by Louise Bryant, 1932

transcribed/research/collected by antoinette nora claypoole
footnotes at the END of this piece...

from a cable[i] , an interview with Walter W. Waters, 1932

Washington, D.C., July 7. –“Commander-in-Chief” Walter W. Waters of the B. E. F. said he would be late and it was after 10 P.M when he finally arrived at the hotel lobby.
     I went over and shook hands.  He didn’t say anything but only smiled.  We went into a little writing room in silence.
     In spite of his youthful look and his obvious good health, the general of the Bonus Army[ii] looked dead tired.  When we sat down he leaned over the table supporting his head  in his hands.
     “You’re tired,” I said, “Can I get you something?”
     “Yes,”  he replied, “I’d like some coffee.”
     He spoke with a pleasant voice, low and soft like Southerners.  He was wearing a Khaki Shirt and trousers.
     He was bareheaded.  He was very tanned and his blond hair was burned by the sun.  His blue eyes looked at one frankly, I could understand how he could keep men in order.
     “Well,” he said, pouring out his coffee, “What are you going to write about me?”
     I said, “Something to make you seem human, you are already getting to be legendary.”
     “Alright, go ahead.  I don’t feel legendary.  Sorry I was late but I’ve got a parade tomorrow and there is only food for breakfast.”
     “Will you break up the camp if you can’t get food?”
     “No,” he replied.  “Put that down and get it straight.  We are not going, we are staying here whatever happens.  We can’t go.  If we go we are licked, beaten.  We are going to stay until some action is taken on the Bonus.”
     “Well supposing your Senators and Congressmen go home and leave you flat:”
     “Let them do it,” he said in his even, quiet voice “We will stay right here.  If we are here a year from now we will be 200,00 strong and every town in America will have a little army of it’s own.”
     “Some people  say you are fascists but that’s not true is it?:
     “Of course not,” he explained, “The fascists took over the government and Mussolini became the dictator.  We are not trying to do that.  We believe in this form of government but we don’t believe in the men who run it.”
     “Are you for Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt for president?”
      “I don’t know.  How can I now until I know what stand he is taking on the Bonus.  I want to talk to him and find out.”
     “How did you get into this movement?”  I asked.
     “It was simple enough.  I didn’t have a job.  I couldn’t get one.  Not any kind of a job.  I’ve got a wife and two children.  I can’t let them starve.  All the veterans were talking it over.
      We all knew that when the bankers want to settle anything or the big corporations they just send somebody down to Washington to lobby for them or they go themselves.  So we came right to headquarters ourselves.
     “We didn’t come the way they do, in a Pullman, with good meals and maybe, a bottle on their hips.  We walked or road the freights.  And it was pretty tough on the men.  When they started they were already in Bad condition.  They are rested now and what food they have is well cooked.”
     “Who cooks for them?”
     “Army cooks.  They have worked night and day and they have done marvelous work.  There are only three main cooks, six second cooks and a lot of helpers.  The cook two meals a day for those thousands of men.”
     “You haven’t had much sickness?”
     “No, we’ve been lucky.  Most of the men arrived in bad condition, feet on the ground and physically ill from beating the rails.” “I didn’t see a single policeman in camp today,” I told him.
     “Oh, they’re not needed” he said, “our own M. P.’s (military police) keep it in order but there’s not much trouble anyhow.”
     Don’t you have trouble from the communists and the more radical groups?”
     “Not exactly,” he said, “I’m not against those fellows.  I’m not against anybody.  I have sympathy for anybody that can’t find work and can’t make a living in this country.
     People can tell lies about me but I haven’t got any personal ambition.
     If these boys could get their bonus I’d just like to fade out of the picture and take my wife and children and for a little rest.”
     “But doesn’t it occur to you that even if you get the Bonus that will not settle things?  There will still be unemployment and conditions might get worse.  What if things go to pieces pretty generally in this country?”  I asked.
     Now that’s different,” he said very seriously, “I know that this Bonus Expeditionary Force is a sort of wedge that will start other things going It has brought men together and mad them think
     “They will stop wasting their votes and make votes stand for something.”
     “Do you think they’ll send the Marines or the regular Army Troops against you if your army doesn’t leave Washington?”
     “No,” he said, “I don’t think they’ll do that.  I don’t think the soldiers would fire on us.[iii]  We are all soldiers, too.  The police don’t want to fire on us.  We are all friends.  If the Government could only understand anything they would know that all this makes our movement a very serious one.”
     “Would you talk help from the Russians?”  I ask him.
     He smiled and answered quickly:
     “If I were a Russian I’d offer help to this Army just as a gesture and if we ever get an offer like that we would refuse it however hungry we were.  But it might make our government a little bit ashamed.”
     He put his hand wearily on his forehead and I poured him some more coffee.
     He turned back to me and went on:
     “I’m in this Army with all my heart and soul.  And I’m going to see it trough.”
     I told him he had better go home and take a rest.  It was nearly Midnight.  He rose to go.
     “I don’t know whether I did much for you,” he said.  “You see I’m a little tired, don’t sleep very well, too much to worry about.”
     He told me that he was born in Burns, Oregon, is thirty-five and was “educated in the University of Hard Knocks.”  Before losing his job, he was superintendent of a canning factory at Portland, Ore.
     He speaks a clear, excellent English, never using slang or making grammatical errors.  One would be sure to think, if he didn’t tell you, that he had graduated from Yale or Harvard.
     We walked to the door and I was saying that I had two brothers in the war and that one was blind.
     He shook my hand in a firm soldier’s grasp.
     “We’ll all stick together,” he said.

     Then hatless, he walked away into the night.


[i] this is transcribed from an original copy of a cable sent by Louise Bryant.  She used ALL CAPS in the transmission.  The only thing that has been changed in the transcription here is a conversion to lower case, for the purpose of easy reading.  from The Louise Bryant Papers, Yale. 

[ii] the Bonus Army was a worker response to poverty/unemployment in America.  Veterans of WWI had been promised a bonus for serving, but payment would not come due until 1945.  The veterans were requesting payment earlier and organized a campaign with those demands. "The Bonus Army" EyeWitness to History, (2000). Also,   Bartlett, John Henry, The Bonus March and the New Deal (1937); Daniels, Roger, The Bonus March; an Episode of the Great Depression (1971).
[iii] in fact, the U.S. Government did send in police to fire on and kill people in the Bonus Army Camp.  Many were murdered by police and the camp was burned to the ground. ibid.