June 22 was the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill of Rights. GI stands for Government Issue and during WWII and afterward, servicemen became known as simply GI Joes. That might have something to do with Bill Mauldin’s sketches of battle-weary soldiers during WWII.
The GI Bill was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944 and provided low cost mortgages for land and homes with no down payment and low interest loans for education. The bill also had a clause known as the 52/20. This clause provided for payment of $20 a week to a veteran for up to 52 weeks while he was looking for a job. I found it extremely interesting that less than 20% of the money allotted for this part of the bill was used. Almost all the veterans found a job within a few weeks.
I started to Midwestern University (then it was Hardin College) September 1946 and the west side of the campus was covered with small one and two-bedroom trailers, housing provided for the veterans and their families enrolled in college. This influx of men eager to pursue an education increased the enrollment so that by the time school began in September Hardin Junior College reached a full four-year college accreditation. Then within four years it became Midwestern University.
In 1946 my college fielded its first football team and veterans using the education part of the GI Bill played many of the positions. Excitement was at a fever pitch as our mostly inexperienced team took the field. It was a successful season for the Hardin Indians and we were all adopted by the Wichita tribe in Oklahoma. Our football team beat North Texas in the ’48 season and we celebrated for a week!
After graduation I went to live in Dallas, met and married Tom Whitis and settled down to life as a bankers’ wife in the city. One day Tom came home from the bank and told me that he was tired of living in the city and fighting traffic and sitting behind a desk. Although he had been born and raised in the city he had a deep desire to get out of it and live in the country. He had served in the United States Navy during WWII and he wanted to use the GI Bill to buy a farm.
The farm we found was 300 acres in the Huckabay Community, no house, no improvements of any kind, just tall Johnson grass in the front part and a thick stand of live and post oaks with a small sprinkle of mesquite trees in the back pasture. We signed the loan on this piece of land that was part of the holdings of one of the original families that settled this area, known as the Gentry Place. We rented a house in Stephenville. I applied for a job teaching school and Tom began plans to make a living on this piece of land.
Our farm cost $50 an acre. The interest was 3%. We had to make 1 payment every six months. That was our deal under the GI Bill. Tom looked around and decided that the best way to make a living on the farm at that time was to operate a dairy so we built a double four flat barn and bought 7 Holstein and 7 Guernsey springing heifers. We bought two bucket milkers from Montgomery Ward, had a wash vat built and a cooling vat for the 10 gallon cans of fresh milk that we hoped to have.
In those days the inspector required dairymen to cover the floors in the milking barn with powdered lime; paint everything else white and hang a clip board on a certain nail in the milk room. We did everything he asked and were graded in.
I’ll skip those first months when Tom was learning how to handle cows; build fences; be a veterinarian’s helper; buy feed; pitch hay; assist in calving; feed calves etc. etc. etc. He learned and all I did was teach school, care for a young son, then a daughter; prepare meals; dress the family; shop for groceries and other supplies etc. etc. etc.
Life was good. We bought more cows; learned more about dairying; and within a couple of years were able to build a house on our farm.
Through the years we bought more land, built a new, bigger dairy barn, bought more cows, raised more heifers, showed cattle across the state and the nation. Dairying was good and we all worked hard at it.
We did this while living in the very best place in the whole world. Tom used to ask me, on long summer evenings while we were laid back in our recliners; “If you could live anywhere in the world where would you pick?”
He knew the answer already because he had asked it a hundred times but he waited for me to answer as if he really wanted to know. My answer was always the same….”Right here, Honey, right here!”
The GI Bill changed my life and the lives of my family. I absolutely cannot imagine how life would have been without it. And that’s a fact!