A Gene McVay TEACHING MOMENT:
The historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC where Donald Trump delivered his Foreign Policy Speech, is not just another hotel. The skin deep political commentators would not know this nor are they likely to care.
A former fighter pilot and past National Commander of The American Legion, Harry Colmery, set down in his room at the Mayflower Hotel and wrote the original GI Bill on hotel stationary. Harry knew that our troops would soon be returning home to a country brought to its knees by the Great Depression and World War II. With the influence of The American Legion and other Veteran’s organizations, the GI Bill finally came up for a vote in the United States Senate. The vote resulted in a tie. An absent Senator was rushed back to Washington to break the tie. The GI Bill passed by one vote.
Prior to its passage, detractors feared that helping pay the education expenses of veterans would lead to overcrowding at colleges, which before World War II were accessible predominantly to members of society’s upper class. Critics were concerned that veterans would wreak havoc on educational standards and overburden campuses with their lack of preparation for the rigors of higher learning. Some people like the president of the University of Chicago and the president of Harvard worried that this was going to make institutions of higher learning into “hobo jungles” as they put it. To bring in the riff raff.
Turns out the GI’s had an altogether different effect on the once clubby bastions of college life, 25-year old guys who’d stormed beaches in combat gear had no time for freshman beanies or raccoon coats. They were on a mission. Most Vets worked with grim concentration towards a degree or a job. They were defter and quicker because of wartime skills. They knew how to tackle a job and get it done. One WWII Vet, George Schultz said, “We were there strictly to learn something. And we were demanding. I think it helped to raise the standards all across America. And now we have, without any question, the best system of higher education in the world.”
Historians say the GI Bill fueled a major expansion of the nation’s higher education system and made college a cornerstone of middle-class American life. Marine Captain George Schultz did pretty well with his GI Bill education. He taught at MIT and Chicago and ran a big construction company. George Schultz also served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Reagan.
Approximately 7.8 million World War II veterans received benefits under the original GI Bill, and 2.2 million of those used the program for higher education. By 1947 half of all college students were veterans. Prefabricated buildings and Quonset huts were used as classrooms, and military barracks were often converted into dormitories. I know you are shocked that learning can take place outside of marble buildings!
The GI Bill was not just Landmark Legislation; it has also been called the greatest Legislation of all time. The Veterans who benefited payed America back ten times over.
Harry Colmery was also a member of the Republican National Policy Committee, Chairman of the Republican Veterans League and Chairman of the Veterans Division of the Republican Presidential campaigns from 1940 through 1956. Congress passed a unanimous resolution calling for Harry Colmery to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously. That has never happened but I think I can tell you Harry didn’t do it for personal recognition.