When Johnny Comes Marching Home (7/12/2019)

Even though the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” is a Civil War song, it could equally apply to World War II. The return of the veterans who served during World War II had a MAJOR impact on school-based agricultural education and university teacher training programs in agriculture.

When people study the history of school-based agricultural education there is scant attention paid to the time period 1945 to 1950. We often just skip over this time period with one sentence – a few agriculture teachers taught some night classes for veterans. That would be a woeful understatement. In this Footnote, we will explore how school-based agricultural education was impacted by the returning veterans.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act

On June 22, 1944 (75 years ago) President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (also known as the G.I. Bill) into law. It should be noted that World War II had not ended at that point in time. That would occur in 1945 with the surrender of Japan in September.

The law had four major benefits for former servicemen:

  1. Four years of education or vocational training (including agricultural education)
  2. A guaranteed loan if you wanted to buy a farm, home or business.
  3. Job counseling and placement
  4. Unemployment insurance if needed.

We will explore these four topics in reverse order.

4. Unemployment Insurance if needed. There was some concern that with the large influx of returning veterans there would be a scarcity of jobs. If veterans could not find employment, they were entitled to receive $20 a week for 52 weeks. This program was commonly referred to as the 52-20 Club. However, the concern about veterans choosing to do this was unfounded. Less than 20 percent of the money budgeted for this program was spent.

3. Job counseling and placement. The Veterans Administration provided job counseling and employment placement service for veterans

2. A guaranteed loan if you wanted to buy a farm, home or business. Any veteran who had served for ninety days or more was eligible for a loan at up to 4% interest. The loans were guaranteed by the Veterans’ Administration for up to 50% of their value. While this sounds good, there were some major failings in the program. The guaranty was limited to 50% of the loan, not to exceed $2,000. After the War, land prices increased substantially. The $2,000 limit was inadequate. However, the program was tweaked over time to raise this limit and change some of the confusing language in this section of the Act. From 1944 to 1952, over 2,360,000 World War II veterans received G.I. Bill loans. The peak year of 1947 totaled 640,298 loans, including 562,985 home loans, 24,690 farm loans, and 52,623 business loans (Murray, 2008; Veterans Administration, 2006)

1. Four years of education or vocational training (including agricultural education).The GI Bill entitled anyone with ninety days of service to one year of education. Each additional month of active duty earned a month of schooling, up to a maximum of 48 months. The law set a $500 per year limit for tuition, fees, and supplies, at a time when the cost of top universities ranged from $350 to $450. Single veterans could claim a subsistence allowance of $50 per month, while those who were married drew $75. By 1948, inflation had pushed these limits to $75 for those who were single and $105 for anyone with two dependents (Haydock, 1999).

G.I. Bill educational opportunities included more than traditional four-year colleges and universities. Many veterans opted for on-the-job and apprentice-based vocational training instead. Before the World War II era G.I. Bill program ended, 7,800,000 veterans out of a total population of 15,440,000 were trained. These totals included 2,230,000 in college; 3.480,000 in other schools; 1,400,000 in on-the-job training; and 690,000 in farm training. The farm training program went by the title of the Institutional On-Farm Training Program. The rest of this footnote will focus on the Institutional On-Farm Training Program (in a future Footnote we will look at the impact of the G. I. Bill on collegiate agricultural education programs).

An Illustration from the Veterans Administration
showing options for the returning veteran

The Institutional On-Farm Training Program

As veterans returned to their home communities after the war, many who had previously been enrolled in vocational agriculture programs and the FFA wanted to continue their agricultural studies. The G. I. Bill allowed this. At first the local agriculture teacher would provide instruction at night for a handful of the returning veterans, but it soon became obvious this type of effort would not work. We couldn’t expect the agricultural teacher to teach high school students all day long and then teach veteran classes 2-3 nights a week and make all the on-farm visits required in the program. A different approach would be needed. Accordingly, rules and regulations for conducting the Institution On-Farm Training program were established.

Classes were to be conducted in the agriculture department of the local high school but “special” teachers were employed to teach the veterans. Kirkland (1948, p. 83) identified these teachers as “assistant teachers of vocational agriculture” and Humphrey (1948, p. 132) identified them as “itinerant” teachers. These teachers were to be coordinated and supervised by the “regular” agriculture teacher. Ekstrom and McClelland (1952, p. 373) state “The use of the teacher of vocational agriculture as the local supervisor of veterans training, rather than as a teacher of veterans, is to be encouraged…” and then they provide a number of reasons why this was desirable. In some schools, there might be 2-3 teachers of veterans operating under the tutelage of the regular agriculture teacher. Humphrey said some Missouri schools had 3-6 veteran teachers per school.

Note the term – “Assistant Teacher”

Initially, the qualifications for being a veterans’ instructor was a Bachelor of Science degree in an area of agriculture. However, the large number of teachers required for the institutional on-farm training program created a problem in finding instructors who had a practical background and experience in agriculture and adequate training in technical agriculture and in methods of teaching. The need for teachers in states such as Oklahoma forced the State Board to permit the hiring of instructors who were graduates of an agriculture program at one of the two-year agricultural schools. In Missouri Humphrey (1948) said 100 more veteran instructions could be employed if they could find them. By far the biggest challenge in conducting veteran programs was in finding teachers.

The program required 200 hours of formal classroom/shop instruction and 100 hours of on-the-farm individualized instruction yearly. Typically, there would be 2-3 night classes a week. Often one night class was devoted for formal classroom instruction on topics such as soil fertility, dairy production, etc. and one night class would be devoted to instruction in the school shop on farm mechanics. If there was a third class meeting in the week, students often worked on projects in the shop. At times there would be field trips. Each veteran was to be visited twice a month on his farm or where he worked.

The number of veterans in the program probably exceeded the number of day students in the agriculture program. Ekstrom and McClelland published Adult Education in Vocational Agriculture in 1952. In the introduction to the book, it is stated that two out of every three persons enrolled in courses in departments of vocational agriculture in the public schools of the United States are young or adult farmers (this would include veterans). Ekstrom and McClelland (1952) report that in January of 1950 there were 343,507 farmer-veterans enrolled in training (p. 14). The fact that five chapters in the book are specifically devoted to Institutional On-Farm Training signify the importance of this program.

In 1948 in Missouri there were 13,625 veterans enrolled in 203 school programs (Humphrey 1948). In Oklahoma in 1948 there were 15,549 veterans enrolled in 700 classes in 342 communities. Seven hundred teachers were employed to teach veterans (Niemi, 2006). In Arkansas in 1949 19,181 white veterans were enrolled in on-farm training programs while there were 1,850 Negro veterans enrolled (Hotz, 1950). These numbers are typical of enrollments in veterans training classes; especially in the southern states.

Of the 481 vocational agriculture schools in North Carolina that offered training to veterans, 382 were only open to white farmers. Programs for black farmers were offered in 99 schools. By 1950, these schools had trained 20,000 white veterans and 5,000 black veterans, in a state whose rural population was roughly 35 percent black (Petty, 2008).

Farm Record keeping was an important topic

State Departments of Education signed an agreement with the Veterans Administration to operate the Institutional On-Farm Training Program. The Veterans Administration provided the funds to operate the program. It was not uncommon for the size of the state agricultural education supervisory staff to double or triple in size to implement and supervise the on-farm training program. The April 1949 issue of The Agricultural Education Magazine had a directory of the state staff responsible for on-farm training. Some states, particularly the New England states listed the regular state staff as being responsible for veterans training while other states might list 3-15 additional staff with veteran training responsibilities.

One way to gauge the importance of the on-farm training program for veterans is to analyze articles on that topic published in The Agricultural Education Magazine during this time period. A lot of space was devoted to this one topic. There were 71 articles published in the five year period between January 1945 (the war ended in September of 1945) and December 1949. A table is attached that shows the title of the articles. Table 1 Veterans Articles in Ag Ed

One can easily identify how the content of the articles evolved over time as the veterans training program was implemented. The early articles focused on planning veterans programs. There are articles about how to conduct surveys, assess employment opportunities, and determine program objectives and desired outcomes. In the middle years, there are a plethora of articles from schools and states across the nation describing the veterans programs they had in operation. Then we start seeing articles about how to evaluate the veteran programs or the benefits of the program. One should peruse the list of articles.

Concluding Remarks

The Institutional On-Farm Training Program is a rather important part of the history of agricultural education but has largely been ignored or forgotten. It played a major role in helping our veterans return to a normal life. In this Footnote, we have barely scratched the surface in regard to the program. Many veterans were able to get established in farming as a result of the program.

Leo Stanley, an agriculture teacher in Benton Harbor, Michigan sums up the on-farm training program by writing (1946, p. 31) “The G. I. Bill offers the high school department of vocational agriculture a challenge. It is an opportunity to develop not just another means of paying a soldier bonus, but rather a worthwhile program of agriculture training that will pay dividends in happiness, establishment and security for veterans in the community…”

The World War II G.I. Bill ended in 1956 but has been extended a number of times to include veterans of Korea, Viet Nam and other military conflicts.


Doing Something Right for the Veterans: The G.I. Bill of Rights. https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/ww2/Pages/after-gi.aspx

Ekstrom, G. & McClelland, J. (1952). Adult Education in Agriculture. The Interstate: Danville, IL. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015062220564&view=1up&seq=5

Haydock, M. (1999). The G.I. Bill. https://www.historynet.com/the-gi-bill-cover-page-october-99-american-history-feature.htm

Hotz, H. G. (1950). History and Development of Institutional on-Farm Training in Arkansas. University of Arkansas: Fayetteville. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009087163

Humphrey, C. M. (1948, December). Institutional On-Farm Training in Missouri. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Volume 21, Issue 6.

Kirkland, J. B. (1948, October). In-Service Training of Teachers of Institutional On-Farm Classes. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Volume 21, Issue 4.

Melissa Murray, When War Is Work: The G.I. Bill, Citizenship, and the Civic Generation, 96 Calif. L. Rev. 967 (2008).

Niemi, Bruce E. (2005) Swords into Ploughshares: a Historical Account of the Institutional On-farm Training Program in Oklahoma Under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, 1945—1966 https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Swords-into-Ploughshares%3A-a-Historical-Account-of-Niemi/5b7d19e4844ed2c7e9c93c928853e7a86831d024

Petty, Adrienne. (2008). I’ll Take My Farm: The GI Bill, Agriculture and Veterans in North Carolina. Journal of Peasant Studies. Volume 35, Issue 4.

Stanley, L. R. (1946, August). Our Program for Training Veterans. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Volume 19, Issue 2.

Veterans Administration (2006). Legislative History of the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program. https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/ww2/Documents/history-va-home-loan.pdf