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Harry Walter Colmery

Born: 1890 Died: 1979Harry Colmery

Harry Walter Colmery was born December 11, 1890, in Braddock, Pennsylvania.  He was one of four children born to Walter and Flora Colmery.  His father owned a local grocery store, where Harry worked as a youth.  He was an industrious young man. In addition to working at the grocery store, he also had a newspaper route and worked for the Union Pacific Railroad.  After high school, Harry attended Oberlin College and graduated in 1913.  He attended law school at the University of Pittsburgh, earning his degree in 1916. Harry moved to Utah, where he was admitted to the bar in 1917.

His law career was interrupted by America’s entry into World War I in April, 1917.  During the war, Colmery served in the Army Air Service as an instructor and pursuit pilot. He was discharged in April, 1919.  On December 20, 1919, Colmery married his college sweetheart Minerva Hiserodt. The Colmerys had three children: Mary, Harry W., Jr., and Sarah Elizabeth.

Harry Colmery moved to Topeka to practice law with John S. Dean.  Colmery remained in Topeka until his death in 1979 at the age of 88. 

Harry's years in the Army had a big impact on him and he was an advocate for veterans the rest of his life.  He became involved in the American Legion at the local, state, and national levels.  He served as national commander of the American Legion in 1936.  In the years following World War II, the name Harry Colmery was a “household word” in his hometown of Topeka, the state of Kansas and the nation because of his support of veterans and his involvement in the American Legion. 

Harry Colmery of Topeka was a member of the American Legion’s national legislative committee before, during, and after WWII.  Between World War I and World War II, he worked to change regulations to allow veterans to be treated at Veteran’s Hospitals for non-service related illnesses and to allow for the expansions of the veteran’s hospital system. 

During WWII, he was involved in the debate of how to assist the millions of veterans that would be returning to the work force at the end of the war.  Many feared a return to the Great Depression with men and women who had served their country joining the ranks of the unemployed after they were discharged. 

Colmery is credited with writing the draft of what became the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known as the G. I. Bill of Rights.  He then worked for its adoption after its introduction in Congress in January 1944, and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.  The G. I. Bill provided books, tuition, and a monthly stipend for veterans who enrolled in colleges and universities.  More than two million veterans attended college on the G.I. Bill, and it is estimated that in 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college students.  Another 5 million veterans attended vocational schools or participated in on-the-job training opportunities funded through the G. I. Bill.  Other provisions of the G.I. Bill provided low interest loans for buying a home and unemployment pay known as 52/20 Club, which provided a payment of $20 a week for up to 52 weeks while veterans looked for jobs following their discharge.  

The Colmery-O'Neil Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka, Kansas, is named for him.

Material from the Harry Colmery Collection are available on Kansas Memory, including testimony he presented on behalf of the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 (G. I. Bill. 

Entry: Colmery, Harry Walter

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2011

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.