Camera Rolls: 102:06-08
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with John Pompanine , conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1990, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
So sir, it's 1928, the country is prosperous and Herbert Hoover is about to become president, how did you feel about Herbert Hoover becoming president?
Could you tell me why?
'Cause he, why he, he was the lousiest president we ever had. Him and Carter, you know Carter, the other president.
After the crash, when the stock market collapsed in October of 1929, the country went into a big economic decline.
What was it like for you when the country started going into this depression?
Very bad, I don't know, very bad. The Depression—nobody had nothing—selling apples on the corner, at that time.
What did you do at that time?
Me what I done that time, I was done a little painting, house painting, making a dollar, two dollars a day, a dollar a day I think I was making.
Did you find it hard to make ends meet?
Can you tell me what it was like to live constantly with having a hard time making ends meet?
It's hard, you know what I mean? What could you get for a dollar a day, you know?
So how, did you, after the stock market crash, did life change for you, did life become harder?
Yeah, sure, it always harder that time.
Can you describe how it got hard, did you get less work that sort of thing?
So tell me about that.
Yeah, less work, you know you work a dollar a day, you know.
OK, what made you join the BEF?
What made you join the BEF?
The bonus march?
Yes. What did you, what caused you to join the BEF?
Depression, I don't know, 'cause of the [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] legion where I belonged, we were going to go down and try to get the money.
You said you belonged to a legion post, can you describe what you would talk about with the other fellows when it came to the bonus?
Sure, we were going down there to try and get the bonus, you know, there was delegate and we all talked to the senators and the congressmen for the bonus.
OK, how, can you describe your journey to Washington?
How did you get together with other people and go to Washington?
We went down with cars, then we got down so far, then we got off and started marching.
Now you described it with more detail to me. You heard about it at the legion right?
Could you tell me about that? You first heard about it at the legion and then you decided to go.
Yeah. We all did, we all decided to go, you know.
Can you start out by saying, you know, "I first heard about it at the American Legion post"?
Yeah we heard about it and we heard, you know, a different in the newspapers too you know, about the bonus.
And so then what did you do?
We went down there with carloads of trucks,
** some guys in cars, you know. Some guys on motorcycles, some guys on bicycles, some guys on roller skates. [laughs] Come from all over the country. Guys with no shoes on, ragged down clothes,
** look like a bunch of bums down there. [laughs]
You said that you stopped about three miles outside of Washington, and then you marched in.
A couple of miles, yeah. We got, well not three miles, maybe a mile you know, then we marched in.
Can you describe the march into Washington that day?
How did you do it? You got all out of your cars and-
Trucks and whatever.
Could you start again and just tell me-?
Yeah, we all grouped [sic] up and we marched in. Had a leader, I think we had a band there too, going in, marching like a real parade, you know.
Anything else you recall about that day? That you first saw Washington, that you first went in to Washington.
Tell me about all your impressions that day.
I don't know what you mean all my impressions.
Well, could we cut for a second?
So, tell me about your feelings that day when you were marching into Washington. You know, that you were going to petition them and you were excited. Tell me about how you were excited and why?
Why? I told you why we wanted to get the bonus, excited, everything, you know what I mean? I don't—
Can you tell me again?
Jesus, you got me crazy now, you got me crazy. Excited we wanted to get the bonus, and all excited, you know.
Can you describe anybody that you met along the way? Were people excited to see you along the way as you were traveling to Washington?
Yeah, even the people in Washington were all excited. The cops and everybody, they come in there try and bust us up through gas or something, you know, different things. Then the chief of police come down and he said, "Look, you guys will be here for a long time before you're going to get the bonus." We went down there in '28, '20, and we got the bonus in 1932, right?
No, actually it was 1936. You got turned down in '32.
Turned down in '32, yeah.
Can you describe the camps for me where you stayed? How did you live in the camps?
We had cots there and living, you know, in a tent. Some had shacks there, had kitchens all over the place. Food was coming in from all over, different people bringing in food.
You said at one point the police helped you.
Yeah, Chief of Police.
Can you describe Pelham Glassford and how he helped you?
Yeah, he helped me, how he helped is he said, "Look, you're going to be here for a while. Don't do nothing wrong. You can be here all you want and nobody going to hurt you. And I'm going to help you guys," because he was in the service too. And, "Don't get out of hand. You're going to get the bonus. I don't know how long," but then he said, "Behave yourself and it'll be all right. You can stay here till you get the bonus."
That's great. Can we cut for a second?
Police Chief Glassford come down and helped us.
How did he help you, Sir?
He said, "You guys are going to get your bonus. Behave yourself and everything is going to be all right."
You said at one point-
I was zooming during that question, but you're happy to move forward.
OK, you said before that there were some people with guns.
Yeah, coming in with guns and the chief saw them-
Could you start out by saying, "Some of the veterans had guns"?
Some of the veterans had guns. And the chief come down and tell them, "We know you've got guns in there. Just tell me you guys are commoners and I want you to get out of here, get rid of the guns."
And what happened?
They got rid of them, you know, and some of the commoners people, you know, they were hollering about the company, you know, different things like that.
OK, we're out of film. We have to change our roll.
Sir, could you start off by saying that some of the veterans brought guns, and tell me that story about what Pelham Glassford said to them?
He said that, "I know you got guns here, I want you to get rid of them before you get in trouble." So they got rid of them, you know.
Could you start out by saying, "Some of the veterans had guns"?
Yes, some of the—
And Pelham Glassford heard about it.
Or found out about it.
Yeah, he found out about it.
So could you start again and tell me that?
Start again please and—
The Chief of Police Glassford found out that some of the guys had guns, and he told them to get rid of them. And they got rid of them.
Can you describe how you lived in the camps?
You said you went bathing and that-
Bathing, yeah, down in Potomac River.
So can you tell me that whole story how—
—just tell me what life was like in the camps, everything you can remember.
Well we got food from different places, you know, and we had camps there and they had kitchens there, and were living pretty good, you know, 'cause food was coming in.
Tell me about how you'd go bathing.
Bathing, I'd put on my shorts and go on bathing in Potomac River.
OK, cut for a second.
So tell me about how you'd go swimming and how you lived in the camps.
I told you before how we lived there before. We got food coming in from different places, we had kitchens there, cooks there cooking up, kids were coming in with raggedy clothes and all that, and people walking there without shoes on.
How did you get clean?
In the Potomac River.
Could you say, could you say, you know, there was no place else to clean ourselves out.
Could you, could you tell me that?
Yeah sure. We were cleaning ourselves up in the Potomac River, to go swimming in.
You said the police helped you get food.
Chief of Police, yeah, he helped us with food trucks coming in, he give them directions where to go, you know.
The police were pretty cooperative?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah they were pretty good.
What was your—
What was your opinion of Pelham Glassford?
Very good. My, all of our opinion was that he come down and he said, "Look, behave yourself. You're going to get the bonus, but don't start no trouble. I know people have got guns here, get rid of them before you get in trouble" Then Waters was the charge of the place, and he sold us out, Waters.
OK, cut for a second.
Sir, Mr. Pompanine, you were part of the Death March around the Capitol.
Would you please describe that for me?
I don't know. We marched around the Capitol and, you know, hollering and all that. I don't understand what you mean. What do you, about the Death March?
You know when you said that people didn't have shoes on?
Could you describe that?
OK, never, never mind. There were communists in the camp.
How did the veterans, how did veterans feel about that?
Very bad. I don't know what kind of group there was, but they were hollering about the country, you know, "You people are doing everything wrong, this country's no good," you know, all that bull crap.
How did the, how did the veterans feel about communism?
Very bad, very bad.
Why? Why? Well I don't believe in communism, do you? [laughs]
No, I'm just trying to get the opinion of the veterans at that time, of the communists that were in that camp. How did the veterans feel about the fact that communists were in the camp.
OK, I need more. I need more, for you to give me more of your impressions about it.
I don't know what you mean, Jesus Christ Al—
OK we'll cut.
Sir, you said you were a delegate, what did you do as a delegate?
Well we went up there and talked to the congressmen and the senators to pass the bonus. Every morning we were up there.
And what kinds of things would you talk about?
Do you remember MacArthur?
Did you see him?
Can you, can you talk about what you saw when you saw him?
Well he was against the bonus. In fact he was against the whole damn thing. MacArthur.
How do you feel about that?
Very bad, [laughs] I feel.
You said at one point that there were these buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue—
What, what would you—you said you got lumber from them, can you describe how you built your shacks?
Yeah we got lumber, we got nails from the stores, and build the shacks up. We got cots coming in there, sleeping on cots, some people sleeping on the ground, or blankets.
And how did you, how did you get clean, how did you wash up?
Could you, could you say, "There was no place else to..."?
That's right, the Potomac River. Some people would go in some houses, you know, some houses would let them go in and take a bath.
But how did you do it?
The Potomac River. [laughs]
OK, cut please.
President Hoover said that there wasn't enough money to give the veterans.
How did you, what did you think the government should do?
What I think the government should do? Give us the money [laughs], I don't know why or where they'd get it from, but they said they didn't have no money, I don't know, they were broke, needed money for this and that, right?
How did you feel about that?
When the Congress turned you down, were you angry?
Sure I was. We were all angry. We were throwing rocks and everything. Some people were going to burn the White House down, the Capitol.
Sir, there was a loud speaker announcement at that point.
Can you say that again?
Wait a minute. Listening to—
OK, hold on we;re going to cut.
Were you angry?
Sure I was. Would you be angry? [laughs]
Well what did people do when they were angry?
They start throwing rocks and cursing and all, you know, going out of their minds.
You said some people started talking about burning down the White House.
Tell me about that.
Well they were all angry, you know, and hollering for the bonus and they were going to burn the, burn everything down, you know, they're going out of their minds. You know what I mean?
OK, thank you.
I don't know where we are. Cut.
Can you tell me what you were like as a person at that time?
What, what I was like? I don't know what you mean.
Well, at one point you said you weren't scared of anybody.
Tell me about that.
Were you frightened to talk to these congressmen?
Let's cut for a second.
Did you think that the country was in danger with the communists at that time? Were there a lot of communists around? How did you, tell me what your feelings were about communism and the communists at that time.
My feeling—I never liked the communists anyhow, never. My feeling I should send them out to Russia where they belong.
Were they in the camps?
Yeah they were in the camps. They were hollering about this country is no good, you know, and all that. One guy got killed there, you know.
OK, let's cut.
What were you most frightened of during this period of time?
I don't think I was frightened of nothing. I wasn't frightened in the war, I wouldn't be frightened there either. I don't think anybody was frightened. They were angry, but not frightened.
OK, that was good sir. That's good. Did you, did you feel that you had tried your best to get the bonus?
Very much, very much.
When you were pushed out of Washington, what were your feelings at that time?
Well, very bad my feelings.
OK, how did you get appointed a delegate?
Through the, through the legion. They made me a delegate because they figured that, I don't know, that they all liked me down there, they said, you can go down there and argue with them, with the congressmen and the senators. That's why they made me a delegate.
That's great, thanks. Could we cut for one second?
In the 1932 election, Roosevelt ran against President Hoover-
Did you have any feelings about either candidate?
I didn't like Hoover, because we had the depression at that time, right. And Al Smith run against him, right? Right?
And Al Smith was a Catholic. That's why he didn't get in, right?
What about Franklin Roosevelt when he first ran, how did you feel about him?
Very good, very good.
Did you have, did you feel hope, did you feel excited that there was somebody new maybe that could guide the country?
Well not like Roosevelt. The only one we had good was Harry Truman.
If you were looking from the top of the Capitol building down at all the veterans in the camps, what would it have looked like?
It'd look like a forest, like a forest, you know what I mean? The people down there like a—I don't know.
I mean say, what would you see if you were looking out the White House window and you were President Hoover, what kind of sight would you see?
The kind of sight—I don't know, like a forest, you know, the people down there and they're going mad.
OK, all right let's cut.
Can you tell me what, what you would see if you were just standing by the side of the Potomac River?
People washing up and cleaning up, washing clothes and everything, down in Potomac River.
And why were they doing that?
To keep clean.
OK, I guess we'll wrap here.
Is there anything else you want to add to this, Sir?
Is there anything else you want to tell us that we didn't touch on?
No, I don't—
What about, what about MacArthur, how do you feel about MacArthur?
What did you say about Waters? You were telling me about Waters.
He, he sold us out. Waters sold us out.
Did he give good speeches?
Did he give good speeches?
Yeah, he give good speeches, then he sold us out. The government bought him over. They give him a job in the White House.
OK, let's just cut.