Why the GI Bill?

While interviewing World War II veterans, I found that many brought up the GI Bill on their own, and they remember taking it as the most transformative moment of their lives. The bill afforded returning veterans the opportunity to get an education free of cost. The GI Bill reshaped the United States by providing access to higher education, something previously unattainable for many. As Michael Bennett explained in When Dreams Came True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America, the GI Bill was a “thread” that changed life dramatically after World War II. Bennett argues how significant this “vast,” “sweeping” bill was in shaping American society, and it made a “reality of Jefferson’s concept of creating independent yeoman.” Another scholar, Christopher Loss, agrees. In Between Citizens and the State, Loss explains how the Bill “altered” the life of the nation, and its role in educating its citizenry.

Historians like Bennett and Loss affirm the importance and far reaching effects of the Bill on the GIs, their families, and the United States. However, many overlook the individual veteran’s response to the GI Bill. They fail to see the extent to which veterans seized the opportunity of a free education and used it to change the course of their lives. While these veterans came from wildly different backgrounds, each one adapted the GI Bill in whatever way they saw fit. The GI Bill and the men who used it are reflective of how many see as the American spirit. The men represent American ingenuity at its finest. They were savvy and industrious in transforming the Bill to meet their own needs, molding it beyond anything the government originally imagined or planned. The story of the GI Bill is as much about the Bill itself as it is about the people who used its benefits. The returning veterans who took advantage of the GI Bill created something that was and is still seen as a defining American trait, the ability to actively shape and reform their lives when given the opportunity and freedom to do so.

World War II was an event that transformed the world on a grand scale, reshaping and altering the course of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, oftentimes skimmed over in this broad view of the war are the individuals who served and how they understood their role in the war and its aftermath. For many of the veterans returning home the GI Bill changed everything. In terms of the course of their lives after the war, the GI Bill was more transformative than the war itself because it completely reconfigured the foundations for the rest of their lives. It afforded veterans opportunities, like education, that they had never before considered. In fact, for some, a college education was never even a dream- it was inconceivable- until the government announced the creation of the GI Bill. The interviews reveal just how powerful and important the GI Bill was to these veterans. They used it to remake themselves and their futures, and they did so in whatever way they determined would help them the most. Listening to the veterans describe the GI Bill, it becomes clear just how much it affected their lives in the long term.