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Senate Stories | Military Affairs


Welcome to Senate Stories, our new Senate history blog. This blog features stories that reveal the depth and breadth of Senate history from the well-known and notorious to the unusual and whimsical. Presented to enlighten, amuse, and inform, Senate Stories explores the forces, events, and personalities that have shaped the modern Senate.

For more notable moments in Senate history, please visit our Historical Highlights collection.

World War I veterans demonstrate at the U.S. Capitol, 1932 202311 9The Senate and the Bonus Expeditionary Force of 1932
November 9, 2023
Just before Congress adjourned in the summer of 1932, thousands of desperate World War I veterans surrounded the U.S. Capitol. With the nation in the grips of the Great Depression, the House of Representatives had approved a bill to provide immediate cash payments to veterans. Servicemembers now waited anxiously as the Senate debated the same bill. At issue was the question, What did the nation owe its veterans?

Just before Congress adjourned in the summer of 1932, thousands of desperate World War I veterans surrounded the U.S. Capitol. With the nation in the grips of the Great Depression, the House of Representatives had approved a bill to provide immediate cash payments to veterans. Servicemembers now waited anxiously as the Senate debated the same bill. At issue was the question, What did the nation owe its veterans? After World War I, a Senate investigation into soldiers’ wartime pay found that enlisted men had received “very much less than that received by the lowest class of labor at home.” Veterans’ organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, lobbied Congress for additional compensation for those veterans. In 1922 the House and Senate approved a supplementary compensation bill, but President Warren G. Harding vetoed it. While he praised their service, Harding insisted that veterans would benefit more from a national tax cut than a one-time payment.1 The veterans persisted in their demands, however, and in 1924 Representative Hamilton Fish of New York, a decorated World War veteran, introduced an amended proposal to provide veterans with “adjusted service” certificates redeemable in 1945. The Adjusted Compensation Act, later known as the Bonus Act, would provide to veterans “a deferred interest-bearing certificate payable in 1945 or, upon the veteran’s death, to his beneficiaries.” Veterans who applied for certificates would be entitled in 1945 to receive additional compensation for their service, one dollar for every day served stateside and $1.25 per day for overseas service, plus the four percent interest accumulated over two decades. The Senate Finance Committee recommended the bill’s passage. “The purpose of the bill,” the committee wrote, “is to give to the soldier who offered his life with his services a compensation that will more nearly approach that of the laborer who remained at home, secure from danger, and whose compensation increased from 200 to 300 per cent.” Congress passed the legislation in May 1924. President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the bill, objecting to the cost of the proposal and its burden on taxpayers for the subsequent two decades. He noted that Congress had already provided financial support to disabled veterans and the dependents of those who died in the war. “We owe no bonus to able-bodied veterans of the World War.…The gratitude of the nation to these veterans can not be expressed in dollars and cents.” Congress promptly overrode his veto and millions of World War veterans applied for their certificates.2 Nearly five years later, President Herbert Hoover declared that the nation’s future was “bright with hope” in his inaugural address of March 1929, but not everyone shared his optimism. Persistent unemployment among World War veterans prompted further congressional action. Two veterans, Representative Wright Patman of Texas and Senator Smith Brookhart of Iowa, introduced bills to provide for immediate—rather than delayed—certificate payments. In October of that year a stock market crash, combined with tightened credit and a historic drought, plunged an already fragile economy into a crippling economic depression. Unemployment rates skyrocketed. The abrupt economic downturn increased calls for immediate financial relief for veterans. In the fall of 1931, a small group of veterans “rode the rails” from Oregon to the Capitol, where they petitioned lawmakers for prompt payment of their certificates. Congress did not respond at that time, but as the nation’s economic conditions worsened, the number of veterans demanding early payment multiplied. In cities from coast to coast, veterans began to organize. They named their burgeoning movement the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” or BEF for short, a reference to the American Expeditionary Forces that had fought in Europe during the war, and planned a march on Washington.3 In the spring of 1932, BEF chapters from across the country converged on Washington, where veterans presented to members of Congress petitions with more than two million signatures supporting immediate certificate payments. Despite the growing intensity of the veterans’ effort, congressional leaders balked at their proposal. Senate Minority Leader Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas announced his opposition: “I do not favor cash payments of adjusted service certificates.” With Congress focused on balancing budgets, editorials denounced the early payment proposal as fiscally irresponsible. “Two billion dollars cannot be picked from cherry trees by the Potomac,” opined the Chicago Tribune.4 Congress’s reluctance to address their demands did not deter veterans and their families from coming to Washington. Day after day, hundreds more arrived by foot, in cars, and by freight train. They built a sprawling shanty town on the Anacostia Flats and erected smaller encampments around the city. The BEF occupied deserted downtown buildings that were being demolished to make way for a new development known as the Federal Triangle. Soon the crowded camps, which lacked modern sanitation, posed public health problems. Dr. William Fowler, the District of Columbia’s health officer, declared the situation “frightful” and warned that “conditions are ideal for an outbreak of typhoid. The men bathe and wash their clothes in…the Potomac, and it is little more than an open sewer.” Despite the primitive living conditions, veterans vowed to remain in Washington. “We came here to stay until the bonus bill is passed,” declared one of the BEF leaders.5 Disregarding the Hoover administration’s opposition to an early payment scheme, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill to provide for immediate redemption of the face value of the certificates. Next, the bill went to the Senate, where it was referred to the Finance Committee. Reed Smoot of Utah, the committee chairman, opposed the proposal, and the committee recommended that the bill “not pass.” “There is no evidence that the veterans as a class are any more in need than other groups of our citizens,” the committee report concluded. The Senate agreed to debate the bill the following day.6 On June 17, 1932, veterans packed the Senate galleries, impatient for the debate to begin. Thousands more crowded onto the East Front Plaza of the Capitol, where they awaited periodic updates from the bill’s supporters. Ten hours of contentious floor debate followed. Opponents argued that immediate cash payment of the certificates—the cost of which far exceeded the government’s annual revenues—was fiscally irresponsible. Others insisted that the best way to support veterans—and all the nation’s unemployed—would be a national works program, rather than early payment of certificates. The bill’s supporters noted that Congress had provided financial support to a variety of special interests during the economic depression. Senator John Blaine of Wisconsin reminded senators that Congress had set aside loan programs “designed for the railroads and the banks and the insurance companies and for the House of Morgan,” while the veterans’ bill was “designed for the relief of human misery.” Senator Thomas Schall of Minnesota pleaded with his colleagues, “We owe the veterans. Why keep them waiting until 1945?” But as the debate wore on, it became clear that the bill had only tepid support in the Senate. John “Elmer” Thomas of Oklahoma, the bill’s Senate sponsor, acknowledged its likely defeat. “When will the Senate of the United States pay this sacred and patriotic debt?” Thomas inquired. “My fellow Senators, are you proud of the record that has been made?…Billions for big business, but not a sou for soldiers!” Shortly after nine o’clock that evening, the Senate defeated the bill by a lopsided margin of 62 to 18. Outside the Capitol, reporters relayed the news to disappointed veterans, who broke into a chorus of “America” and then peacefully dispersed.7 But the next morning, veterans returned to the Capitol, vowing to remain in Washington and continue lobbying Congress for immediate payment of their certificates. The Senate was unmoved by the ongoing demonstrations at the Capitol. Congress instead approved a bill to allow veterans to borrow against their certificates to cover food and transportation costs to return to their home states. Few took the loan option. Instead, veterans continued to stream into the capital city. As Congress prepared to adjourn, Vice President Charles Curtis grew so alarmed at the swelling crowd at the Capitol that he called in the Marines from the nearby barracks. They marched to the Crypt under the Capitol dome and awaited orders before Curtis abruptly revoked the order and sent them back to their barracks. Tensions between the BEF and elected officials, however, continued to mount.8 Congress adjourned on July 16, and four days later city officials issued an eviction notice to BEF leaders. The Hoover administration reasoned that, with Congress adjourned, the BEF no longer had a reason to remain in the city. A building contractor with salvage rights to the half-demolished buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue threatened to sue the government for financial losses because the BEF still occupied those buildings. More than 11,600 veterans had taken up residency in abandoned buildings and shanty towns, and hundreds of women and children occupied the camps, too. The eviction process began peacefully on July 28, but violence soon erupted. When Washington police attempted to evict the squatters, the veterans threw bricks and the police opened fire, killing two veterans. Fearing a riot, President Hoover called out the U.S. Army, under General Douglas MacArthur's command. MacArthur pledged to “break the back of the BEF.” Tanks rolled into the capital city and soldiers, with fixed bayonets, began rounding up veterans and bystanders alike. MacArthur’s soldiers not only emptied out the Pennsylvania Avenue buildings but crossed the Anacostia River and set fire to the largest BEF camp. The next day’s newspapers featured photographs of the army routing its own veterans.9 The demands of the Bonus Expeditionary Force in 1932, and the electoral consequences that followed its expulsion from Washington, taught some members of Congress a lesson they would not soon forget. Americans blamed Hoover and many of his congressional allies for mistreating the BEF and failing to end the Great Depression. In the November 1932 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt bested Hoover in a landslide, and 14 Senate incumbents lost reelection. Over the next two Congresses, those who favored immediate certificate payments gained new allies among freshmen members more sensitive to the plight of veterans. In 1936 bipartisan majorities in Congress finally approved the immediate payment of certificates. Eight years later, with the nation again at war, Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights as a more productive and humane way of recognizing and rewarding America’s returning World War II veterans.
1. Senate Committee on Finance, Veterans’ Adjusted Compensation Bill, 67th Cong. 1st sess., S. Rpt. 133, 2. 2. Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen, The Bonus Army: An American Epic (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2020), 21–28; Stephen R. Ortiz, Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill: How Veteran Politics Shaped the New Deal Era (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 27–28; Senate Committee on Finance, Veterans’ Adjusted Compensation Bill, 67th Cong. 1st sess., S. Rpt. 133, 1; Calvin Coolidge, “Message to the House of Representatives Returning Without Approval a Bill Providing for Adjusted Compensation for War Veterans,” May 15, 1924, Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, accessed November 1, 2023, 3. “Inaugural Address of Herbert Hoover,” March 4, 1929, The Avalon Project, accessed November 1, 2023,; Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 59. 4. “Robinson and Rainey Lead Fight on Bonus: United Attack Leads to Party Split,” New York Times, April 12, 1932, 1; “No on the Bonus!” Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1932, 12. 5. “Capital Asks States to Halt Bonus Trek; Epidemic is Feared,” New York Times, June 10, 1932, 1; Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 100. 6. Senate Committee on Finance, Payment of Adjusted-Compensation Certificates, S. Rpt. 834, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., 6. 7. Congressional Record, June 17, 1932, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., 13240, 13247, 13271; Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 130. 8. “Senate Votes Bonus Army Fares Home,” Hartford Courant, July 8, 1932, 20; “Curtis Revokes Order to Clear Capitol of Vets,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 15, 1932, 3. 9. Dickson and Allen, Bonus Army, 153–82.
J. William “Bill” Fulbright (D-AR) with President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968 202306 12Chairman J. William Fulbright and the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution
June 12, 2023
In early August 1964, two reported attacks on American navy ships in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to ask Congress to approve a joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Southeast Asia without a congressional declaration of war. Senator J. William “Bill” Fulbright of Arkansas ensured swift passage of what came to be known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, a role that he would later come to regret.

In early August 1964, two reportedly unprovoked attacks on American navy ships in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf near North Vietnam became key events in the evolution of congressional war powers. For nearly a decade, American policymakers had viewed South Vietnam as a critical Cold War ally. Republican and Democratic administrations had provided the independent South Vietnamese government with financial assistance and military advisors to combat ongoing threats from its communist neighbor, North Vietnam. In the summer of 1964, the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam included approximately 12,000 military advisors, as well as a naval presence in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf. On August 2, an American destroyer, the USS Maddox, came under fire by North Vietnamese boats while supporting a South Vietnamese covert operation in the Gulf. Two days later, the commander of the Maddox reported “being under continuous torpedo attack” while on patrol with a second destroyer, the USS C. Turner Joy.1 After the second reported attack, President Lyndon B. Johnson summoned congressional leaders, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman J. William “Bill” Fulbright of Arkansas, to the White House for a briefing. Citing the second unprovoked attack, President Johnson informed lawmakers that he would be launching retaliatory strikes against North Vietnamese targets, a unilateral action that he believed he could take in his constitutional capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces. Like President Dwight D. Eisenhower before him, Johnson wished to secure congressional approval—in advance—for any future military actions he may wish to take to protect national interests in the region. Consequently, Johnson asked lawmakers to approve the Southeast Asia Resolution to “promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia,” by authorizing the commander in chief “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the … United States and to prevent further aggression.” Fulbright and his colleagues voiced their support for the air strikes and the resolution. Hours later, Johnson publicly announced that he had ordered attacks on North Vietnam while affirming that his administration did not seek a wider war.2 The next morning, Johnson personally asked Fulbright to shepherd the administration’s joint Southeast Asia Resolution, which came to be known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, swiftly through the Senate. The administration had modeled it after two 1950s resolutions that had provided President Dwight D. Eisenhower with congressional authorization to use military force if necessary to defend allies from Communist aggressors in Formosa (today Taiwan) and the Middle East. “The Constitution assumes that our two branches of government should get along together,” Eisenhower later recalled of the effort to obtain congressional authorization for the use of military force. He preferred that any military response be an expression of the will of the legislative and executive branches. Under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, however, only Congress has the authority to declare war. During debates about the Eisenhower resolutions, Fulbright had expressed misgivings that Congress was relinquishing its constitutional war powers to the executive branch. Nevertheless, Fulbright did support the Formosa Resolution in 1955. (He was not present to cast a vote for the Middle East Resolution in 1957.) While President Eisenhower did not take the nation to war under those congressional authorizations, Congress had set a precedent in granting an administration such broad authority.3 Despite his earlier reservations, in 1964 Senator Fulbright readily agreed to shepherd the Tonkin Gulf Resolution through the Senate. Fulbright viewed President Johnson as a long-time friend and political ally. In 1959, while serving as Senate majority leader, Johnson had helped maneuver Fulbright into the coveted position of chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Leader Johnson fondly referred to Fulbright as “my secretary of state.” In 1960 Fulbright had supported Johnson’s candidacy in the Democratic presidential primary. Johnson won the vice-presidential nomination instead and in 1961 assumed the critical role of congressional liaison for President John F. Kennedy’s administration. In that capacity, Johnson’s warm relationship with Fulbright continued.4 As the Senate’s undisputed foreign policy expert, Fulbright understood that President Johnson had inherited a complex situation in Vietnam after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The domestic politics of responding to the North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. ships weighed on Fulbright’s mind as well. The resolution came “in the beginning of the contest between Johnson and [Barry] Goldwater” in the 1964 presidential election, Fulbright later recalled. “I was just overpersuaded … in my feelings that I ought to support the president.” Fulbright accepted the responsibility of delivering for the president a strong bipartisan political victory just months before the election.5 Shortly after Johnson announced the retaliatory strikes and his intention to seek congressional authorization for future military action, Americans rallied around the commander in chief. “Southeast Asia is our first line of defense; when an enemy attacks us there, he is in principle, attacking us on our native land,” declared Senator Frank Lausche of Ohio. Polls showed that the Johnson administration had the overwhelming support of the American public—with 85 percent supporting its response. A desire for peace must “not be misconstrued as weakness,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Los Angeles Times blamed “Communists” for “escalat[ing] the hostilities—an escalation we must meet.” Johnson’s political rival endorsed his actions, too. “We cannot allow the American flag to be shot at anywhere on earth if we are to retain our respect and prestige,” Barry Goldwater announced. Retaliatory strikes, Goldwater maintained, are the “only thing [the president] can do under the circumstances.”6 President Johnson sent the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to the Senate on the morning of August 5. Fulbright met with Senate leadership and administration officials to plot a strategy for its swift passage, emphasizing the need for quick action and repeating the official administration position that “hostilities on a larger scale are not envisaged.” Staff who recalled “soul-searching” Senate debates over Eisenhower’s Middle East Resolution in 1957—a debate that lasted for 13 days—were incredulous at Fulbright’s determination to rush the resolution through the Senate, but the Arkansas senator proved persuasive. As one historian later assessed, “The administration had skillfully cultivated a crisis atmosphere that seemed to leave little room for debate.”7 On August 6, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman convened a joint executive session with the Armed Services Committee. During that session, which lasted a little more than an hour-and-a-half, senators posed few substantive questions of the witnesses representing the administration, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. “As much as I would like to be consulted with on this kind of thing,” Senator Russell Long of Louisiana told the president’s advisors, “the less time you spend on consulting and the quicker you shoot back the better off you are.” Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon was the exception, challenging the administration’s claim that the attacks had been unprovoked. Tipped off by a Pentagon officer, Morse inquired if North Vietnam might have interpreted recent joint United States-South Vietnam covert operations as provocations. Secretary of Defense McNamara said no. The committee voted 14-1—Morse provided the dissenting vote—to send the resolution to the full Senate for its consideration.8 A few hours after the committee vote, Fulbright stood at his desk in the Senate Chamber and urged “the prompt and overwhelming endorsement of the resolution now before the Senate.” He had secured a unanimous consent agreement to limit the debate over the resolution to three hours, beginning that afternoon and continuing into the following morning. A final vote was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on August 7. Despite the grave implications of the resolution, the debate was sparsely attended. A few senators expressed skepticism about the wisdom of granting the president such broad authority. Did the resolution authorize the president to “use such force as could lead into war” without a congressional declaration, John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky wondered? Yes, Fulbright conceded, the resolution did give the president such authority. “We all hope and believe that the President will not use this discretion arbitrarily or irresponsibly,” Fulbright explained. “We know that he is accustomed to consulting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with congressional leaders. But he does not have to do that.” The chairman reassured his colleagues, however, that the Johnson administration had denied any intent to widen the war, stating: “The policy of our Government not to expand the war still holds.”9 Chief opponent Wayne Morse was present for nearly all of the debate. He pleaded with his colleagues not to approve the resolution. “I shall not support … a predated declaration of war,” he insisted. But Fulbright’s foreign policy expertise and his close relationship with the president helped to assuage doubts about the wisdom of granting any president such sweeping authority. “When it came to foreign policy,” noted Senator Maurine Neuberger, Morse’s junior colleague from Oregon, “I did whatever Bill Fulbright said I should do.” At the conclusion of the debate, the Senate approved the resolution 88-2. Ernest Gruening of Alaska joined Morse in dissent. The House had already unanimously approved the joint resolution, and the president signed it into law on August 10, 1964.10 Fulbright had helped to deliver a major political and policy victory for his friend, President Johnson. In November, Johnson defeated Goldwater in an electoral landslide. In early 1965, under the provisions of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Johnson vastly expanded the war in Vietnam. He approved a bombing campaign in North Vietnam and ordered the first U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam. This betrayal of his stated intent stung some of the president’s friends in Congress, especially Fulbright. More than 150,000 U.S. combat troops entered South Vietnam by the end of 1965, and that number swelled to more than 530,000 by 1968. Wayne Morse had predicted that his Senate colleagues would come to regret their support for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. It wasn’t long before Fulbright did. Beginning in 1966, Fulbright’s Foreign Relations Committee held a series of high-profile educational hearings about the war. Broadcast live on national television, these hearings revealed the White House’s intentional deceptions about the war’s progress and widened what came to be known as the administration’s “credibility gap.”11 The hearings deepened Fulbright’s resolve to educate the public (and his colleagues) about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. An ongoing committee investigation revealed that the administration’s justification for retaliatory action in 1964 and even the sequence of events that precipitated the request for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution were based on obfuscations and lies. The administration had drafted the resolution months before the reported attacks of August 1964, the hearings revealed, having it ready to present to Congress when the timing was right. Despite the fact the administration had insisted that the second unprovoked attack required forceful retaliation, there was doubt at the time that the attack had occurred. On the afternoon of August 4, for example, the commander of the USS Maddox—just hours after his initial report of the attack—cabled his superiors, “Review of action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful … Suggest complete evaluation before any further action.” The administration failed to share these doubts with members of Congress.12 In 1968, as the number of American casualties in Vietnam grew, Senator Fulbright expressed regret for his role in passing the resolution. “I feel a very deep moral responsibility to the Senate and the country for having misled them,” he lamented. Fulbright devoted the remainder of his Senate career to reclaiming Congress’s constitutional war-making powers and ending the war in Vietnam.13 In 1971 Congress rescinded the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, though it continued to fund the war until the U.S. military withdrew from Vietnam in March 1973. Later that year, Congress approved the War Powers Act over President Richard M. Nixon’s veto. The law represented Congress’s desire to define the circumstances under which presidents may unilaterally commit U.S. armed forces. Congress had granted the executive branch discretionary war-making power with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, and some had learned a powerful lesson in that experience. “If we could rely on the good faith of the Executive,” Fulbright explained during a Senate debate of the war powers bill in July 1973, “we would not need the bill. However, since we cannot do so, so we do need a bill.” The War Powers Act requires the executive branch to consult with and report to Congress any commitment of armed forces.14 Despite his achievements, Fulbright lost his bid for reelection in a 1974 primary. The War Powers Act continues to serve mainly as a framework to promote legislative and executive branch cooperation on war powers issues. Its efficacy, however, depends upon Congress’s willingness to enforce the law. Since the 1950s, Congress has authorized presidential administrations to use military force by congressional resolutions rather than by declarations of war.
1. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Senate Committee on Armed Forces, Southeast Asia Resolution, Joint Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Armed Services, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1964, 8. 2. Randall Bennett Woods, Fulbright: A Biography (London: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 349–50; Joint Resolution to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia, Public Law 88-408, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 7, 1965, 59 Stat. 1031; President Lyndon B. Johnson, “August 4, 1964: Report on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” Presidential Speeches, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency, Miller Center at the University of Virginia, transcript and recording accessed June 2, 2023,; Louis Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President, 4th ed. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997), 278–79. 3. Woods, Fulbright, 221; Congressional Record, 84th Cong., 1st sess., January 28, 1955, 994; Congressional Record, 85th Cong., 1st sess., March 5, 1957, 3129; Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts, 278, 281. 4. Woods, Fulbright, 215, 353. 5. Woods, Fulbright, 348; Frederik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 205. 6. Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 5, 1964, 18084; “A Nation United,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1964, reprinted in the Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1964, 18400; Woods, Fulbright, 354; “Times Editorials: U.S. Answer to Aggression,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1964, A4; Charles Mohr, “Goldwater Backs Vietnam Action by Johnson,” New York Times, August 5, 1964, 4. 7. "Pat M. Holt, Chief of Staff, Foreign Relations Committee," Oral History Interviews, September 9, to December 12, 1980, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C., 178; Logevall, Choosing War, 205; Woods, Fulbright, 347, 353. 8. Committees on Foreign Relations and Armed Services, Southeast Asia Resolution, 14, 18. 9. Ezra Y. Siff, Why the Senate Slept: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Beginning of America’s Vietnam War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 27; Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 6, 1964, 18399, 18402, 18409-10. 10. Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., August 5, 1964, 18139; Mason Drukman, Wayne Morse: A Political Biography (Portland: The Oregon Historical Society Press, 1997), 413. 11. Drukman, Wayne Morse, 413; Joseph A. Fry, Debating Vietnam: Fulbright, Stennis and Their Senate Hearings (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006). 12. Woods, Fulbright, 350–51; Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series), Vol. XX, 90th Cong., 2nd sess., 1968 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010), 281–86. 13. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series), Vol. XX, 90th Cong., 2nd sess., 1968 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010), 305-306. 14. Fisher, Constitutional Conflicts, 281–87; Logevall, Choosing War, 202–5, 213; Woods, Fulbright: 340–59, 415–67; Congressional Record, 93rd Cong., 1st sess., July 20, 1973, 25088.
Senators on Combat Tour, 1943 202210 6A World War II Combat Tour for Senators
October 6, 2022
On July 25, 1943, shortly after Allied forces invaded Sicily and Allied bombers targeted Rome, five United States senators set out on a unique and controversial journey: to inspect American military installations engaged across the globe in the Second World War. They boarded a converted bomber named the “Guess Where II” at Washington National Airport to begin a 65-day tour of U.S. military installations around the world.

On July 25, 1943, shortly after Allied forces invaded Sicily and Allied bombers targeted Rome, five United States senators set out on a unique and controversial journey: to inspect American military installations engaged across the globe in the Second World War. They boarded a converted bomber named the “Guess Where II” at Washington National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) to begin a 65-day tour of U.S. military installations around the world. Each senator wore a dog tag and carried one knife, one steel helmet, extra cigarettes, emergency food rations, manuals on jungle survival, and two military uniforms. The senators were to wear the military uniforms while flying over enemy territory and visiting U.S. field operations in the hope that, if captured, they would be treated humanely as prisoners of war.1 The idea for this inspection tour originated among members of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, also known as the Truman Committee. The Military Affairs Committee had been examining every aspect of war mobilization, from soldier recruitment to weapons and supply contracts. The Truman Committee, chaired by Missouri senator Harry Truman, had spent two years exposing waste and corruption in the awarding of defense contracts, including in the construction of military facilities around the United States. Both committees wished to expand their investigations to include inspections of facilities overseas and initially quarreled over which panel would take on the task. The Truman Committee received approval for a tour from General George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1943. Albert “Happy” Chandler of Kentucky, who chaired a Military Affairs subcommittee also planning overseas inspections, protested and stated that he already had “an understanding” with the War Department about a tour of military bases. Chandler took his case to General Marshall and petulantly told reporters that “maybe the Army ought to take up its legislation with the Truman Committee.”2 The army did not want the “embarrassment” of choosing between the two committees, so the White House tasked Majority Leader Alben Barkley and Republican Leader Charles McNary with reaching a compromise. In July Barkley, who initially opposed the idea of any senators traveling abroad and taking up the time of military commanders, announced the creation of a small, bipartisan ad hoc committee of five senators to take the trip, chaired by Georgia Democrat Richard Russell and composed of two members from the Truman Committee and two from Military Affairs—Ralph O. Brewster of Maine, Happy Chandler of Kentucky, James Mead of New York, and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts.3 The committee's goals were to observe the condition and morale of American troops, the quality and effectiveness of war materiel under combat conditions, and the operations of distributing military and civilian supplies to the Allied front lines. The investigatory committee believed, as Russell later explained, that what they learned on the trip would be helpful “in dealing with questions arising from our relations with the other Allied powers, and in preparing for the many trying and complex issues whose solution must have final approval by the Senate after the war is over.” In particular, the committee was concerned about securing access rights at the war’s conclusion to military installations that the U.S. had helped to establish overseas.4 As laudable as this mission seemed, departing members received a good deal of criticism both from colleagues and constituents. At a time of stringent gasoline rationing, a constituent wrote Russell that it would be wiser to allocate his aircraft's fuel to the needs of “your Georgia people.” Senator Bennett Clark of Missouri suggested that military commanders would not “let them see enough to stick in their eye.” The senators were determined to prove Clark wrong.5 The senators' first stop was England, where they bunked with the Eighth Air Force, dined with the king and queen, and interviewed Prime Minister Winston Churchill. They moved on to North Africa, spending a week in various cities along the Mediterranean Sea. From there they toured installations in the Persian Gulf, where U.S. supplies were being shipped to support the Soviet Union. They continued on to India, China, Australia, and Hawaii before returning home on September 28. The flight from the British colony of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) to the west coast of Australia, 3,200 miles over water, was the first time anyone had flown nonstop over the vast Indian Ocean in a land-based plane. Along the way the senators met with commanders and high-ranking civilian officials as well as enlisted men and wounded soldiers. In total the trip took 65 days and logged 40,000 miles.6 Upon their return, Russell had planned to brief the Senate at a secret session set for October 7. Before that briefing, however, Military Affairs Committee member Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., upstaged Russell by giving his own account in public session, a move that angered the chairman. Russell shared the committee’s report with his colleagues as planned and the next day had summary findings inserted into the Congressional Record for public consumption. The report framed the key issues of postwar reconstruction and policy, including recommendations for continued U.S. access to overseas military bases, the prospects of continued foreign aid after the fighting stopped, and a proposal for merging American military branches into a single department after the war.7 The report set a firm precedent for future overseas travel by senators, with additional trips taking place in 1945. Senator James M. Tunnell led a subcommittee of the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, known as the Mead Committee after the departure of Harry Truman, on another visit to military installations in North Africa and the Middle East in early 1945. In May 1945, after Germany had surrendered, Russell guided a group of eight senators from the Military Affairs and Naval Affairs committees on a trip to France and Germany, where some of the hardest fighting of the war had taken place.8 While some observers had doubted the utility of the 1943 tour, the detailed report of Russell’s committee persuaded them that the senators had completed a useful task, setting the stage for future congressional delegations (CODELs). New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, who admitted that he had his reservations about the trip, afterwards praised the group for its careful examinations and declared the trip “an excellent illustration of what can be done by Congress by the use of the effective and responsible committee system.”9
1. George C. Fite, Richard B. Russell, Jr., Senator from Georgia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 189. 2. “2 Senate Committees Wrangle Over Who Rates Africa Tour,” Washington Post, April 9, 1943, 1; Fite, Richard B. Russell, 188–89. 3. “Avoids Ruling on Junkets,” Baltimore Sun, April 18, 1943, 15; “Five Senators to Tour World in Army Plane,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 1, 1943, 5; “War Will Continue Until 1945, Warn Senators Back from Tour,” Washington Post, September 30, 1943, 1. 4. Katherine Scott, “A Safety Valve: The Truman Committee’s Oversight during World War II,” in Colton C. Campbell and David P. Auerswald, eds., Congress and Civil Military Relations (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2015), 36–52; Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 1st sess., October 28, 1943, 8860; “Senators Seek Post-War Base Showdown Now,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 04, 1943, 8. 5. “Senators to Visit Our Forces Abroad,” New York Times, July 1, 1943, 8. 6. Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 1st sess., October 28, 1943, 8860; “Senators Reach Hawaii,” New York Times, September 23, 1943, 6; Fite, Richard B. Russell, 191. 7. Fite, Richard B. Russell, 193; Congressional Record, 78th Cong., 1st sess., October 8, 1943, 8189–90. 8. Fite, Richard B. Russell, 195–96. 9. “War Tour By Senators Promises Wide Benefits,” New York Times, October 3, 1943, E3.
George S. McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota, 1963–1981. 202006 5A Generation of World War II Veterans
June 5, 2020
Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during the Second World War, more than 100 later served as U.S. senators. While the heroic actions of some of them are well known—John F. Kennedy leading the crew of PT-109, for example—what about the others who went on to serve as senators? Here are a few of their stories.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during the Second World War, more than 100 later served as U.S. senators. While the heroic actions of some of them are well known—John F. Kennedy leading the crew of PT-109, for example—what about the others who went on to serve as senators? Here are a few of their stories. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beach on the coast of Normandy, France. This extraordinary military operation marked the beginning of a strategic plan to liberate continental Europe from Nazi occupation. Philip Hart waded ashore at Utah Beach that day with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. As he and his fellow soldiers advanced on fortified German targets, an artillery shell hit his right arm, severing the main artery. He slowed the bleeding with a hastily made tourniquet and insisted that medics attend first to a fallen comrade before consenting to his own evacuation. Hart was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He later served 17 years in the Senate, from 1959 to 1976, representing the state of Michigan. Miles east of Hart’s location, Lee Metcalf, a commissioned officer with the army’s 5th Division, stormed Omaha Beach. Two thousand Americans died in a single day in a battle that came to be known as Bloody Omaha. American journalist Ernie Pyle later confessed what many thought at the time: “It seemed to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all.” After Omaha, Metcalf helped to liberate Paris and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Discharged in 1946, he returned to his home state of Montana, where voters elected him to four terms in the House of Representatives, followed by three terms in the Senate, from 1961 to 1978. While Allied forces took Normandy beaches, James Strom Thurmond crash landed miles inland at an apple orchard near Sainte-Mère-Église, France, as part of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Thurmond sustained minor injuries, spent the next few days in combat, and later helped to organize local provisional governments. He was awarded the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with Valor device, and the Purple Heart. The native South Carolinian represented his state in the Senate from 1955 to 2003. Other future senators also fought with distinction. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Edward Brooke, a former ROTC cadet and recent graduate of Howard University, was assigned to the U.S. Army’s segregated 366th Combat Infantry Regiment. In addition to the hazards of combat, Brooke encountered daily reminders of the second-class status given to African American soldiers who fought bravely in the European theater while facing intimidation and even violence from military officials. The U.S. military barred black soldiers from the PX and officers’ clubs and granted them access to the base movie theaters only at designated times. Later promoted to captain, Brooke earned the Bronze Star and a Distinguished Service Medal. Brooke represented the state of Massachusetts in the Senate from 1967 to 1979. Throughout the war, American air power offered crucial support to Allied ground forces. Army Air Corps Lieutenant George McGovern flew a B-24 bomber on 35 missions over wartime Europe and never lost a man on his crew. The army awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his “high degree of courage and piloting skill … intrepid spirit … and rare devotion to duty.” He later served three Senate terms for the state of South Dakota, from 1963 to 1981, and was the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee. In the spring of 1945, the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division began an offensive to gain control of northern Italy. Robert Dole, a combat infantry officer in the division, was critically wounded while leading his platoon on a mission to neutralize a pocket of German resisters holed up in a farmhouse. Dole spent nine agonizing hours on the battlefield awaiting his medical evacuation. The army awarded the future senator two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with Valor device for his leadership and courage under fire. Dole represented Kansas in the Senate for 27 years, from 1969 to 1996, and won the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. That same month, another future senator fought in the Italian countryside. When the U.S. military dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans in 1943, Daniel Inouye joined the U.S. Army’s segregated all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. On a Tuscan battlefield in April 1945, Inouye was shot in the stomach while leading a flanking maneuver. He refused medical treatment and then organized a second attack. That’s when a German rifle grenade nearly severed his arm. Doctors later amputated it. For Inouye’s effort and perseverance, the Army awarded him the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Cross. Later, while recuperating in a Michigan hospital, he befriended Philip Hart and Robert Dole, both of whom were recovering from their own injuries in the same hospital. Inouye represented the state of Hawaii in the Senate for 49 years, from 1963 to 2012. These men, and more than 100 other veterans of the Second World War, shaped the Senate for decades to come. In 2013 the Senate’s last World War II veteran, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, died in office. Each year, as we commemorate D-Day on June 6, the war memorials that dot the coastline of Normandy serve as reminders of the sacrifices made by Allied forces during World War II, including the future senators who served in so many theaters of war. “We are duty bound to keep [their memory],” the Omaha Beach Museum states simply, “that future generations may never forget at what cost our freedom came.”