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In this brutally honest book, Specter analyzes the issues and outcomes of these and other controversies, assessing each through both a legal and historical lens, Throughout, he tells the truth, naming names, identifying where the system worked and where it failed, and even admitting his own mistakes. This illuminating memoir is vintage Specter: thoughtful, provocative and deeply informative.
My father did not have the money in 1932, at the depth of the Depression, to travel to Washington with his fellow World War I combat veterans to lobby the federal government for payment of their promised bonus. And he was not about to load his wife and four children into boxcars, as thousands of penniless veterans had done, to set up camp in dumps, parks, or anywhere else they could find in the nation's capital. But Harry Specter followed reports in the Wichita Beacon, our Kansas hometown paper, and on the radio, soaking up what he could.
The thousand-dollar bonuses were not scheduled to be paid until 1945. But the House of Representatives had authorized immediate payment of five hundred dollars per person, and the veterans came to press Congress and President Herbert Hoover to pass the bill and pay the money. My father had little more than his small disability pension to feed his wife and four children. A five-hundred-dollar bonus would have made a big difference.
Beginning in May 1932, twenty-five thousand World War I combat veterans, some from my father's 355th Infantry Company, many with their families, descended on Washington, D.C. They called themselves “The Bonus Expeditionary Force” and became known as “The Bonus Army.” They built shacks and staked tents at Anacostia Flats across the Potomac River from Washington, and they moved into half-razed warehouses and market stalls on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art now stands.
President Hoover refused to meet with the veterans. By July 28, at the peak of a sweltering summer, Hoover's patience had ended. Whenthe former soldiers refused to leave Pennsylvania Avenue, police with nightsticks began clearing them off. Veterans from Anacostia Flats arrived and threw rocks at the police. The officers shot four veterans, killing two. Hoover ordered his Army chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, to clear the veterans. On his staff, MacArthur had a major, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
At MacArthur's command, Major George S. Patton and his Third Cavalry rode down Pennsylvania Avenue with sabers drawn, followed by infantry with bayonets fixed, mounted machine gunners, troops with tear gas, and six tanks. Patton charged the unarmed veterans. Three thousand tear-gas bombs draped Pennsylvania Avenue in a toxic haze.
“Where were you in the Argonne, buddy?” the veterans hollered at the troops, referring to the bloody French battleground.
The Bonus Army fled toward Anacostia. MacArthur, never impressed by presidential decrees, ignored Hoover's orders to stop at the Potomac. Instead, the Army chased the veterans and burned their makeshift villages. Hundreds of veterans were injured, and two infants died, suffocated by tear gas. It was all over by midnight. Hoover explained to the nation that the Bonus Army was mostly Communist agitators threatening national security, nothing more than “ordinary trespassers.”
My father grew up in Batchkurina, a village 160 miles from Kiev in the heart of Ukraine. The date of his birth cannot be fixed because no birth records were maintained in Batchkurina. My father said he was born in the “pear season,” which he estimated to be around July 15. His citizenship papers list 1892 as the year of his birth, but he recalled writing that he was ten years old in the year 1903, which could have put his year of birth a year later.
Harry Specter lived in a one-room, dirt-floored hut that he shared with his parents, seven brothers, and one sister. He never received any formal education. With nine children, his parents could not afford school for him. As the only Jewish family in town, they were a convenient target for the villagers' slurs and the Cossacks' sport. At the age of eighteen, determined to avoid the czar's heel and conscription in Siberia, and equally determined to seek freedom and opportunity, my father saved a few rubles and walked across the entire European continent, alone, uneducated, and destitute, to sail steerage to America.
When he landed in New York, a teeming city of almost 5 million, my father had no address for his brother, his only contact in the New World, but he knew the name and street corner of his brother's bank from a check received by the family in Batchkurina. On a Sunday morning, he went to that street corner with the hope that his brother might live nearby and pass the bank.
After several hours, he saw his brother walk by. He ran up to him and shouted, “Yussel, Yussel, ich bin dein bruder Aaron,” Yiddish for “Joseph, Joseph, I am your brother Harry.” My father had changed considerably in the seven years since Joseph had last seen his eleven-year-old kid brother. Looking at this stranger, Uncle Joe said, “Oyb du bist mein bruder Aaron, kum mit mir,” Yiddish for “If you are my brother Harry, come with me.” And so began my father's life in America.
Moving to Philadelphia, Harry Specter worked for a tailor in a sweatshop at Fourth and Lombard streets. Determined to improve his lot, he saved his money, bought a Model-T Ford, and traveled West to learn English and see America. In the Midwest my father told a man he was Jewish. The man expressed surprise that my father did not have horns.
When buying blankets and dry goods at a supply store in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1916, he struck up a conversation with a woman named Freida Shanin. Harry Specter asked Freida Shanin if she had a daughter.
Mrs. Shanin replied that she did, but that her daughter was too young for him. Actually, Freida Shanin had four daughters and three sons. Her oldest, Lillie, was sixteen, and her youngest was two. Freida Shanin's husband, Mordecai, had died of a heart attack in his mid-forties a year earlier. He had sold fish on the streets of St. Joseph and repaired Singer sewing machines. Widowed, with seven children, Freida Shanin maintained her pride and independence. Her children helped support the family. Lillie had left school after the eighth grade to work in a tablet factory.
Despite Freida Shanin's reservations, Harry Specter courted her beautiful red-headed daughter Lillie. They fell in love.
Posted September 7, 2002
"Passion for Truth" is a great read about a senator who has devoted his life to the people of Pennsylvania. Arlen Specter embodies the American dream. The son of Russian immigrants, Mr. Specter worked diligently to achieve his goals. He attended the Univeristy of Pennsylvania and later Yale Law School. This book is more than an autobiography. The author explains why he did not support Judge Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination and why he voted to confirm Clarence Thomas. Whether one agrees with him or not, Arlen Specter clearly makes concise reasons to his actions. Any person who is truly intersted in politics, regardless of philosophy, will be captivated by this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.