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On October 20, 1944, US General Douglas MacArthur fulfilled a promise made to the Philippine people in World War II. To commemorate the 64th anniversary of that fulfillment, “Follow Me! Parts One and Two” retraced the General’s steps in the Philippines.
Part Three returns General MacArthur to the US.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur—heroic figure or controversial egotist?
My several days in Philippines in the company of World War II veterans added substance to my image of the commanding officer under whom my late husband had served in the Occupation Forces in Japan.
“His arrival every morning to his offices at the Dai Ichi building was almost ceremonial,” I remember him commenting. “The Japanese people lined up along the streets just to see him pass.”
It was his opinion that modern Japan owed much to MacArthur’s leadership in the immediate post-WWII years.
But he acknowledged his commander wasn’t infallible, alluding to MacArthur’s alleged advance intelligence that the Japanese were planning to bomb Pearl Harbor yet his taking no steps to prepare his forces in Philippines.
In search of more detail, I visited the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. Orange leaves dropped gently around this white stone four-building complex that dominates the park-like MacArthur Square.
In the Memorial’s theater, a 24-minute documentary of the life and times of the General--much of it black and white combat footage accompanied by stirring music--reinforced the image of the dauntless commander.
But it was the Museum proper, housed in Norfolk’s 19th-century City Hall, which enthralled me. A monumental rotunda dominates the first floor. In a recessed area, two dark blue stone markers indicate the final resting places of the General and his wife, Jean Faircloth MacArthur.
Leaving the respectful hush of the rotunda, I explored the two floors of museum galleries portraying both the General’s family history (his father, General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., served in the Civil War, earning the Medal of Honor. Wikipedia ™ states the General also engaged Apache leader Geronimo in battle in New Mexico) and the history of the US military from the Civil War through the Korean War.
For it was the Korean War (1950-1953) that altered Gen.Douglas MacArthur’s career.
In command of United Nations forces, MacArthur’s army and marine troops outflanked North Koreans at Incheon, Korea, forcing them to retreat northward. MacArthur wanted to pursue the fleeing North Koreans, recently reinforced by troops from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at the Yalu River.
He requested authorization to strike Chinese bases in Manchuria.
US President Harry S. Truman said no.
It is perhaps this point in the General’s career that generates the most controversy.
Newspapers, replete with pictures of the General in his trademark military cap, corncob pipe, and sunglasses, detailed the clash of wills between the General and his Commander-in-Chief.
Ultimately, the Commander-in-Chief won. Declaring his General “insubordinate,” President Truman relieved him of command on April 11, 1951.
Gen. MacArthur returned from Korea to the United States from which he had been absent eleven years.
In his farewell address to the US Congress, he quoted a phrase from an old soldier ballad, a phrase that my generation remembers most, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
My husband, a career Army officer, was also fond of quoting another speech of MacArthur’s. In 1962, at age 82, Gen. MacArthur accepted the Sylvanus Thayer award for “outstanding service to the nation” from the US Military Academy at West Point, from which MacArthur had graduated first in his class in 1903.
Choosing the Military Academy’s motto “Duty, Honor, Country” as his theme, he concluded, “The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. . . . In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. . . 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. . . .”
Was General Douglas MacArthur a heroic figure or controversial egotist?
Despite following him from the Philippines to his final resting place, I still can’t decide. But I acknowledge that on many occasions he inspired his troops and fired the country’s imagination.
What do you think of General Douglas MacArthur?
MacArthur Memorial, MacArthur Square, Norfolk, Virginia 23510. Phone: (757) 441-2965. www.macarthurmemorial.org.
The MacArthur Memorial is open Monday-Saturday 10 AM-5 PM;
Sunday 11 AM-5 PM. Closed New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day.
Admission is free.
Yvonne Lanelli visits WWII memorials around the world in tribute to those who enabled the freedom her generation now enjoys.
c. The Ruidoso News Friday, November 7, 2008