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In Praise of the GI Bill

Giving veterans a new start on life.

GI Bill - La Ley de Soldado

Al Martinez as a young soldier in Korea. — Photo: Courtesy of Al Martinez

I studied political science and photography at UC, then went on to a community college for courses in international politics and the history of China, followed by a study of libel law at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco—all on the GI Bill. By then I had landed a job across the bay at a small daily newspaper in Richmond, a city where Henry Kaiser had turned out fleets of Liberty Ships during the Second World War.

When I was hired, I figured my career had begun, so I never applied for a degree. But what I learned has never been wasted, contributing to the fund of knowledge that a good journalist must possess.

Our living situation was better but still not ideal. Late in 1952, we moved from San Francisco’s cramped studio apartment into what had been temporary war housing for Richmond’s shipyard workers, a series of box-like units spread over an area called Triangle Village. Our new housing was barely adequate, in addition to which it was dangerous and noisy.

Unfenced railroad tracks that ran along the edge of the tract put children, including our daughter Cindy, at risk. The 24-hour-a-day noise of trains roaring by disrupted what serenity Triangle offered and made a full night’s sleep almost impossible. We began looking around for a better, safer place to raise a family; we turned once more to the GI Bill.

After weeks of searching, we found what we wanted under construction in the hills overlooking Richmond. The builder was asking $12,500. Meanwhile, I had applied to the VA for a loan under the GI Bill and on February 18, 1954, received a certificate of eligibility. Improbably, on a newspaper salary of $75 a week we were able to buy the house with no down payment, a loan partially guaranteed by Uncle Sam, and a 4 percent interest rate—all this from a government that I thought had abandoned us. I still have that certificate.

Our second daughter, Linda, was born in the home we occupied for ten years before moving up to a larger place on a two-acre lot at the foot of Mt. Diablo. Our son Allen came along as my career flourished at the Oakland Tribune and reached new heights when I moved on to the Los Angeles Times, where I shared in three Gold Medal Pulitzer Prizes as a reporter and then a columnist.

The GI Bill offered veterans an emotional as well as a financial boost. This was especially true for those of us who fought in the Korean War and returned not to accolades but to silence. It opened the door to a career filled with honors that continued for 57 years. By allowing me to continue my education and to buy a first house, the GI Bill gave my entire family a start. It was America’s ultimate thank-you for a year at war.

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