75 years ago FDR signed the GI Bill, which would improve the lives of millions of veterans

By KIMBERLY BARKER | The Joplin Globe, Mo. | Published: June 21, 2019

JOPLIN, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — For Navy veterans Maghan and Jamie Alberts, of Oronogo, the GI Bill not only let them pursue a higher education after returning home from the service in 1997, it also gave them the opportunity to start a new life together.

“It helped us support ourselves, and basically, we were able to pay all of our bills on it, support a child on it and come to school full time, both of us,” Maghan Alberts said.

The two were stationed at Naval Base Point Loma on the USS McKee, a depot ship that provided maintenance and logistic support for nuclear attack submarines. They fell in love after meeting in 1993 and recently celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary.

“Both of us don’t come from well-to-do-families, so we knew our parents probably couldn’t pay for us to go to college,” Maghan Alberts said. “I told them when I enlisted that I wanted the Navy College Fund, which gives you extra money, in addition to the GI Bill.”

After three years of hard work and studying, the couple graduated with degrees in December 2000. Maghan Alberts earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and an associate degree in law enforcement. She now serves as Missouri Southern State University’s veterans services coordinator and can guide the way for student veterans who need guidance or financial assistance.

Jamie Alberts obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and has worked as a fifth grade teacher at Carthage Intermediate Center for the past 16 years. Maghan Alberts said they were able to use the GI Bill for the entire 36 months that they attended school. The couple was also able to afford their first home by securing a VA home loan as part of the GI Bill.

"We used the VA home loan to buy our three-bedroom house," Jamie Alberts said. "The nice thing about it is that you don't have to put a down payment. On our house, we would've had to pay at least a $10,000 home down payment."

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill, turns 75 years old on Saturday. The GI Bill was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, and offered an array of benefits to military personnel returning home from World War II. The original bill was drafted by Harry Colmery, an American Legion past national commander.

Through the bill, eligible servicemembers, veterans and their families could have access to low-interest mortgage and small-business loans, as well as living stipends and grants to attend college or trade school. Seven years after its passage, approximately eight million veterans received educational benefits through the bill, according to data from the National Archives.

State Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, said the bill prevented the United States from going into a recession after the war because veterans were getting an education instead of being unemployed.

“The bill was an incredibly large move, as far as the economy goes and integrating servicemen back into society,” White said. “This gave the men and women coming back the opportunity to go to school, and it took some of the strain off of that unemployment situation. I think it allowed the people returning from the war to be able to really incentivize and to get the personnel resources they needed for the economy to grow."

White is also one of the millions of Americans who have benefited from the GI Bill over the years. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an air traffic controller from 1973 to 1976.

“When I got out of the service after the Vietnam War, no matter whether you served in Vietnam or not, veterans weren’t really highly thought of,” White said. “People didn’t regard veterans very highly. Today, it’s great that you see people getting really concerned and showing support for veterans.”

Before the service, White had attended school at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, and also worked to try to make ends meet.

"I had done a year and a half at a community college where I worked 32 hours a week, and that’s a demanding thing to do when going to school," he said. "Your grades suffer from it."

White then went back to school after the military and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history with honors and distinction from the University of Kansas, as well as a master’s degree in Soviet area studies from the University of Chicago. He credits the GI Bill for his educational career because it gave him time to focus on his schoolwork rather than worrying about financial stresses.

“The GI Bill really kept me from having to work a full-time job while going to college,” White said. “It allowed me to get the grades I got and get into graduate programs. It would have been much more difficult (without it).”

Sam Mahurin, of Joplin, a member of the American Legion Post 13 and honor guard, said several of the organization's 200 members have been affected by the GI Bill. Mahurin is a retired command sergeant major who he spent 34 years in the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserves. He spoke highly of the bill.

“I know for a lot of young soldiers, the GI Bill is their only chance to go to college,” Mahurin said. “Most soldiers use the GI Bill in one way or another. I personally have used the education benefits when I pursued my degree in business, and I never experienced any problems with it. It’s a great thing and gives soldiers the opportunity to get an education."

©2019 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
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