Where Do We Go From Here?

A New Organization of Veterans Gives Its Answer

by Charles G. Bolte, Chairman, American Veterans Committee

American Veterans Committee meetsThe generation which fought World War II is largely the same generation which fought the battle for jobs during the depression. Many of the men and women who served during this war were in the CCC camps, were on NYA, WPA, or had to wait the year 'round for a week's work during the Christmas rush at the post office or department stores. They don't want another war as the means of relief from the monotony of unemployment.

The American Veterans Committee -- a new, democratic veterans' organization composed of men and women who served in World War II in the armed forces, the Merchant Marine, and the Maritime Service -- is not out to seek special privileges for veterans. There are many individual problems on which returning servicemen and seamen need help, such as readjustment, rehabilitation, care for the disabled, re-education, and many more, and on such matters they should be supplied with all facilities for help. However, at the roots is the fact that what most veterans need and want is the opportunity to become a productive part of the community -- self-respecting citizens with jobs. We don't want to be a special group set apart -- ex-servicemen with bonuses instead of jobs.

The major problems of the veteran are the same as the major problems of the nation, and there can be no difference in their solution. Inflation, farm foreclosures, factories running at half-speed in the nation mean mass unemployment and economic dislocation for the veteran. Discrimination and intolerance spell disaster for the veteran just as much as they do for the nation as a whole. On the other hand, peace for the nation means peace for the veteran who fought for it, and his children.

Men and women do not join the American Veterans Committee to become professional veterans, nor to secure special privileges. They are men and women who fought the war and who want to take their places as a group in the postwar world to make sure this time that there will be no mistakes. The goals of AVC are basic and universal: Peace, jobs and freedom in a more democratic and prosperous America and a more stable world.

Our aims are set forth in a Statement of Intentions which all members are asked to sign:
"We look forward. to becoming civilians, raising a family, and living in freedom from the threat of another war. But that was what most Americans wanted from the last war. They found that military victory does not automatically bring peace, jobs, or freedom. To guarantee our interests, which are those of our country, we must work for what we want:

Therefore we are associating ourselves with American men and women, regardless of race, creed or color, who are serving with or have been honorably discharged from our armed forces, Merchant Marine, or Allied forces. When we are demobilized it will be up to all of us to decide what action can best further our aims.

These will include:
"Adequate financial, medical, vocational and educational assistance for every veteran.
"A job for every veteran, under a system of private enterprise in which business, labor, agriculture and government work together to provide full employment and full production for the nation.
"Thorough social and economic security.
"Free speech, press, worship, assembly and ballot.
"Disarmament of Germany and Japan and the elimination of the power of their militarist classes.
"Active participation of the United States in the United Nations Organization to stop any threat of aggression and to promote social and economic measures which will remove the causes of war.
"Establishment of an international veterans' council for the furtherance of world peace and justice among the peoples of all nations."

Since the Statement of Intentions was drawn up, in 1943, AVC has opened membership to members of the Merchant Marine and Maritime Service and men and women war correspondents, in recognition of their great contribution to the war effort and the services. AVC is the only veterans' organization which has given men of the Maritime Service and Merchant Seamen this recognition.

 

 American Veterans Committee, Edward J. McHale interviews applicant At New York headquarters of the American Veterans Committee, Edward J. McHale interviews a Maritime Service petty officer, applicant for membership in the new vets' organization.



Among the men of the Maritime Service who are active in AVC are Howard McCalla, now Chairman of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Veterans Committee, and Commodore Harry H. Dreany, Assistant Commandant of the U.S. Maritime Service and a member of AVC's Armed Forces Advisory Committee.

Other men and women helping to direct AVC's policies are Col. Evans F. Carlson of the U. S. Marine Corps, Armed Forces Advisory Committee; Capt. Alice B. Davey, WAC, Armed Forces Advisory Committee; Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., recently discharged from the Navy, a member of AVC's National Planning Committee; John Hersey, war correspondent and author of A Bell For Adano, Michael Straight, well-known writer, and Grant Reynolds, former director of the Cleveland National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also members of the National Planning Committee. Among our active members are Lt. Comdr. Oren Root, campaign manager for Wendell Willkie, and Burgess Meredith, Lt. William F. Holden, and Capt. Ronald Reagan, motion picture actors.

The American Veterans Committee was started in November of 1942, when a young Californian in the Army Air Forces, Sgt. Gilbert A. Harrison, wrote a group of his friends in service, asking how they thought they could really get what they were fighting for on the battlefields. The answer came back: A new and wholly-democratic organization of veterans. This was the actual beginning.

The job was not easy, though. Sgt. Harrison recently wrote from Manila:
"Actually, all this discussion took place under confusing circumstances. A few men would, from time to time, get together if they were stationed near enough to one another. But for the most part the discussion went on by mail, among GI's scattered around the States and the world. It was a cumbersome hut democratic method of reaching agreement. And when a decision was reached, it was backed by plenty of thought."

The American Veterans Committee was started because it was felt that we could not sign over to an older organization our rights and obligations to solve the problems which had not been solved the last time. As one gunner on a Flying Fortress in the South Pacific wrote:
"We need a new organization because we have new problems. If we go into the old organizations there'll be continual quarreling between our generation and our fathers' generation, and we'll always remember that the old organizations, despite their success with the bonus, didn't succeed, for all their efforts, in doing much about peace, jobs and freedom-which are a hell of a lot more important."

The majority of the members of the American Veterans Committee are still in service. Consequently, as the Statement of Intentions makes clear, our final structure and methods will not be settled until more men and women return and democratically decide them. In the meanwhile, those of us who are at home and steering the organization which has its national offices at 554 Madison Ave., N. Y., poll the membership frequently on major questions so that AVC's policies are truly representative and democratic.

Members are also kept posted on current events of major importance through a semi-monthly publication called The Bulletin, which also features letters containing expressions of members' opinions.

AVC is not an organization of good intentions only. We are transforming our intentions into action now:

We have testified before Congressional Committees in favor of the Seamen's War Service Bill, the Liberalization of the GI Bill of Rights, and the Murray Full-Employment-Bill, which we endorse because unemployment is too dangerous a problem to be handled by the haphazard methods of the past.

AVC also played a large part in securing the changes in the medical administration of the Veterans Administration. Our article, The Veterans Runaround, which appeared in Harper's magazine last April, was picked up by newspaper columnists throughout the country and used as a springboard for action on the inefficiency of the VA. Action by other organizations followed.

AVC is the first veterans' organization to have taken leadership in the problem of housing in New York, probably the most critical problem facing the nation and the veteran today. A meeting on October 24, sponsored by the American Veterans Committee, and attended by veterans and their families who are without homes, was said by housing authorities in New York City to be "the biggest and most effective meeting on housing to be held in New York in the last five years.

A Committee was elected which includes Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., an AVC member and the main speaker at the housing meeting. This committee is consulting with officials in New York and Washington in an endeavor to secure immediate action to remedy the acute housing shortage, by erection of temporary housing, transference of vacant war housing, and other means. Action will follow on a national scale.

On the international scale, AVC was the only World War II veterans' organization to play an official role at the San Francisco Conference. The organization was invited by the State Department to send delegates to act as official consultants to the U. S. Delegation at the Conference, and Captain (formerly Commander) Harold E. Stassen selected two AVC members to act as his personal advisers.

At San Francisco also, the United Nations Veterans League, an international veterans' organization, was formed, with AVC the American member. Although the League is still in formative stages, it promises to become the starting point of a unifying force and influence among the veterans and peoples of the world.

An AVC member wrote some time ago, "I hope we shall act more as citizens of the world than as veterans of the American armed forces."

The men who fought this war have learned the hard way America's folly in attempting to retreat from the world after the last war, and they are determined to see to it that we have a strong policy of international collaboration this time. The American Veterans Committee supports and is working for a strong United Nations Organization. We feel that this is the best and most lasting solution to the problem of helping the veteran find his place in a more stable world.

The National Headquarters of the American Veterans Committee has been established at 554 Madison Ave., New York City. The staff is equipped to supply promptly by mail or otherwise, full particulars on organization, membership, or other matters relating to AVC's activities, plans, and purposes.

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Charles G. Bolte
Charles G. Bolte
 
The author, a native New Yorker brought up in Greenwich, Conn., began his career there on a local newspaper. A graduate of Dartmouth in June, 1941, he joined the British Army and spent a year under Montgomery in the Middle East, where, in the battle of El Alamein, he lost a leg. It was just a few months later, after he had married and become a military writer for OWI, that the 25-year-old veteran heard of the American Veterans Committee, an informal group of men in the Armed Forces. In 1944 Bolte was asked to become chairman of the new group. Now, though he devotes most of his time to AVC affairs, he still finds time for some free-lance writing, and has just finished a book entitled "The New Veteran," to be published soon.



Source: MAST, U.S. Maritime Service, November 1945

Merchant Seamen's War Service Act
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