By Marla Ogletree

June 22, 1944, members of congress met to discuss the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 or the “G.I. Bill”, a law which provides a range of benefits for returning veterans. While the original G.I. Bill expired in 1956, the name is still used for programs benefiting veterans.Since World War I, members of the American Legion campaigned tirelessly for better benefits for returning veterans. At the time, the only compensation was the World War Adjustment Compensation Act of 1924, which granted bonuses in the form of certificates. However, the certificates could not to be redeemed until 1945. After riots in the streets from angry veterans and family members, President Roosevelt would issue an executive order allowing 25,000 veterans to join the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1936, the president would then pass the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act, authorizing the bonuses be paid to  veterans.

In order to avoid another catastrophe, politicians wanted to make it perfectly clear what the benefits would be for returning vets. Affected by earlier occurrences, veteran organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the America Legion, lobbied with congress for a bill that offered not just bonuses, but benefits for men and women veterans of military services. 

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 would provide immediate financial rewards for almost all World War II veterans. Benefits would include low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, one year of unemployment compensation, and dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college, or vocational school. These benefits were offered to all veterans who had been on active duty during the war years for at least 90 days and had not been dishonorably discharged. Little did congress know, even after 75 years, how important this legislation would still be. 

What some may not know is this bill may not have been possible without the work of Congressman John Strickland Gibson. Gibson was born in Folkston, January 3, 1893 to William Owen Gibson and Julia Ann Vickery Gibson. He attended Charlton County schools, but would move to Douglas following graduation. To this day, he is the only native to be elected to congress. Before the bill could be moved to the floor for a vote, it had to make its way out of the committee, which was deadlocked at 3-3. Supporters of the bill made a mad dash to find Congressman Gibson, who they knew would vote in their favor, but he could not be reached. They had radio stations broadcasting help in finding Gibson. State troopers stopped cars in hopes of finding him. Once he was finally found, he was told he needed to return to the capitol to cast his vote. The Hearst Wire Service had to wake up the Eastern Airline manager who held up a plane scheduled for a 2:30 a.m. flight out of Jacksonville. He arrived at the airport, took off to D.C. and landed at 6:37 a.m. Making dramatic history, he cast the deciding vote, leading to the passage of the “Greatest Legislation”.