Harry W. Colmery, 1890-1979

The father of the G.I. Bill, Harry Walter Colmery, was born Dec. 11, 1890, in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1913 with an A.B. degree, and from the University of Pittsburgh in 1916 with his L.L.B. degree. Following graduation, he moved out to Utah to begin his law career.

When America entered World War I, Colmery answered the call to serve his country by enlisting in the Army in 1917. He was initially commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Kelly Field to help train new officers in drill regulations. A year later he was promoted to first lieutenant and served as a pursuit pilot. Before his discharge in 1919, he had accumulated 500 hours flying time. Colmery then served as a captain in the Officers Reserve Corps, air service, for 10 years.

In late 1919, Colmery relocated to Topeka, Kansas, where he returned to practice law. In order to stay connected with his fellow veterans, Colmery joined the American Legion. He was elected National Commander in 1936. The legion and helping America’s veterans became Colmery’s passion. Aside from serving as National Commander, he held a number of executive board roles with The Legion over the years.

When it seemed as if World War II was drawing to a close, Colmery knew that action must be taken to prevent the same desperate circumstances that the veterans from the “Great War” faced. After a number of intense discussions and recommendations, Colmery crafted the original draft of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – the G.I. Bill. As thanks for his work on drafting the Bill, Colmery was invited to witness President Roosevelt sign the bill into law June 22, 1944.

Over his lifetime, Colmery was honored with a number of awards, including:

  • The French Legion of Honor, 1936
  • Order of the Crown of Italy, 1936
  • Distinguished Service Medal, 1961
  • National Guard of Honor, Washington, D.C., 1961
  • Phillipines Legion of Honor, 1961
  • American Legion’s Distinguished Service Award, 1975
  • Kansas Bar Association’s Distinguished Service Award, 1976
  • Topeka Bar Association President’s Good Citizen Award, 1976

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