In 1675, during King Philip’s War, which broke the long peace in Massachusetts between the English settlers and the Narragansett Indians, the colony promised grants of land in addition to wages to the men who fought . The colony did not make good on that promise until nearly fifty–five years had passed. Such has often been the case for the veteran in America. Despite the invaluable service and sacrifices they have rendered for their country, recognition for their deeds has frequently come decades later. Veterans of the War of 1812 were voted land grants in1850, but were not offered pensions until 1870. In 1932, the Bonus Army descended on Washington asking not to have to wait until 1945 for full payment of their signing bonus for World War I. Instead, they were dispersed by troops commanded by Army Chief of Staff Douglas McArthur.
The two great exceptions to this sort of neglect were the Union veterans of the Civil War and the veterans of World War II. Congress passed the first pension bill for disabled Union veterans in February 1862, after barely a year of war. The Serviceman Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill, gave unprecedented benefits to returning veterans, including unemployment stipends, tuition and college expenses, home loans, and medical service at newly established veteran’s hospitals. Of course with the high participation rates in these two conflicts, the returning soldiers constituted a huge and potentially powerful portion of the voting public.
Like the debates over direct benefits for veterans, memorials for the dead have an equally controversial history in the United States. From Bunker Hill to Little Big Horn, monuments have often been tied to political messages that have offended different groups and regions. Competing memorial days developed to honor the dead of the opposing sides in the Civil War. Armistice Day, originally honoring World War I veterans, was resented by survivors of other wars. In the wake of the Jim Crow and Civil Rights Eras, Confederate courthouse memorials are frequently attacked as monuments to racism, despite the devastating losses that many of these communities suffered during the war. Today, preservationists are frequently arrayed against developers fighting losing battles to protect the hallowed ground that was scene of some of this nation’s bloodiest battles, including the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Even widely supported efforts like the Vietnam Memorial have been the subject of lengthy debate over placement, style and design.
This new encyclopedia explores these parallel movements in American history. A timeline and introduction outline the development of veterans’ groups, memorials and benefits. The 121 alphabetically arranged entries trace the experiences of American veterans from the American Revolution to the Afghan and Iraqi Wars. Period entries focus on the number of participating soldiers, the support for the conflict at home, the types of benefits the soldiers received and the roles they played when returning to private life. The politics behind the passage of pension proposals gets particular attention. Other entries focus on the numerous health issues affecting veterans, from shell shock and the loss of limbs to exposure to Agent Orange and depleted uranium. Notable monuments, battlefield preservation and memorial celebrations are also reviewed. In addition to veterans of particular conflicts, the experiences of select groups, such as women, African Americans, American Indians, Filipinos, and even Brazilians who served with American forces in World War II are described in detail. Evidence of the changing image of veterans is outlined in surveys of popular film and literature. Various veteran groups and their social and political activities serve as the focus of other investigations. The selection of 39 primary documents includes tributes, memorials and poems in honor of veterans as well as examples of protests, petitions and testimony from the soldiers themselves. Appendices include an annotated list of 46 veterans’ organizations plus a geographically arranged guide to hundreds of veteran’s monuments, memorials and museums. This unique examination of an important part of American culture is highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.