WWII and Modern Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican Experience In The U.S. Military: A Century Of Unheralded Service

written by Dr. Harry Franqui-Rivera; Senior Digital Aide, Monique Aviles


Training of draftees

The G.I. Bill in Puerto Rico

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was finally signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 22nd, 1944. The Veterans Administration became responsible for carrying out the law's key provisions: education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay. Millions of veterans who would have flooded the job market after the war suddenly had the option of attaining college and vocational education. According to the Veterans Administration, in 1947, “veterans accounted for 49% of college admissions. By the time the original GI Bill ended on July 25th, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or training program.” Furthermore, between 1944 and 1952, the VA “backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans.” More compelling, few veterans “collected on one of the bill's most controversial provisions—the unemployment pay. Less than 20% of funds set aside for this was used.”


"G.I. Bill History" [United States Department of Veterans Affairs]; accessed December 4th, 2009.


The G.I Bill transforms Puerto Rico

  • In 1946, Veterans’ benefits represent the third largest source of federal expenses (22 million) only behind rum repatriated excessive taxes (26.6 millions) and military agencies’ expenditures (84 millions).
  • Miguel A. Muñoz, Director of the Veterans Administration in the island, informed Muñoz Marín that by June 30th, 1948 roughly 49,000 veterans had received unemployment readjustment pay for a total of $40,755,971.
  • By the time the original GI Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or training program in the U.S. as a whole.
  • In 1946 - 47, the Department of Education in the island had readied itself for the returning soldiers and trained 1,167 academic teams which employed 3,677 people to cater 36,584 veterans.
  • Besides primary and secondary teachings the DoE conducted over 650 workshops and 8,418 veterans received diplomas that first year.
  • That year the DoE again counted 36,584 veterans finishing high school, 1,798 in vocational (industrial) schools, and 936 pursuing vocational agricultural studies.
  • The DoE was spending over $3,000,000 annually to run these programs.
  • During the academic year of 1947-48, the local government helped over 40,000 veterans to obtain the necessary credentials or certifications necessary to receive education under the Servicemen Readjustment Act.

According to a report from Pedro Gil, Director of Veterans’ Division the Department of Education, over 48,075 veterans were receiving some kind of secondary education. Over 2,000 were receiving vocational industrial training and roughly 1,200 were enrolled in vocational agricultural studies. The report boasted that over 50,000 veterans were receiving some kind of instruction.

The enrollment in the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) increased 24% from 5,869 students in 1941-42 to 7,300 for the year 1944-45, and it would continue to expand mostly in part to accommodate a growing veteran population - which now had the means to go to college.

The total veteran population for the academic year 1947-48, rose to 2,074 students. The next year 2,307 were attending the UPR. The importance of these thousands of soldiers who received technical training went beyond that of providing technicians. They subsidize the schooling of thousands more since their tuition, books and other expenses were paid in full by the Federal Government which allowed the UPR to expand in other areas while keeping tuition rates low and offering scholarships.


The Military as a School and Maker of Modern Men

“Soldado Ocasio, ciudadano Ocasio, jíbaro Ocasio, soldados y ciudadanos y jibaros en todos los montes de Puerto Rico y en todos los frentes y campamentos del mundo, la esperanza de Puerto Rico esta en ustedes.” [1]


"Soldier Ocasio, citizen Ocasio, jíbaro Ocasio, soldiers and citizens and jibaros in all the hills in Puerto Rico, in all fronts and camps throughout the world, you are Puerto Rico's hope.“

Major Gen. E.F. Harding and Corp. Pedro Ocasio
Daily News, (Sunday Edition) N.Y., March 25, 1945, (47), AFLMM

World War II changed Puerto Rico’s society.
More changes were to come.


Continue to Korean War


[1] Luis Muñoz Marín, Discursos, 1934-1948, Vol. 1. “Mensaje en Homenaje al soldado típico, Pedro Ocasio” - February 7, 1945, and, “Discurso en el Día del Armisticio”, November 12, 1945.

Photo caption: Training of draftees