Douglas MacArthur (26 January 1880-5 April 1964)


‚ú™ From the cradle to grave, Douglas MacArthur practically lived his entire life in the United States Army. As historian David McCullough observed, “You couldn’t shrug your shoulders at Douglas MacArthur. There was nothing bland about him, nothing passive about him, nothing dull about him. There’s no question about his patriotism, there’s no question about his courage, and there’s no question, it seems to me, about his importance as one of the great American military protagonists of the 20th Century.”¬†

A¬†military brat, Douglas MacArthur was born January 26th 1880, at¬†Little Rock Barracks,¬†Arkansas, to¬†Arthur MacArthur Jr., a U.S. Army¬†captain and his wife, Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur (nicknamed “Pinky”). Douglas’ father, Arthur MacArthur Jr. was the son of Scottish-born jurist and politician¬†Arthur MacArthur Sr..¬†Arthur Jr. served in the Union Army & would receive the¬†Medal of Honor¬†for his actions¬†in the¬†Battle of Missionary Ridge¬†during the¬†American Civil War¬†and be promoted to the rank of¬†lieutenant general. His mother Pinkney came from a prominent¬†Norfolk, Virginia family. Of the extended family, MacArthur is also distantly related to¬†Matthew Perry, the famous¬†Commodore¬†in the¬†U.S. Navy. The family lived on a succession of Army posts in the¬†American Old West where conditions were often primitive. In his memoir,¬†Reminiscences, MacArthur wrote “I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write‚ÄĒindeed, almost before I could walk and talk.”

In September 1893, Douglas’ father was posted to San Antonio, Texas. While there, MacArthur attended the¬†West Texas Military Academy,¬†where he was awarded the gold medal for “scholarship and deportment.” He also participated on the school tennis team, played quarterback on the school football team and shortstop on the baseball team. He was named valedictorian of his graduating class with a final year average of 97.33 out of 100.

MacArthur entered West Point on June 13th 1899. He graduated first in his 93-man class on June 11th 1903. At the time, it was customary for the top-ranking cadets to be commissioned into the United States Army Corps of Engineers; therefore, MacArthur was commissioned as a second lieutenant in that corps. Douglas joined the 3rd Engineer Battalion and departed for the Philippines in October 1903. In November of 1903, while working on Guimaras, he was ambushed by a pair of Filipino guerrillas. He shot and killed both with his pistol. He was promoted to first lieutenant in Manila in April 1904.

In October 1905, MacArthur received orders to proceed to Tokyo for an appointment as aide-de-camp to his father. A man who knew the MacArthurs at this time wrote: “Arthur MacArthur was the most flamboyantly egotistical man I had ever seen, until I met his son.”¬†They went on to inspect Japanese military bases at Nagasaki, Kobe, and¬†Kyoto, then headed to India via¬†Shanghai, Hong Kong,¬†Java¬†and Singapore; finally reaching¬†Calcutta¬†in January 1906.

MacArthur was promoted to the rank of¬†Major¬†on December 11th 1915. In June 1916, he was assigned as head of the Bureau of Information in the War Department in the office of the Secretary of War,¬†Newton D. Baker. MacArthur has since been regarded as the Army’s first press officer. Following the declaration of war on Germany on April 6th 1917, Baker and MacArthur secured an agreement from President Wilson for the deployment & use of the¬†National Guard¬†on the Western Front. MacArthur suggested sending first a division organized from units of different states, so as to avoid the appearance of favoritism toward any particular state.

The 42nd Division entered the line in the quiet Lunéville sector in February 1918. On February 26th, MacArthur and Captain Thomas T. Handy accompanied a French trench raid in which MacArthur assisted in the capture of a number of German prisoners. The commander of the French VII Corps, Major General Georges de Bazelaire, decorated MacArthur with the Croix de Guerre. On November 10th, a day before the Armistice that ended the fighting, MacArthur was appointed commander of the 42nd Division. For his service as chief of staff and commander of the 84th Infantry Brigade, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

After the end of the war, MacArthur became¬†Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy¬†at West Point in 1919. During his time as West Point, MacArthur met and became romantically involved with socialite and multi-millionaire heiress¬†Louise Cromwell Brooks. They were married at her family’s villa in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 14th 1922. In October 1922, MacArthur left West Point and sailed to the Philippines with Louise and her two children, Walter and Louise, to assume command of the Military District of Manila. MacArthur was fond of the children, and spent much of his free time with them. By that time, the¬†revolts in the Philippines¬†had been suppressed and the islands were peaceful. In the wake of the¬†Washington Naval Treaty, the garrison was being reduced. On January 17th 1925, at the age of 44, MacArthur was promoted & became the Army’s youngest Major General.

In 1927, MacArthur and Louise separated.¬†She moved to New York City. By 1930, MacArthur was 50 years old and still the youngest and one of the best known of the U.S. Army’s Major Generals. He left the Philippines on September 19th 1930 and for a brief time was in command of the IX Corps Area in San Francisco. On November 21st, he was sworn in as Chief of Staff of the United States Army with the rank of General.¬†While in Washington, he would ride home each day to have lunch with his mother. At his desk, he would wear a Japanese ceremonial¬†kimono, cool himself with an oriental fan, and smoke cigarettes in a jeweled¬†cigarette holder. In the evenings, he enjoyed reading military history books. It was about this time he began to refer to himself as “MacArthur.”

When the¬†Commonwealth of the Philippines¬†achieved semi-independent status in 1935,¬†the President of the Philippines¬†Manuel Quezon asked MacArthur to supervise the creation of a Philippine Army. Quezon and MacArthur had been personal friends since the latter’s¬†father¬†had been¬†Governor-General of the Philippines 35 years earlier. With President Roosevelt’s approval, MacArthur accepted the assignment and it was agreed that MacArthur would receive the rank of¬†Field Marshal, with its salary and allowances, in addition to his Major General’s salary as¬†Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines.¬†This made him the highest paid soldier in the world at the time.

On 26 July 1941, Roosevelt federalized the Philippine Army & recalled MacArthur back to active duty in the U.S. Army as a major general; naming him commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). MacArthur was promoted to Lieutenant General on the following day and then to General on 20 December.

In February 1942, as Japanese forces tightened their grip on the Philippines, President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to relocate to Australia.¬†On the night of March 12th 1942, MacArthur and a select group that included his wife Jean, son Arthur, Arthur’s¬†Cantonese amah, Ah Cheu, and other members of his staff, including Sutherland, Richard Marshall and Huff, left Corregidor. They traveled in¬†PT boats¬†through stormy seas patrolled by Japanese warships, and reached¬†Del Monte Airfield¬†on¬†Mindanao, where B-17s picked them up, and flew them to Australia. MacArthur ultimately arrived in¬†Melbourne¬†by train on 21 March.His speech, in which he said, “I came through and I shall return.” was first made at the¬†Terowie Railway Station¬†in¬†South Australia, on March 20th. On April 18th 1942, MacArthur was appointed¬†Supreme Commander¬†of Allied Forces in the¬†Southwest Pacific Area¬†(SWPA).

In July 1944, President Roosevelt summoned MacArthur to meet with him in Hawaii “to determine the phase of action against Japan.” Nimitz made the case for attacking Formosa. MacArthur stressed America’s moral obligation to liberate the Philippines and won Roosevelt’s support. In September, Admiral¬†William Halsey Jr.’s carriers made a series of air strikes on the Philippines. Opposition was feeble; Halsey concluded, incorrectly, that¬†Leyte¬†was “wide open” and possibly undefended, and recommended that projected operations be skipped in favor of an assault on Leyte.

On October 20th 1944, troops of Krueger’s Sixth Army¬†landed on Leyte, while MacArthur watched from the light cruiser¬†USS¬†Nashville. That afternoon he arrived off the beach. The advance had not progressed far; snipers were still active and the area was under sporadic mortar fire. When his whaleboat grounded in knee-deep water, MacArthur requested a landing craft, but the beach master was too busy to grant his request. MacArthur was compelled to wade ashore. In his prepared speech, he said:

“People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil‚ÄĒsoil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.”

In July 1945, he was awarded his fourth Distinguished Service Medal.

As part of preparations for Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan, MacArthur became Commander In Chief U.S. Army Forces Pacific (AFPAC) in April 1945, assuming command of all Army and Army Air Force units in the Pacific except the Twentieth Air Force. At the same time, Nimitz became commander of all naval forces. Command in the Pacific therefore remained divided. The invasion was pre-empted by the surrender of Japan in August 1945. On September 2nd, MacArthur accepted the formal Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri, thus ending hostilities in World War II. In recognition of his role as a maritime strategist, the U.S. Navy awarded him the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

MacArthur was also responsible for confirming and enforcing the sentences for war crimes handed down by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. In late 1945, Allied military commissions in various cities in Asia tried 5,700 Japanese, Taiwanese and Koreans for war crimes. About 4,300 were convicted, almost 1,000 sentenced to death, and hundreds given life imprisonment. The charges arose from incidents that included the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March and Manila Massacre.

As¬†Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers¬†(SCAP) in Japan, MacArthur and his staff helped Japan rebuild itself, eradicate militarism and ultra-nationalism, promote political civil liberties, institute democratic government, and chart a new course that ultimately made Japan one of the world’s leading industrial powers. The U.S. was firmly in control of Japan to oversee its reconstruction, and MacArthur was effectively the interim leader of Japan from 1945 until 1948.¬†In 1946, MacArthur’s staff drafted a new¬†constitution¬†that renounced war and stripped the Emperor of his military authority. The constitution‚ÄĒwhich became effective on May 3rd 1947‚ÄĒinstituted a¬†parliamentary system¬†of government, under which the Emperor acted only on the advice of his ministers.

MacArthur ruled Japan with a soft-handed approach. MacArthur was also in charge of southern Korea from 1945 to 1948 due to the lack of clear orders or initiative from Washington, D.C.There was no plan or guideline given to MacArthur from the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the State Department on how to rule Korea so what resulted was a very tumultuous 3 year military occupation that led to the creation of the U.S.-friendly Republic of Korea in 1948.

MacArthur handed over power to the Japanese government in 1949, but remained in Japan until relieved by President Harry S. Truman on April 11th 1951.

In an address to Congress on 19 April 1951, MacArthur declared:

“The Japanese people since the war have undergone the greatest reformation recorded in modern history. With a commendable will, eagerness to learn, and marked capacity to understand, they have from the ashes left in war’s wake erected in Japan an edifice dedicated to the supremacy of individual liberty and personal dignity, and in the ensuing process there has been created a truly representative government committed to the advance of political morality, freedom of economic enterprise, and social justice.”

On 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 82, which authorized a United Nations Command (UNC) force to assist South Korea.The UN empowered the American government to select a commander, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously recommended MacArthur. He therefore became commander-in-chief of the UNC, while remaining SCAP in Japan and Commander-in-Chief, Far East. All South Korean forces were placed under his command.

On September 11th, Truman issued orders for an advance beyond the 38th parallel into North Korea. MacArthur now planned another amphibious assault, on¬†Wonsan¬†on the east coast, but it fell to South Korean troops before the 1st Marine Division could reach it by sea.¬†In October, MacArthur met with Truman at the¬†Wake Island Conference, with Truman emulating Roosevelt’s wartime meeting with MacArthur in Hawaii.¬†The president awarded MacArthur his fifth Distinguished Service Medal.

In April 1951, the Joint Chiefs of Staff drafted orders for MacArthur authorizing nuclear attacks on Manchuria and the Shandong Peninsula if the Chinese launched airstrikes originating from there against his forces. The next day Truman met with the chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Gordon Dean and arranged for the transfer of nine Mark 4 nuclear bombs to military control. Instead, they decided that the nuclear strike force would report to the Strategic Air Command.

Seoul fell in January 1951, and both Truman and MacArthur were forced to contemplate the prospect of abandoning Korea entirely.¬†European countries did not share MacArthur’s world view, distrusted his judgment, and were afraid that he might use his stature and influence with the American public to re-focus American policy away from Europe and towards Asia. They were concerned that this might lead to a major war with China, possibly involving nuclear weapons. Since in February 1950 the Soviet Union and China had signed a defensive alliance committing each to go to war if the other party was attacked, the possibility that an American attack on China would cause World War III was considered to be very real at the time.

In March 1951, secret United States intercepts of diplomatic dispatches disclosed clandestine conversations in which General MacArthur expressed confidence to the Tokyo embassies of Spain and Portugal that he would succeed in expanding the Korean War into a full-scale conflict with the Chinese Communists. When the intercepts came to the attention of President Truman, he was enraged to learn that MacArthur was not only trying to increase public support for his position on conducting the war, but had secretly informed foreign governments that he planned to initiate actions that were counter to United States policy.

Truman summoned Secretary of Defense George Marshall, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Omar Bradley, Secretary of State¬†Dean Acheson¬†and¬†Averell Harriman¬†to discuss what to do about MacArthur.¬†They concurred MacArthur should be relieved of his command. Truman ordered MacArthur’s relief and the order went out on April 10th with Bradley’s signature.

In a December 3rd 1973 article in Time magazine, Truman was quoted as saying in the early 1960s:

I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

The relief of the famous general by the unpopular politician created a storm of public controversy. Polls showed that the majority of the public disapproved of the decision to relieve MacArthur.¬†By February 1952, almost nine months later, Truman’s approval rating had fallen to 22 percent. As of 2021, that remains the lowest¬†Gallup Poll¬†approval rating ever recorded by any serving president.

A day after his arrival in San Francisco from Korea on 18 April 1951, MacArthur flew with his family to Washington, D.C., where he was scheduled to address a joint session of Congress. It was his and Jean’s first visit to the continental United States since 1937, when they had been married.

On April 19th, MacArthur made his last official appearance in a farewell address to the U.S. Congress presenting and defending his side of his disagreement with Truman over the conduct of the Korean War. During his speech, he was interrupted by fifty ovations. MacArthur ended the address saying:

“I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on¬†the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good Bye.”

Douglas and Jean MacArthur spent their last years together in the penthouse of the Waldorf Towers, a part of the¬†Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.¬†He was elected chairman of the board of¬†Remington Rand. In that year, he earned a salary of $68,000 (equivalent to $822,000 in 2021), as well as $20,000 pay and allowances as a General of the Army. At the 1960 celebration for MacArthur’s 80th birthday, many of his friends were startled by the general’s obviously deteriorating health. The next day, he collapsed and was rushed into surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital to control a severely swollen prostate.¬†In June 1960, he was decorated by the Japanese government with the Grand Cordon of the¬†Order of the Rising Sun¬†with Paulownia Flowers, the highest Japanese order which may be conferred on an individual who is not a head of state. In his statement upon receiving the honor, MacArthur said:

“No honor I have ever received moves me more deeply than this one. Perhaps this is because I can recall no parallel in the history of the world where a great nation recently at war has so distinguished its former enemy commander. What makes it even more poignant is my own firm disbelief in the usefulness of military occupations with their corresponding displacement of civil control.”

In 1962, West Point honored the increasingly frail MacArthur with the¬†Sylvanus Thayer Award¬†for outstanding service to the nation, which had gone to Eisenhower the year before. MacArthur’s speech to the cadets in accepting the award had as its theme “Duty, Honor, Country:”

“The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country. Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell.”

Douglas MacArthur died at¬†Walter Reed Army Medical Center¬†on April 5th 1964, of¬†biliary cirrhosis.¬†Kennedy had authorized a¬†state funeral¬†before¬†his own death¬†in 1963, and Johnson confirmed the directive, ordering that MacArthur be buried “with all the honor a grateful nation can bestow on a departed hero.”¬†On 7 April his body was taken to New York City, where it lay in an open casket at the¬†Seventh Regiment Armory¬†for about 12 hours.¬†That night it was taken on a funeral train to¬†Union Station¬†and transported by a funeral procession to the¬†Capitol, where it¬†lay in state¬†at the¬†United States Capitol rotunda.¬†An estimated 150,000 people filed by to pay their respects.

MacArthur had requested to be buried in Norfolk, where his mother had been born and where his parents had married. Accordingly, on 11 April, his funeral service was held in¬†St Paul’s Episcopal Church¬†in Norfolk and his body was finally laid to rest in the rotunda of the¬†Douglas MacArthur Memorial¬†(the former Norfolk City Hall and later courthouse).

During his lifetime, MacArthur earned over 100 military decorations from the U.S. and other countries including the Medal of Honor, the French¬†L√©gion d’honneur¬†and¬†Croix de guerre, the¬†Order of the Crown of Italy, the¬†Order of Orange-Nassau¬†from the Netherlands, the Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath from Australia, and the¬†Order of the Rising Sun with Paulownia Flowers, Grand Cordon¬†from Japan.

MacArthur was enormously popular with the American public. Streets, public works, and children were named after him. A dance step was even named after him.¬†A 1961¬†Time¬†article said that “to Filipinos, MacArthur was a hero without flaw” and he was met with cheering crowds of around two million when he visited the Philippines a final time that year. ‚ú™

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