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