- "We Have Not Forgotten"The Ohio Korean War Veteran Bonus
Veterans across the state of Ohio looked forward to March 11, 1957. On that day, popularly called "D-Day" or "Distribution Day," forms arrived at drop off points across the state that Korean War veterans could use to apply for a Korean War bonus. In Cleveland, one reporter described "a curious mixture of festivity and seriousness" as the veterans filled out the forms. For many veterans, the reporter continued, the forms meant that the promised "money was very close by." The same atmosphere reigned elsewhere in the state. Veterans in Cincinnati, Marietta, Portsmouth, Marion, Lancaster, and elsewhere lined up to fill out their claims. Eleven days after D-Day, one state official reported that more than a hundred thousand applications had arrived in Columbus. The bonus as a recognition of services rendered excited veterans of the oft-labeled "forgotten" war.1
Bringing this historic moment to fruition was no easy process. The Ohio Bonus Bill's authors countered resistance from fiscal conservatives and politicians who criticized the American mission in Korea and Harry Truman's Cold War foreign policies that shaped it. Change in the fortunes of Ohio Governor Frank Lausche, compromise, and some assistance from veterans groups made the amendment's passage possible. Looking at the Korean War bonus provides insights into how American notions of obligations to veterans clashed with those advocating for tight budgets in the 1950s.
Explanation of the bonus's details is necessary in measuring its historical significance and how the bill was built. Longstanding Ohio laws about debt meant that the bonus bill produced in these circumstances could only be approved via constitutional amendment. Ohio voters provided such approval in the 1956 election. The terms of the bonus defined as eligible all people who served in the US military from June 25, 1950, to July 19, 1953, and who had been residents of Ohio for one year before the start of service. To qualify for the bonus, each veteran had to have an honorable discharge or still be in the service. The amendment provided compensation of $10 for each month of active domestic service and $15 for each month of foreign service. The bonus was capped at $400. Next of kin of deceased servicemen or servicewomen received $400 regardless of length of time served. Funded by a mill tax, the State's Sinking Fund Committee managed the bonds that paid for the bill. In the course of the program, veterans submitted over 232,400 claims, earning on average $257 in compensation.2 [End Page 3]
The amendment's passage is significant for what it says about notions of obligations to veterans in the twentieth century. The political, economic, and social context in the 1950s provided a seemingly perfect environment for killing a Korean War bonus bill. Mark Boulton tracked the national discussion on Korean War veteran benefits in his book Failing Our Veterans: The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation. He concludes that the GI Bill for Korean War veterans was not as expansive as the World War II bill because of the "perception among some lawmakers that the first G.I. Bill had been overly generous." American economic strength in the 1950s suggested to some legislators that there would need to be less of an effort to provide programs to help veterans rejoin the workforce. As part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's wider efforts at shrinking the federal budget, the president and his administration also aimed at cutting funding for veterans. Reviewing Republican fiscally conservative Ohioans' arguments for and against the Korean War bonus allows for fruitful analysis of interaction between notions of what veterans are owed and the drive for lean budgets.3
Acknowledging the support veterans' groups like the American Legion supplied to the effort to pass a bonus bill contrasts with current scholarship on Korean War veterans and activism. Historian Paul Edwards argued that the American Legion waged a "smear campaign" against Korean War veterans because the Legion members believed that the country's honor had been "besmirched by the failure to win in Korea." In one of the few social histories of Korean...