A little known veteran named Harry W. Colmery from Topeka, Kansas, is credited with authoring the “Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944,” better known as the “GI Bill.” His dedication to veterans after serving in World War I is a story worth telling and a legacy worth honoring. To honor him, the American Legion and the Downtown Topeka Foundation are sponsoring efforts to create the Harry W. Colmery Statue and Park in downtown Topeka.
After World War II, the GI Bill helped avoid a major recession during our country’s transition to a peacetime economy and the return of our veterans to the civilian labor force. Millions were able to attend college and technical school, receive unemployment benefits, and obtain VA Loans. College and university enrollment doubled by 1947. At one point, more than 50 percent of those enrolled in the country’s colleges and universities were veterans. The education and home loans made available to veterans under the GI Bill were instrumental in creating the middle class and the development of suburban America. Indeed, second, third and fourth generations are still benefiting.
Harry W. Colmery between 1917-1919. Source: Kansas Historical Society
According to the history provided by the project leaders, Mr. Colmery, a World War I veteran, came out of the war and witnessed the deplorable conditions many of our soldiers experienced upon returning home: No benefits, no training or educational programs and no jobs. In addition, many veterans were permanently disabled and unable to support themselves and their families. He made it his mission to advocate for the fair treatment of veterans and service members, according to the Topeka-Capital Journal. He joined the American Legion, was quickly promoted within the organization, and in 1936 was elected as it’s national commander. It was that year after hundreds of veterans marched on Washington, D.C., that inspired Colmery to draft the GI Bill to ensure that returning veterans did not experience similar conditions following the end of World War II.
“Never again do we want to see the honor and glory of our nation fade to the extent that her men of arms, with despondent heart and palsied limb, totter from door to door, bowing their souls to the frozen bosom of reluctant charity,” Colmery said.
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 ranks with the most progressive and beneficial laws ever passed by any nation.
“Because of the commitment by people like Harry Colmery,” said Michael J. Bennett in his book, When Dreams Came True, “millions went to school who otherwise might not have done so, suburbia was created, and an entirely new economic and social infrastructure was put in place.”
Fundraising for the project has been ongoing. – The group is currently at 84 percent of their goal, but they need help pushing to the finish.
“The statue and park for Mr. Colmery will be on the west side of the 900 block, downtown, Topeka,” said Pat Michaelis, a member of the project steering committee. “Artist Janet Zoble is creating his sculpture. The statute and park are designed to honor and recognize Mr. Colmery for his outstanding contribution to our country and to depict the benefits received by our veterans re-entering civilian life after military service.”
For more information and to donate (online, mail or fax) to the project visit:
Related:Harry Walter Colmery – Kansas Historical Society
Topeka lawyer Harry Colmery built today’s United States with his G.I. Bill – Kansas City Star
The Legionnaire that changed the world – American Legion