Editorial: Colmery’s legacy of serving veteransTopeka Capital Journal
August 18, 2017
Last summer, the Harry Colmery Plaza was dedicated in downtown Topeka exactly 72 years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 — legislation more commonly known as the GI Bill.
Harry Colmery’s niece, Jean Roberts, left, and granddaughter, Mina Steen, inspect the statue of their family member after it’s unveiling Tuesday afternoon in downtown Topeka. The new plaza is dedicated to Harry Colmery, a Topekan who is responsible for the creation of the GI Bill. (2016 file photograph/The Capital-Journal)
After serving in World War I, Colmery became a tireless advocate for veterans, and his involvement with the American Legion culminated in his appointment as national commander in 1936. He was also a member of the organization’s national legislative committee, and during World War II, he wrote a draft that eventually became the GI Bill.
Colmery witnessed the awful treatment of American veterans when they returned from World War I. After enduring unimaginable horrors on the battlefield, they were thanked with abject poverty, a lack of basic health care, no job prospects and no chance to pursue an education. Many of them suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder — a condition that wasn’t well-understand and for which treatments were still in the early stages of development — and other devastating war wounds. This made finding a job, paying for a home and caring for a family even more difficult. Then the Great Depression came.
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Harry Colmery also left a history report of how Congress has failed veterans ever since.