Descendant of GI Bill Helps Descendants, Spouses of Military Personnel

Now, under a new version that took effect Saturday, members of the Armed Forces with 10 years of service can transfer their educational benefits to spouses and children. That provision alone seems heaven-sent to military families in an age when the skyrocketing cost of college soars far above their pay grades.

Burke easily qualified for the new benefit: She has 28 years in, during which she took out $40,000 in loans -- and spent her savings -- to put Delaney's two older sisters through college.

"My mom is really excited about this," said Delaney, who has a while to decide what to study in college.

As of now, her interests are singing and learning to be a makeup artist.

Delaney and her mother were standing on the broad lawns of the Naval Station Great Lakes, where Rhonda Burke is stationed. Just behind them, a troop of Navy SEALs was marching, the cadets keeping cadence with a bit of youthful bravado: "Get in your tanks and follow me...GET IN YOUR TANKS AND FOLLOW ME. ..."

That tableau spoke to the premise of GI Bills, past and present.

"Servicemen and women put their lives on the line for the American dream, so it's the least we can do for them," said Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, veterans can get up to 100 percent coverage of tuition and fees, based on a rising scale of service that starts at 90 days on active duty since the date for which the bill is named. It also provides stipends for housing and books. National Guard and Reserve units are covered too.

It also makes up, in some small way, for a bit of misogyny written into the original, said Kathleen Frydl, the author of the recently published book "The GI Bill."

She said that when the original bill was in Congress, widows of servicemen killed in World War II wanted to be included. Instead of the death benefits due them, they asked for tuition so they could go to college and become self-supporting. They dubbed themselves Gold Star Wives, after the pennant that then hung in windows marking a household that had lost a member. "Congress steadfastly refused that," said Frydl, a historian at the University of California-Berkeley. "Some women veterans couldn't use the GI Bill."

In some states, she said, married women couldn't make legal contracts and thus couldn't get government-guaranteed loans provided for by the GI Bill.

After World War I, soldiers, sailors and Marines were mustered out with $60 and a train ticket.

During the Great Depression, some vets demanded a bonus that also was promised them but was deferred for years. In 1932, veterans marched on Washington to ask for payment. Instead, their encampment was destroyed by Army troops chasing them out of the nation's capital.

That history was on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's mind when he proposed the GI Bill, at a time when American troops were on the battlefields of World War II.

"They must not be demobilized," he said in a radio address, "to a place on a bread line, or on a corner selling apples."

The GI Bill sent millions of vets to college, and financially enabled myriads to become homeowners. So many vets signed up for the University of Illinois that a campus was opened on Navy Pier in 1946. It became the ancestor of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Those first GI Bill students got a full ride. But over time, benefits lagged behind rising college costs. Yet, servicemen and women were again deploying, this time to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Some served multiple tours of duty.

The Post 9/11 Bill rights the scales again, pegging payments to the tuition at public universities. Vets who want to go to private institutions, where tuitions are generally higher, now can get help under the Yellow Ribbon Program. Under it, colleges volunteer to split the additional cost of a vet's education with the federal government, specifying how many they are willing to underwrite.

Duckworth noted that spirit of generosity is especially needed when vets are making the transition to civilian life in tough economic times.

"A former tank repairman can find it hard to convince an employer he's got useful skills," she said. "If we send him to college and he gets a job, that's good for everybody -- and we owe it to him."

Roosevelt said much the same when signing the original GI Bill on June, 22, 1944 -- 16 days after D-Day. GIs were slogging their way through Normandy and islands of the Pacific. Roosevelt said the bill "gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down."

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