The Legacy of the GI Bill

Marines display the American flag for a photograph shortly after securing a beachhead during the liberation of Guam July 21, 1944. (U.S. Marine Corps/John Raufmann)
Marines display the American flag for a photograph shortly after securing a beachhead during the liberation of Guam July 21, 1944. (U.S. Marine Corps/John Raufmann)

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill, it was a testament to optimism. Though the landings at Normandy were only two weeks old -- with American GIs fighting in bloody hedgerows, where gains were measured in yards not miles -- Roosevelt saw inevitable triumph and was preparing for the peace to follow.

With the fight for victory underway, Leo R. Croce was stateside learning how to pilot a bomber. He would eventually deploy to England and do his duty for democracy. He served in the 8th Air Force, which sustained some of the highest casualty totals in the war. Somehow, Croce survived 35 missions flying through flak and enemy fighters in the skies over Germany.

When the war ended, he and millions of his fellow combat veterans returned home to start families and find work. The GI Bill paved the way for them to make a successful transition from military to civilian life.

As the ringing of bells marks the start of a new school year for many students and teachers, at Leo R. Croce Elementary School in Livermore, California, the story of the school's namesake provides a history lesson in the transformative power of the GI Bill.

Croce was one of 7.8 million World War II veterans to utilize the GI Bill for education and training purposes. Upon graduation, this group excelled as it entered the workforce, creating a thriving middle class and launching a period of prosperity previously unknown in human history. In 1988, Congress determined that for every dollar spent on the GI Bill, the economy got seven dollars back.

But the GI Bill did more than fuel American prosperity; it transformed lives. Veterans were able to return from the nightmare of war and secure the American dream. It helped Croce earn a college degree and teaching credentials from the University of California at Berkeley. He would serve his community and impact the lives of future generations for 41 years as a teacher, coach, counselor, vice principal, principal, associate superintendent and superintendent. Ultimately, a school was given his name.

The legacy of the GI Bill continues today. In fact, veterans are utilizing this benefit and proving that they are at the top of the class on campus. They are more likely to graduate, to have a higher grade point average, and to earn academically rigorous degrees in fields of business, science, technology, math and engineering compared to their peers, according to one report.

Veterans are an asset to our workforce, and our communities as well. Like Croce, today's veterans continue to give back to their communities. According to the 2016 Veterans Health Civic Index, "veterans are more likely than non-veterans to vote, contact public officials, volunteer, give to charity, work with neighbors to fix problems in the community, and attend public meetings."

After signing the GI Bill, Roosevelt said, "It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down."

Seventy-five years after the signing of this bill, Croce and millions of veterans have returned the favor. Leo R. Croce Elementary School is a reminder that veterans don't need their names inscribed on monuments or memorials to testify to their service and sacrifice.

-- Brian Thompson is a U.S. Army veteran. He currently serves as a manager for military and veteran programs at Lockheed Martin.

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Military History GI Bill