American Hero: General Douglas MacArthur, Part Two

Last week we took a look at the first chunk of the life and military service of General Douglas MacArthur. Up to this point we’ve confirmed he was a crack shot, deserved but was denied not one but two Medal of Honors, and spent his free time doing little things like heading up the Olympics and beating up protestors on Capitol Hill. MacArthur was the consummate soldier, and it’s more than slightly difficult to narrow down his accomplishments to a few thousand words, but let’s see what we can do this week in part two.

A little back-up moment from last week: in 1937, MacArthur did something to surprise those who saw him as all soldier, all the time. He fell in love, and he got married. Douglas MacArthur married Jean Faircloth on April 30, 1937, a marriage which quickly resulted in a son, Arthur MacArthur, IV, who was born in February of 1938. Apparently deciding a new wife and soon-to-be son needed to be his new single-minded focus in life, MacArthur officially retired from the U.S. Army on December 31, 1937. But it wouldn’t last long.

As noted previously, MacArthur ended up in the Philippines training their men to fight immediately prior to World War II. This occurred after Roosevelt recalled him to active duty on July 26, 1941, made him a major general, and then made him commander of the Philippine Army. MacArthur headed to the Philippines with his wife and young son and proceeded to train the heck out of the locals, and good thing, too, because war was coming.

Jump to 1941 and what would be MacArthur’s next foray into war. The Japanese attacked the Philippines due to their ties with the U.S., so MacArthur entered the second World War there. Unfortunately his air force was obliterated almost immediately, but the men he’d been training had become pretty badass, and he got them organized – fast – to fight back. Eventually the troops were forced to retreat, but they didn’t give up, not by a long shot; this took place at a little thing called the Bataan Peninsula. During the fighting he stuck to his never-say-die reputation by charging through the ranks of fighting men shouting words of encouragement along with orders. It soon became clear Bataan was a last-stand scenario, though, so in March of 1942 MacArthur was ordered to leave. Faced with no other choice, he and his wife fled to Australia (and in May of 1942, the Philippines would be forced to surrender). But MacArthur wasn’t terribly amused at the way he’d been forced to leave, and he decided to make it clear with a little speech.

New Guinea. October 1942. Pictured, left to right: Australian Colonel Charles Spry points out locations of heavy fighting between Allied ground forces and the Japanese to Lieutenant General Edmund Herring, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Area, and Major General Arthur Samuel Allen, Commander, Australian 7th Division.
New Guinea. October 1942. Pictured, left to right: Australian Colonel Charles Spry points out locations of heavy fighting between Allied ground forces and the Japanese to Lieutenant General Edmund Herring, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Area, and Major General Arthur Samuel Allen, Commander, Australian 7th Division.

It was there, in Australia, he made his famous “I came through and I shall return” speech, the one Washington requested he amend to say “we” shall return, but, being MacArthur, he ignored the request. And then, a broad stroke of political irony took place. Twice in the past MacArthur had been rightfully nominated for the Medal of Honor, and twice denied despite obvious acts of bravery. And now, because the brass wanted to make things look good because they’d forced him to leave his post in the Philippines, they decided to award him the Medal of Honor. As George Marshall put it at the time, it seemed wise to present him with the MOH “to offset any propaganda by the enemy directed at his leaving his command.” He hadn’t actually done anything in this particular situation to merit it, but that’s politics for you. And, of course, MacArthur was less than thrilled about the circumstances, but in the end he relented, agreeing to accept it. Yes, he considered refusing, this was MacArthur, after all – saying “this award was intended not so much for me personally as it is a recognition of the indomitable courage of the gallant army which it was my honor to command.” But there was more to his finally being awarded the MOH: when Douglas MacArthur was awarded the MOH, he and his father, who was quite famous in his own right, became the first father-son pair in history to each receive the MOH.

Douglas MacArthur’s official MOH citation: “For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest, for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against invading Japanese forces, and for the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula. He mobilized, trained, and led an army which has received world acclaim for its gallant defense against a tremendous superiority of enemy forces in men and arms. His utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment, his calm judgment in each crisis, inspired his troops, galvanized the spirit of resistance of the Filipino people, and confirmed the faith of the American people in their Armed Forces.”

But this was no time for resting on one’s laurels, so MacArthur set about doing what he did best and went about fighting World War II with the expected hellacious spirit for which he was known. As much as I’d love outlining each and every one of MacArthur’s bold moves, some of which seemed pretty far-fetched, but worked like a charm, there just isn’t room. He kicked serious ass in World War II, becoming a national hero in the U.S. and ticking off the powers-that-be more than a few times. But you know what, his methods worked, and although he may have been a bit less than lovable, who cares; the man got things done. And, most importantly of all, he kept his word.

General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz - Discuss Pacific war strategy at General MacArthur's headquarters, Brisbane, Australia, 27 March 1944
General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz – Discuss Pacific war strategy at General MacArthur’s headquarters, Brisbane, Australia, 27 March 1944

It took some time. For two years MacArthur burned through the Japanese forces at the helm of wave after wave of young American soldiers, and for two years, he kicked some serious ass. But all the while, in the back of his mind, you can be sure he was remembering the promise he made in 1942 to those he left behind in the Philippines. And so when Roosevelt summoned MacArthur in July of 1944 to discuss what move to make next against Japan, he had an immediate answer: the U.S. should return to the Philippines and finish what they started.

The intel ended up being bad; the decision was made – not by MacArthur – that Leyte was “wide open” and so was the best possible location for American troops to insert. Of course, history aficionados know Leyte not only wasn’t “wide open,” it was rather heavily defended by the Japanese. On October 20, 1944, MacArthur and his men assaulted Leyte. The fighting was intense, as fighting tends to be, and although by afternoon there were still enemy snipers aplenty and also fairly abundant, random mortar fire, MacArthur made his triumphant return. His whaleboat landed a ways off shore, and due to the fighting still going on, he was going to have to wade through water to reach dry land. So he did: he climbed into the water, sloshed his way to the beach, and delivered his speech, although it’s hard to imagine who was there to listen with bullets flying around and explosives going off. Rather than paraphrase, here are MacArthur’s words: “People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil—soil 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.”

Douglas MacArthur signs the Japanese surrender as Supreme Commander Allied Powers on board USS Missouri.
Douglas MacArthur signs the Japanese surrender as Supreme Commander Allied Powers on board USS Missouri.

By December of 1944, MacArthur was promoted once again, this time to general of the entire Army, and was also given command of all the entire Army in the Pacific. He did the job well, and so it was on September 2, 1945, MacArthur himself sat on the USS Missouri and went ahead and accepted Japan’s surrender. But he wasn’t done with the Japanese, and now you might be a little surprised, because for the next six years MacArthur worked hard not only demobilizing Japan’s military but also assisting in the restoration of their economy and the creation of a new Japanese constitution, among other things. Yes, for six years the consummate soldier and tough-as-nails fighter did his darnedest to help Japan recover, and then it was time for, you got it, another war.

Next came the Korean War, which held many more impressive feats. Perhaps most notable was the Inch’on Landing, in which he sent his men – many of whom were actually badass Marines – in for an amphibious assault unlike any other. You see, Inch’on wasn’t exactly ideal for an attack, but MacArthur believed he could knock the enemy flat with this unexpected move, and he ended up being right. Inch’on was a crazy, wave-crashing-at-the-seawall harbor behind enemy lines and on the opposite side from where the bulk of the forces were fighting at Pusan. So when the soldiers and Marines arrived at low tide they were forced to hurl themselves from their boats – in a narrow space not remotely friendly to something like a really big amphibious assault – and then throw a bunch of ladders up over the seawall. Then they had to clamber up the seawall, fighting every inch of the way, then fight some more once they reached the top. But it did work; MacArthur’s troops not only took the city, they pretty much tore through enemy lines with brutal force, whistling a merry tune all the way.

American troops forced the Koreans back so far they backed up to China, at which point MacArthur paused to have a chat with Truman, who was worried the Chinese would get pissy due to the proximity of the soldiers. MacArthur didn’t think it would be an issue, but Truman felt it was, so MacArthur halted the advance of his men. And, of course, before you could blink, the Chinese went ahead and crossed the border into North Korea, battling hard against the Americans and leaving them with no choice but to return to South Korea. And it was then that the you-know-what hit the fan.

MacArthur, understandably, didn’t like being manhandled by the Chinese, and felt the best way to handle them was to show them in no uncertain terms who the boss was. His solution involved nuking them to kingdom come, creating “a cordon of radiation” as he called it, which would undoubtedly have given the Chinese pause before they ever considered screwing with America again. Truman got pretty angry, saying it wasn’t terribly smart to take an action which would probably result in World War III. MacArthur refused to back down. Truman reminded him who the Commander-In-Chief was. MacArthur probably said something rude involving colorful gestures. Truman fired MacArthur. And, just like that, General Douglas MacArthur was out of the Army, this time for good, but he wasn’t going to go quietly.

On April 19, 1951, General MacArthur spoke to Congress, defending his actions in battle and making it clear what he thought about Truman’s action – or, rather, lack thereof. During the course of his speech he ended up getting a whopping 50 standing ovations, which definitely slowed down the speech’s progress, but it still ended up being pretty memorable. You might have heard of it, it’s the one where he made the “old soldiers never die, they just fade away” comment:

Click to hear his speech before Congress.
Click to hear his speech before Congress.

“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.”

After being removed from command, MacArthur went around making speeches about the stupidity of politicians and how they needed to stay the heck out of combat decisions – a stance which is rather hard to dispute much of the time. As for Truman, well, his approval dropped to a record-breaking 22%, and polls of the American people showed they were pretty much unanimously pissed off he’d gotten rid of MacArthur. But MacArthur found ways to keep busy, including considering a run for the presidency, which ended up going to Eisenhower. He ended up working for Remington Rand for a few years, a company in the business of typewriters and early computers – you thought I was going to say Remington as in guns and ammo, didn’t you? – to keep busy and probably to prevent himself from haring off and invading foreign countries.

In 1961, aware his health was deteriorating, MacArthur made one last visit to the Philippines. And then, in 1962, West Point honored him with the Sylvanus Thayer award for outstanding service. While at West Point, he made a stirring speech, one so well-done it’s impossible to cut it down to size, and it’s perfect for closing this article:

MacArthur West Point“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.”

General Douglas MacArthur passed away on April 5, 1964. He may be remembered as a controversial and often cranky man, but he was a good soldier. He was also a true American Hero; may he always be remembered as such.

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.

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.
Katherine Ainsworth
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