Like so many young Americans, Nathaniel Boone wanted to create a better life for himself and for his family. By 18 years old, he had lost his father, his mother was sick, and he had no money to go to school. So he left his hometown of Englewood New Jersey and joined the Marines to serve his country.
If this happened today, we’d all admit his biggest concern might be getting through boot camp in one piece. But back in 1946 – a time when desegregation was not yet a reality for our Nation, and two years before President Truman issued the executive order for equal treatment of military personnel – Mr. Boone faced many more battles.
Segregated from the other Marines, African American recruits were sent to a special facility fenced off from Camp Lejeune called Montford Point.
While there they faced incredible hardship, but Nate says that what kept him going was his determination that no matter what he had to endure, he was going to get a college education and his service in the Marine Corps was going to help him get there.
And get there he did – after two years, Nate was awarded his GI Bill benefits, which he used to attend Bates College in Maine. And after his graduation, he put himself through law school on his own dime at Boston University.
President Obama recently presented Mr. Boone and roughly 400 other surviving “Montford Point Marines” with the Congressional Gold Medal for the important role they played in integrating the Marine Corps. Mr. Boone was committed to making a better life for himself and did everything in his power to take advantage of the opportunities before him.
I believe this is the spirit of what the GI Bill is all about. This month VA is celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the original GI Bill®. On June 22, 1944 the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was enacted, creating a wide range of benefits for Veterans returning from World War II. These benefits – commonly known as the “GI Bill” — included low-cost home loans, educational and vocational training.
The original GI Bill has long been considered an enormous success – by historians, politicians and economists – for its impact on the post-war economy and capital investment in our “Greatest Generation.” Subsequent legislation expanded and extended similar GI Bill benefits to future generations, including Veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam Veterans and those serving during peace-time.
And passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill has provided this important benefit to our newest – and next Greatest Generation of Veterans.
The GI Bill has helped more than 22 million beneficiaries since it began in 1944. Since the end of World War II, GI Bill programs have shaped our nation and helped stimulate our economy.
Education not only changes lives of Veterans and immediate family members, but adds richness and economic stability to our communities.