The GI Bill Turns 75
Reprinted with the permission on The American Legion Magazine.
The History of the GI Bill
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (commonly known as the GI Bill) almost didn’t happen. The battle came down to a deadlocked conference committee in June 1944 that was broken by one of history’s most dramatic efforts to get a bill signed into law.
Former Illinois Gov. John Stelle, was appointed to lead the committee to distill all of The American Legion’s preferred benefits — including free college tuition, vocational training and $20 a week in unemployment pay for a maximum of 52 weeks — into a comprehensive bill containing 10 provisions. Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery of Kansas, in December of 1943, drafted the legislation by hand in a room of the Mayflower Hotel.
Several modifications would be made before it reached Congress, but the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 did not deviate from its 10 key provisions: college education, vocational training, readjustment pay, home and business loans, discharge review, adequate hospitalization, prompt settlement of disability claims, mustering-out pay, employment services and concentration of all these provisions under the Veterans Administration.
On March 17, 1944, the measure unanimously passed in the Senate, but the House remained stalled until May 18. A conference committee was assembled to marry the Senate and House versions. The House conferees were deadlocked 3-3 with the tie-breaking vote, that of Rep. John Gibson, who was in rural Georgia recovering from an illness.
The Legion got through to an operator in Atlanta who called Gibson’s home every five minutes until he answered at 11 p.m. The Legion, assisted by military and police escorts, then took Gibson on a 90-mile high-speed trip through a rainstorm to the Jacksonville, Fla., airport where he was flown to Washington, arriving shortly after 6 a.m.
He cast the vote to send the bill to the president’s desk and promised to make public the name of anyone who would vote against it, along with their reasons. The conference committee tie suddenly became unanimous in favor.
On June 22, 1944, flanked by lawmakers and members of The American Legion special committee, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 into law.