He is often remembered as the soldier who could be a real jerk, but no matter, because there was simply none better to have your back in combat. He coined more than a few exceptional turns of phrase capable of giving writers such as myself plenty to work with when it comes to penning the story of his life. He may be more easily remembered for his ever-present corncob pipe than any physical feature. And he may have single-handedly started the “aviator sunglasses are cool” trend. You know his name, I know his name, the guy sitting next to you right now knows his name, but do you actually know his story? As well-known as he was and is, the extent of his combat-driven cunning and leadership abilities aren’t quite so widely known, and today we’re going to remedy the situation by giving you a look at his life. The man of the hour is General Douglas MacArthur, and he was an American Hero who was also a bit of an ass at times, but if we’re all going to be honest with one another, those elements make up some of the greatest soldiers. And MacArthur was, if nothing else, a great soldier.
“My first recollection is that of a bugle call.” MacArthur
Have you ever been such a badass soldier you entered this world in the barracks? No? Well, MacArthur was. Douglas MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880, and he came into the world in a way predictable to his life story: he was born in the Little Rock Barracks in Arkansas. His father was General Arthur MacArthur, Jr. (yes, really), Medal of Honor winner and all-around heroic fighter, who was stationed in Little Rock with the purpose of fighting off Apaches. Growing up on the then-wild frontier did young MacArthur good; he once said he “learned to ride and shoot even before [he] could read or write – indeed, almost before [he] could walk or talk.” It seems he learned at the knee of the master, and then took those lessons even farther during his own time in the Army – 52 years worth, by the way. But before he could start those 52 years, he had to get through school, and he was going to do it the way he did everything: hard-charging, sharp, and at the head of his classes.
MacArthur attended the West Texas Military Academy, of course, because he was two things as a young man: a tough-as-leather Texan and a superb soldier-in-the-making. He graduated as valedictorian before moving on to the next most-logical place, West Point. During his time at the United States Military Academy at West Point he proved himself yet again as First Captain, graduating at the top of his class in 1903. And then it was time for the thing he’d been working towards all his still-young life, the U.S. Army.
“Life is a lively process of becoming.” MacArthur
He was first posted in the Philippines, and his time there wasn’t easy. Of the many hurdles he crossed in his years as a junior officer, there was one he couldn’t fight off with his pistol or bad attitude: malaria. But he did survive it, coming through kicking and screaming, no doubt ready to get some payback on the local troublemakers in return for time spent sick in bed when he’d rather be fighting. In the Philippines he was once ambushed by a group of bandits who had set a trap in the jungle, probably with the belief they’d catch some poor fool and have no problem winning whatever brief struggle followed. But they got MacArthur, and he responded by deploying his pistol with blinding speed and firing it with incredible accuracy, taking out the bandits in quick succession. If there was one thing MacArthur excelled at – and, granted, there was more than one – it was firearms. Challenging Douglas MacArthur to a shoot-off is not something anyone with the tiniest shred of intelligence would ever even consider, let alone carry out.
In the stretch between his Philippine jungle shoot-out and the next big battle, MacArthur spent some time in Panama – yes, for the purpose of the canal – before moving on the lend a hand to another big name in both military history and history-history. For the period of one year he was Teddy Roosevelt’s military aid, a time for which one can only imagine what kind of combat stories and advice was handed back and forth. Yes, back and forth; MacArthur may have been young, but he was already an obviously exceptional soldier in the making, and you can be sure Teddy saw it. After that it was time for the U.S. occupation of Veracruz, Mexico. It was 1914, and Douglas MacArthur was set to make his first bold mark on American history.
A little American history brush-up: the U.S. occupation of Veracruz occurred as the result of a series of rather unfortunate events, but the trigger was the Tampico Affair, which took place on April 9, 1914. A group of American sailors was dispatched from the gunboat Dolphin to buy fuel. The Dolphin was part of keeping things kosher with the Mexican government and had done things such as carrying out a 21-gun salute in honor of the Mexican flag as tribute to the Mexican’s 1867 occupation of Puebla, which was key to ending what is known in history as the French intervention in Mexico. You might raise your eyebrows at the idea of an American gunboat presenting the Mexican flag with a 21-gun salute, but the sailors were working hard to make nice with the Mexican government, and up to this point they’d done well. After this point, things were a bit less than stellar.
So, the Tampico Affair: nine American sailors headed out in a boat to purchase much-needed fuel. The fuel was to be picked up in an area rather tense from Constitutionalist attacks (hit the internet to learn about their involvement in Mexico in 1914; I can’t fit every shred of history in here). And so it was nine sailors boarded a whaleboat – which was openly flying the U.S. flag – and went to get the fuel. Upon arrival at the pick-up location, seven sailors disembarked to grab the fuel while two remained on the whaleboat. A group of Mexican federal soldiers heard a bunch of sailors were there getting fuel and apparently decided it must be theft, so they rushed to confront them. Of course, one side spoke English and the other Spanish, so communication was a bit shoddy during the stand-off which followed. The Mexicans got pissy when the Americans failed to immediately obey their orders, and pointed their rifles at the sailors. Forced to comply or be filled with lead, the sailors were then forcibly taken to the Mexican’s regimental HQ. When news of this reached the Rear Admiral of the U.S. naval forces nearby, he was understandably furious and immediately demanded a written apology from the Mexican government along with a 21-gun salute for the American flag. The Mexicans responded by letting the sailors go in 24 hours and grudgingly offering a written apology, which was probably delivered balled up and tossed at the Rear Admiral from a distance. But the idea of a gun salute was a no-go; the Mexican president refused to have an American flag raised on his soil, even briefly as required for the salute. This wasn’t the first time the Mexicans had caused trouble for Americans, and President Woodrow Wilson threw his hands in the air, said something along the lines of “Screw this!” and requested congressional approval for U.S. troops to invade Mexico. So they sent Douglas MacArthur (and some other guys, too, but we’re all about MacArthur today and he probably could’ve ended the whole thing himself in one day if they’d simply let him do his thing unchecked).
“Only those are fit to live are not afraid to die.” MacArthur
MacArthur arrived in Veracruz rather appropriately on May Day, 1914 (yes, May 1st). Upon arrival he noted a logistics issue: advancing from Veracruz would require using the railroad, and while there were plenty of railcars in the area, there were no locomotives to pull them. Deciding to remedy the situation on his own, he set off with a small group of soldiers to follow up on a lead of available locomotives in Alvarado, Veracruz. Long story short, they made it to Alvarado, found three of five locomotives usable, and headed back. Their way back wasn’t going to be easy, though. First a group of five armed men attacked them, and while they managed to outpace three, there were two left they couldn’t shake. So MacArthur used his crack shot skills again and shot them. Next the Mexicans tripled their forces; a group of 15 armed men attacked them. In the fight to follow, one of MacArthur’s men received an apparently small injury, and the horsemen attacking them opted to save their own skin after MacArthur shot four of them. MacArthur himself discovered three bullet holes in his uniform following the attack, but was uninjured. You’d think it was over, but you’d be wrong, because farther down the tracks they were attacked once again by a group of three more armed men. The soldiers again outpaced all but one of their attackers, and MacArthur, fed up with being attacked, shot both the attacker and his horse. The horse’s carcass crashed on the tracks before them, forcing them to drag the body away in order to proceed. And as they went on their merry way, MacArthur casually noticed another bullet hole in his shirt. You can almost imagine him noting it in a bored tone: “Huh, look at that…”
This was the first time MacArthur’s name was put in for the Medal of Honor. And while multiple officers including MacArthur’s CO believed he deserved it, the board disagreed. They felt it sent a bad message to give a soldier an award when he was acting without orders and refused to do it. In the end, despite attempts made on his behalf by senior officers, he received no award whatsoever.
“In war, you win or lose, live or die, and the difference is just an eyelash.” MacArthur
Then it was time for World War I, and MacArthur headed out to create the 42nd Infantry Division. He put a lot of work into teaching those National Guardsmen to fight, and not just any fighting, but trench warfare. It was made more interesting by the fact two of those regiments, the 4th Alabama and the 6th Infantry, had actually fought against one another just fifty years prior (take a look at the Battle of Antietam). Bad blood can last awhile, but not, apparently, with MacArthur yelling at you to get your ass in gear. This is also when he was promoted to brigadier general.
In France things got ugly, fast. Over 18 months, MacArthur led his men in what ended up being dozens of front-line battles, proving trained American soldiers with guns could be quite fearsome, indeed. Never let it be said MacArthur stayed safely out of harm’s way, either; in France he led not one but three full-scale assaults against the Germans and literally hundreds of scouting missions. He also led the men on trench raids, and if you’re not familiar with those, well, trench raids involve leaving the wire, sneaking through the no-man’s-land between sides, hopping into the enemy’s trench, and proceeding to kill the heck out of them. The killing was typically done with knives because, after all, raids must be quiet. If there were any survivors, they’d be brought back as prisoners, also quietly. There was simply no one better at the hand-to-hand combat of trench raids than MacArthur, and he earned six Silver Stars, two Distinguished Service Crosses, and the French Croix de Guerre. He was also nominated for the Medal of Honor for a second time, and, for a second time, denied. In the course of matters he was wounded three times, but he didn’t let it slow him down. He was Douglas-freaking-MacArthur, and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like being stabbed and shot stop him from winning the war.
In between World War I and World War II, MacArthur did a stretch as Superintendent at West Point, became the highest-ranking General in the Army, and randomly headed up the 1928 Summer Olympic Games committee. It was then he told American athletes they were there “to win medals, not lose gracefully” and he probably coupled his statement with a terrifying stare, because the athletes went and won 24 gold medals and broke 7 world records. Then it was 1932 and he’d had enough sitting around, so when he came upon a bunch of unemployed vets protesting on Capitol Hill, he beat them up (this may have involved the belief they were behaving in a traitorous manner like a bunch of Commies, and MacArthur couldn’t abide anyone turning their back on his country). His actions did get him in trouble, though, and he ended up in the Philippines shaping their military so they could become independent from the U.S.
This is as good a stopping point as any, because the military service of Douglas MacArthur is so awesome it requires two parts. You have to admit, the man was impressive, an American Hero who didn’t care what anyone thought. He cared only for winning battles and protecting our nation’s borders, and he got crap done. Up next week: World War II, the Korean War, and Remington (yes, I said Remington).
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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