June 22 marks the 75th anniversary of the original G.I. Bill, which has benefited 8 million veterans by providing education and training benefits. And it was made possible through the vision of Harry Colmery, a Pittsburgh native and 1916 graduate of Pitt’s School of Law.
Born in Braddock, Pennsylvania, Colmery (1890-1979) put his law career on pause when the U.S. entered World War I. After serving as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Service, Colmery settled in Kansas and went on to a successful career practicing law, arguing two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Having a degree from Pitt Law meant that Colmery had a secure professional path after the war, which was not the case for many other veterans. In 1936, Colmery served as the national commander of the American Legion, advocating for a better future for other servicemen and women when they returned to civilian life.
In 1944, handwritten on Mayflower Hotel stationery in Washington, D.C., Colmery wrote the initial draft of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the original G.I. Bill of Rights. The bill, signed by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, would provide education benefits to veterans and help ease their transition into civilian life.
As a result, 8 million World War II veterans — and millions more in subsequent wars — used the G.I. Bill to obtain an education. After World War II, over half of the country’s college students were veterans, who then went on to reinvigorate the economy and bolster the American identity. A multitude of programs were created as a result of the G.I. Bill, having effects in education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, home loan and health care.
“Harry Colmery’s commitment to helping veterans has translated into creating one of the most significant pieces of legislation of the 20th century,” said David Roudabush, outreach coordinator for Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services. “He has positively impacted so many lives, including the veterans that we’re proud to have as faculty, staff and students at Pitt.”