Articles

The Spoof That Swept A Continent

Demanding soldier bonuses while alive to spend them, 13 students in 1936 set a screwball snowball rolling. What happened to the Vets of Future Wars?

JAMES DUGAN June 1 1950
Articles

The Spoof That Swept A Continent

Demanding soldier bonuses while alive to spend them, 13 students in 1936 set a screwball snowball rolling. What happened to the Vets of Future Wars?

JAMES DUGAN June 1 1950

The Spoof That Swept A Continent

Articles

Demanding soldier bonuses while alive to spend them, 13 students in 1936 set a screwball snowball rolling. What happened to the Vets of Future Wars?

JAMES DUGAN

IN THE spring of 1936, 13 Princeton University students sprang a satirical joke which rocketed into one of the big laughs of our era. They founded an organization called the Veterans of Future Wars, a magical mixup of pacifism and a burlesque on the soldier bonus. The spoof erupted briefly across most campuses in the U. S. and

That was 14 years ago. Since then their "future war" came true. Recently 1 found out what happened to the 19 sardonic lads in the unfunny years since. Hut first let me spin the microfilm backward to the front pages of March 17, 199b

Under a Princeton dateline Lewis .Jefferson

Gorin, Jr., i dark-haired 22-year-old from Louisville, Ky., the national commander of the Veterans of Future Wars, solemnly declared to the world, "Inasmuch as the coming war will deprive the most deserving bloc of Veterans of Future Wars of their bonus by causing their sudden and complete demise, the bonus must be paid now.” He demanded treasury payments of $1,900 If) each nude bet ween I 8 and 9b.

The ensuing uproar cut across party lines and political feuds of the early N w Deal era. Amid the trumpeting laughter a furious figure advanced

.James K. Van Zandt, national commander of the genuine Veterans of Foreign Wars, who had recently lobbied through Congress immediate payment of the World War I bonus. Van Zandt tugged his lanyard and exploded all over the papers. "A hunch of O'ont i nurd on /uHr .'{(

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monkeys,” he called the Princetonians. “They are too yellow to go to war. They will never be veterans of a future

We shall see how good Van Zandt was as a prophet.

This was 1936, when the great wave of pacifism that finally erupted two years later in the Munich pact, was slowly rising. The VFW jape was in no sense a pacifist movement but it twanged so powerfully on the imagination that everybody — isolationists, Communists, columnists and reactionaries wanted to get in on the act.

Within two days of the announcement there were Future Vet chapters in 19 colleges and, in four days, 70 chapters. On the seventh day the organizers stopped their clipping service after going broke paying for the bales of newspaper stories arriving at the national headquarters.

Benjamin C. O’Sullivan was appointed adjutant of the Gold Star Mothers of Future Wars, the feminine auxiliary, devoted to getting the government to send girls to Europe to gaze on the future graves of their unborn sons. Complaints from real “gold star mothers” led to changing the girls’ club to the Home Fire Division.

In two weeks there were 125 VFW chapters, from the Yale Divinity School to the University of Manitoba. At the City College of New York there was formed the Association of Foreign Correspondents of Future Wars, demanding government training in writing atrocity stories. The Profiteers of Future Wars yelled for fat munitions contracts, and the Future Gold Diggers formed among girls prepared to sit on the profiteers’ laps and drink champagne. There was also the Chaplains of Future Wars.

At the University of Toronto Gerald Anglin headed the Future Vets. Now an assistant editor of Maclean’s he remembers that Oliva Dionne was the honorary president and that the boys pleaded with the university to waive final exams that spring for “those about to die for their country.”

A Joke Snowballs

The Princeton VFW began like many another undergraduate hoax, in a bull session. Lewis Gorin, Jack Turner Archie Lewis and Pete Rushton were talking politics one night after dinner in the Terrace eating club. They thought the $2 billions Congress bad rec 'ntly voted for veteran bonuses was bad. Either Gorin or Turner remarked that bonuses should be paid before wars so the future victims could enjoy the dough.

The joke started an uproar in the dining room; others gathered around, topping the gag. Who coined the fateful name Veterans of Future Wars none can remember, but before the evening was out they had founded the outfit, distributed grandiose titles among themselves and held a mock national council meeting.

The fun might have ended at bedtime, except for Penn T Kimball II, who published on the front page of the Daily Princetonian, the original appeal of the Veterans of Future Wars. Robert G. Barnes sent off stories to the Associated Press and the United Press, of which he was the campus correspondent on space rates That got it

T exas Congressman Maury Maverick offered to introduce the Princeton

bonus bill in Congress. Letters flooded into headquarters, sending money, opinions, charter applications, and denunciations.

A March of Time crew came down to Princeton during the spring holidays and made a film about the Veterans of Future Wars. Feature writers streamed into the headquarters and quizzed the leaders. The boys answered all questions with a straight face and refused to admit the organization was a joke.

While working 12 hours a day in headquarters the leaders were also supposed to be writing their graduation theses. Gorin’s political science professor said he might submit a study of the Future Vets; the thesis was delivered in the form of a book published by Lippincott’s called “Patriotism Prepaid.” by Lewis Gorin, Jr., a little number he had run up during the excitement.

It was springtime in Princeton and, while weighty editorialists were debating the meaning of the VFW, the headquarters minutes included entries such as, “The meeting was adjourned to the Nassau Inn to look for the rest of the national council.”

A Treasury Raid Was Plotted

On April 6, 1936, three weeks after the spoof started, students throughout the continent observed the anniversary date of U. S. entrance in World War I by holding their annual antiwar strikes. The papers reported, “On many campuses uniformed units of the Veterans of Future Wars marched to denounce the armament race and military conscription.” The New York Times noted that “Gorin had intended merely to satirize the bonus lobby but on scores of campuses the more serious students turned the movement into peace propaganda?’ Future Vets participating in the antiwar strike at the University of Kansas were tear-gassed. The joke was becoming serious.

By the time of the first VFW national convention in May there were 480 chapters with 50.000 members. The convention was held in the Gold Room of the Beekman Hotel on Park Avenue, N.Y.C., under the gavel of R. Stuyvesant Pierrepont, commander of the N.Y. chapter. The conjunction of “Gold Room,” “Park Avenue” and “R. Stuyvesant Pierrepont” led to fresh charges that the hoys were creatures of big business.

The convention was a schoolboy romp which enacted nothing more sinister than another hoax. Engraved invitations were sent to 250 prominent citizens, inviting them to a March on Washington in June to “raid the treasury and disburse the bonus. Dancing in the streets. RSVP. Formal.”

That was the last of the Veterans of Future Wars. Graduation and the summer holidays, the inevitable victors over American student crusades, put an end to the weakening jest. In the following October national headquarters revoked 500 post charters and announced the dropping of the bonus agitation. The given reason was irrelevant “on account of the Presidential election.” The corporation was dissolved with an adverse hank balance of 44 cents.

What became of the 13 bright young men of Princeton who Van Zandt said were “too yellow to fight" and would "never be veterans of a future war”?

Ex-National Commander I^ewis J. Gorin, Jr., graduated in June, 1936. He entered Harvard Law School in the fall, passed the bar and bung his shingle in Louisville, Ky., bis home town. In 1940 he joined the Army. He fought in North Africa, Italy, France, Austria and Germany, and emerged as an

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artillery major with the Bronze Star. He’s now special assistant to the vice-president of the Reynolds Metals Co.

The national secretary, John Coburn Turner, had a tough time. Two days after he graduated from Princeton his spine was broken in a motor crash. He was in bed for three years, paralyzed from the waist down. While undergoing the physical therapy which has partially restored the use of his legs Turner listened to the radio, then chugged away on his wheel chair to the Washington Post, where he became a radio critic. In 1942 he switched to radio-script writing. Today Turner is the radioand television-script chief for the American Broadcasting Company network in Radio City, N.Y.

lie Worked With Wallace

U. J. P. (“Pete”) Rushton, a lanky drawling Alabaman, contributed some of the sharpest turns to the jest as commander of the southern region. He originated a celebrated stunt for use on patriotic tag days. As the buddy poppy salesmen stood on street corners Rushton stationed pretty girls next to them selling poppy seeds. Rushton joined the Navy, where he taught aerial navigation and served as flight navigator on the trans-Pacific runs of the Navy Air Transport Command. After the war he joined the English literature faculty of the University of Virginia. He died of cancer the day after Christmas 1949.

Penn T. Kimball II, who published the original manifesto, made the Princeton honors list and won a Phi Beta Kappa key. He spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and became a reporter on the late New York daily PM in 1939. He served as a combat correspondent with the Marines in the South Pacific, with five battle stars for assault landings and engagements. After the war he worked for Time magazine, and then for the New Republic during the editorship of Henry A. Wallace. Kimball is now a senator’s secretary in Washington.

The national treasurer of the VFW, Thomas Riggs, Jr., is the son of a former governor of Alaska. Riggs served in the Mediterranean area with the U. S. First Armored Division, advancing from private to first lieutenant by field promotions. He is now an English instructor at Princeton.

Robert G. Barnes, the press agent, spent nearly four years in the U S. infantry. He is now on the intelligence staff of the State Department in Washington.

Alexander Black, Jr., of Pittsburgh, is now a lawyer in that city. As an officer on the light cruiser San Diego he was in 14 engagements from Guadalcanal to Tokyo.

Richard D. Waters, another member of the national council, was also a naval officer in the Pacific. He is now an executive with Vick Chemical in New York.

Spoofers Are Sobersides Today

William P S. Breese, regional commander for the southwest, was an artillery officer in Europe, and founder Arthur S. Grenier was a second lieutenant in the Army. Both are now lawyers, in Texas and New York respectively.

Benjamin C. O’Sullivan, the adjutant of the girls’ auxiliary, was an infantry officer in Europe and is today a lawyer in Washington.

Regional commander for the far west, Archibald R. IÆWW, won the Bronze Star as an artillery major in Europe. He is now a history instructor at the University of South Carolina.

Football star John Paul Jones, comI mander of the Great Lakes district, was exempted from military service at the request of his employer, the Carnegiej Illinois Steel Co. of Youngstown, O.

The man who predicted they would never fight is now the Hon. James E. Van Zandt, Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania. Van Zandt is a Navy veteran of both World Wars. His burlesque antagonists are silenced and scattered, but the Hon. Jimmy is still plugging the old tune. He is a leading advocate of a bonus for World War II veterans.

So the schoolboy jokesters, whom many thought were perilous pacifists, are today sober conservative citizens. Their average income is around $10,000.

Eleven of the 13 served in the armed J forces: seven in the Army, three in the Navy and one in the Marines. They were all discharged as officers. They saw more than their share of action | and they haven’t changed their minds about soldier bonuses.

Quite a few state governments throughout the U. S. are already paying | World War II bonuses, ranging from I $50 to $500. Thomas Riggs voted against a bonus in New Jersey in the referendum which defeated the bonus proposal last year. Lewis Gorin is still against vet bonuses. When asked

recently if he would accept one if offered to him, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t refuse it. But I’m against

them. And I certainly won’t work for bonus legislation.”

Gorin is now 36 and has gained 20 pounds since leaving Princeton. His thick dark hair is tinged with grey. He is married, has two children, and lives in a $20,000-house neighborhood outside the industrial smog belt of Louisville, in Kentucky.

No Revival—Joke Over

Gorin feels that “there seems to be just as much need today for the Veterans of Future Wars as there was

then. There is much pressure for another nation-wide bonus. A new group could ridicule the bonus just as we did in 1936.” But Gorin himself wants nothing to do with reorganizing the outfit.

Thomas Riggs says, “I do not think the VFW should be revived. Joke

The mature Gorin’s greatest extracurricular activity today is Federal Union, Inc.; he goes around making speeches for a union of democratic nations. Gorin feels that in 1950 there is not the hopeless drift to war there was in 1936. “A year or so ago I thought there was a danger of war, but now I don’t see a war in the near future,” he says.

Jack Turner eased himself from his desk to a wheelchair to scoot off to a staff meeting at American Broadcasting and chuckled, “It’s funny how our old joke won’t die.” Turner has gathered the national office records, clipping files, correspondence and photos of the FVW and presented them to the Princeton Library as the archive of i that exciting depression-time spring when the Terrace Club pranksters I needled the conscience of the world.

The late Pete Rushton best described the attitude of the Veterans of Future Wars after they had experienced the | future war. "If another Veterans of Future Wars were started today, and there seems to be considerable reason ; for some such organization, they would have another reason for asking an advance payment of a bonus,” he said. “After the next war, if one comes, there not only will not be anybody to collect the bonus, there won’t lxanybody to pay it.” ★