In February 1931, with the Depression raging, World War I private Joseph T. Angelo went to the Capitol to lobby the House Ways and Means Committee for early payment of war bonuses, deferred compensation veterans had been promised by Congress. The next year, with the bonuses still unpaid and the economy even worse, tens of thousands of beleaguered veterans set upon Washington to demand their fair share. Below, a condensed excerpt from Angelo’s testimony.
Joseph T. Angelo: My comrade and I hiked here from nine o’clock Sunday morning, when we left Camden. I done it all by my feet—shoe leather. I was not picked up by any machine. I would not accept. Why? I come to show you people that we need our bonus. We wouldn’t want it if we didn’t need it. I represent 1,800 from Jersey. They are just like myself—men out of work. I have got a little home back there that I built with my own hands after I came home from France. Now, I expect to lose that little place.
Congressman James A. Frear: What is your business?
Angelo: Nothing. I am nothing but a bum now.
Frear: You say you have not worked for two years?
Angelo: I have not worked for a year and a half. But there is no work in my hometown.
Congressman Charles R. Crisp: Mr. Angelo, with your marvelous record of heroism and service to the country, which undoubtedly must be known in your community, have you been unable to find any employment?
Angelo: Yes, sir. I went to the Fire Department when I came home from France in 1919. I don’t weigh much. I only weighed 107 pounds when I went on the scales in Uncle Sam’s Army. And when I went to the Fire Department, they told me I was too light. Now wait a minute. Give me two years in the Fire Department, and I would weigh as heavy as any of them. Why? Because they are always sitting around. [Laughter.]
Crisp: I do not blame you in the least for feeling aggrieved. I do not think you have been treated right.
Angelo: I have not. I have not had a square deal.
Congressman Allen T. Treadway: You have a service certificate, have you not?
Angelo: Yes, sir.
Treadway: How much does that call for?
Angelo: $1,444 if I live twenty years, but I don’t think I will ever see twenty years.
Treadway: Have you borrowed on it?
Angelo: Yes, sir; I have borrowed on it. By the time I have got it, I won’t have nothing.
Treadway: That is all the cash you have had in a year and a half?
Angelo: Yes, sir.
Treadway: Would you be able to borrow further on that certificate?
Angelo: I can make money. I can make lots of money, but, you know, we have a law of the United States. I could go bootlegging, but what am I doing? I could have went to France and I could have run out of my outfit and got in the dugout and hid away from the fires. Which is the best, to be a live coward or a dead hero? Sometimes it pays a whole lot, you know, to be a live coward and not a dead hero. But when this was put on me, brothers, I wasn’t worried when I went through. I wanted to win battles. I wasn’t worrying. And when I came back I went home to my father. When I came home I saw the big, fat woman sitting in the seat. I knowed her from next door to my father. I said, “She is the last woman you want on earth.” So when I came I looked at her, and I says to my father, “Pop, what is she doing here?” He says, “That is my wife.” I says, “Oh my God.” He says, “Well.” She says, “You get out of here. You get out of here,” and that was my welcome home, and I got out. [Laughter] So folks, I tell you all I will say to you is, help us through with the bonus. That is the best answer for you folks to give to the fellow at home. Don’t forget me for a job. That is all I care for. [Applause.]