newspapers, radio and the public finally convinced the members of Rankin's committee to take the unusual action of overriding him. The House then approved the bill without a dissenting vote.
From there the bill went to the joint Senate-House conference committee where the education and loan provisions were quickly approved. but a 3-3 deadlock developed on the job placement and unemployment provisions. The tie breaker was Rep. John Gibson who was back in his Georgia district recovering from an illness. Deadlock would have doomed the bill unless closure was reached at a conference meeting scheduled tor June 8. Officials of the VFW and the American Legion knew it was imperative to get Gibson to Washington where he would vote for approval. Contact was finally made with Gibson in Georgia at 11 p,m, on June 7 and he was driven 200 miles to Jacksonville, Fla. There he boarded a specialy cleared flight, arriving in Washington at 6:37 a.m. in time to cast the deciding vote at 10 a.m.
The Senate then approved the bill on June 12 and the House on June 13 to set up the signing ceremony by Pres. Roosevelt on June 22. The GI Bill was color blind; if someone was good enough. to fight for and possibly die for America, he or she was good enough to enjoy all the rights of an American.
When the initial program ended in 1956, 7.8 million out of 15.4 million veterans of World War II had enrolled in some sort of education or training program. Over the years the GI Bill changed the face of America. Education became a necessity. Mortgage lending was altered to the point that home ownership is a national goal. Veterans acquired home ownership can be directly attributed to the loan guarantee section of the bilL
The World War II bill actually has become a living law, setting the stage for subsequent GI Bills. President Truman approved a Korean War GI Bill in 1952. President Johnson approved a Vietnam era G I Bill in 1965, This was followed by the Montgomery GI Bill to aid service personnel with educational benefits foilowing discharge.