Congressman Plays Essential Role in the Passing of the GI Bill

Bernard Kearney ’14 was instrumental in the authoring and passing of the GI Bill, which has been named one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed by the federal government. The GI Bill, officially called the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, benefited veterans returning from World War II who found it difficult to reintegrate into the American lifestyle after facing the horrors of war. This bill allowed veterans to receive low-interest loans, one year of unemployment compensation at $20 per week, and cash payments to attend college. This bill not only helped veterans— it was seen as an attempt to avoid another depression following war, and therefore helped with social and economic problems that were beginning to rise in the country.

When the GI Bill was in front of Congress, there was controversy over the social impacts of the bill, as some believed it would encourage veterans to remain unemployed. If it weren’t for Kearney, who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1942 to 1959, it may not have been passed. The bill was deadlocked in a congressional committee, and in order to break the tie, Kearney desperately sought Frank Gibson, a member of the committee who had returned to Georgia. Kearney believed that his vote would help pass the GI Bill into law. He found Gibson with the help of local police and rushed the congressman back to Capitol Hill, just in time for the vote that landed in the GI Bill’s favor. 

A native New Yorker from Ithaca, Kearney graduated from Albany Law School in 1914 and continued his path in law, practicing in the counties of Hamilton and Fulton in New York State. He served as city judge for Gloversville for two terms, lasting from 1920 to 1924. Afterwards, he held the position of assistant district attorney in Fulton for five years and went on to serve as district attorney from 1931 to 1942.

In addition to making significant changes to the way veterans are treated in the US, Kearney was a colonel in the army who fought in World War I. He was promoted to Brigadier General and was later elected in 1936 as the National Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He later received the Philippine Legion of Honor for his service to the nation.    

By Eirinn Norrie