Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944)
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the G.I. Bill, was a landmark bill that provided returning servicemen and women with government-backed loans, a college or vocational education and a monthly stipend. Other services such as job counseling and unemployment benefits were also made available. All veteran-related issues were placed under the purview of Veterans’ Administration, with former General Omar Bradley, an architect of the D-Day invasion, at its helm. In World War II, the majority of returning soldiers were “citizen soldiers” who would require assistance in acclimating back into civilian life after their service. In order to preemptively provide solutions for this coming adjustment, the G.I. Bill was passed in 1944, weeks after the Normandy Landings on D-Day, long before the bulk of troops came home from Europe and the Pacific. After the unemployment issue following World War I and the Bonus Army debacle, the government realized its mistakes of not providing adequate services returning servicemen and this was their solution. Government backed loans for houses, cars, businesses and farms gave veterans the chance to start a new life for themselves and eventually their families. The upward mobility made possible by loans was bolstered by the option for a veteran to attend college tuition-free with a monthly stipend, depending on length and place of service. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, one-in-eight returning veterans attended college, nearly 2.2 million people, many of whom otherwise would not have had such an opportunity . Despite the unprecedented economic growth, it only mostly affected white male veterans. The local administration of the G.I. Bill meant African American veterans were largely excluded from receiving benefits and excluded from many higher education institutions. Segregation and “separate but equal” were still very much in place at home after World War II, even after black and white veterans alike spent years fighting for freedom and democracy abroad.
He Has Seen War, documentary (2011)
Through interviews with surviving members of the famed Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, dramatized in HBO’s Band of Brothers, and members of various regiments of the First Marine Division, featured in HBO’s The Pacific and their families, veterans of World War II, directly impacted by the passage of the G.I. Bill discuss their experience returning from the war and readjusting to life at home and how their experiences affected their loved ones. The documentary touches on topics such as physical and mental disabilities as a result of service, the overall transition from soldier to civilian and the role the government played in the transition. Many veterans featured in the series, all white, went to college and bought homes under the G.I. Bill and went on to have successful careers, but continued to be haunted by their time in Europe or the Pacific. For most, memories of their time in the Army or Marines plagued their lives and affected their family life. The end of the documentary delves into the importance of reunions for the men, as they provided a form of therapy for men who generally remained silent about their service in their everyday lives and continued the brotherhood formed on the battlefield. He Has Seen War provides a comprehensive look at the real-life effects of the G.I. Bill and the effect of combat in general on homecoming veterans of World War II.
China Marine, book by E.B. Sledge (2002)
E.B. Sledge’s posthumously published memoir details his experience in China in the six months following the end of World War II and experience adjusting to civilian life thereafter. Sledge was a mortarman in the famed First Marine Division and he experienced combat mainly during the Battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. While he sustained no physical wounds, one of a handful in his unit to escape such a fate, the war haunted him for decades after the war. Upon returning home to Mobile, Alabama in February 1946, Sledge took advantage of the G.I. Bill and went onto become an esteemed biology professor at the University of Montevallo. The latter half of the book details his recovery from PTSD type symptoms such as nightmares and reliving his experiences, symptoms also suffered by scores of veterans featured in John Huston’s documentary, Let There Be Light. While not as famous as his combat memoir, With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, China Marine tells the story of recovery and returning home from a life-changing war, an experience common among veterans of World War II.
Let There Be Light, documentary (1946)
At the direction of the Army, right after the end of World War II, director John Huston was tasked with creating a film about the treatment of veterans at a VA hospital in Long Island, New York. As his final assignment for the Army, Let There Be Light covered the treatment of a group of veterans from their arrival at the hospital to their integration back into society as a civilian and recovery. Rather than physical afflictions, these men suffered from what today is called PTSD, but was then called “battle fatigue” and “psycho-neurosis.” Huston depicts sessions of talk therapy as a course of treatment to return men to their pre-war selves. This film was an acknowledge of mental illness faced by veterans, a topic rarely discussed. So rarely discussed, that the release of the film was suppressed by the War Department, as it portrayed the experience of combat as a negatively transformative. Let There Be Light was finally released to the public in 1981. Strides made in the treatment of mentally afflicted veterans in the 1940s was a step in the right direction, leading to the 1981 addition of PTSD to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Notes John Bound and Sarah Turner, “Going to War and Going to College: Did World War II and the G.I. Bill Increase Educational Attainment for Returning Veterans?,” Journal of Labor Economics 20, no. 4 (October 2002): 785.