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Commanding General of all U.S. Army forces in the Pacific Theater of World War II
Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 26, 1880. He grew up in a military household, being the son of General Arthur MacArthur, who served in both the Civil War and Spanish-American War with distinction. After achieving his own credentials at the West Texas Military Academy, in San Antonio, Douglas received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated first in his class in 1903.
West Point cadet Douglas MacArthur
From West Point, MacArthur was sent to the Philippines, where he was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. Promoted to First Lieutenant in 1904, he spent the next several years in various engineering and staff posts, including a stint as aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt and as a member of President Woodrow Wilson's general staff.
In 1914, acting under orders from the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, MacArthur was sent into Mexico to find locomotives that could potentially be used by U.S. troops should the United States have to go to war with that country. MacArthur was promoted to Major in 1915. In 1916 he became the Army's first public relations officer, in which capacity he is credited with selling the American public on the Selective Service Act of 1917.
World War I
MacArthur was a full Colonel when the United States entered the First World War in 1917. He became Chief of Staff of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division (which he had organized from a variety of National Guard units), and, in 1918, was promoted to Brigadier General. As a front-line general during the war in France, he personally led troops at the battles of the Meuse-Argonne and Saint Mihiel. During the course of the war he was wounded 3 times, decorated 13 times, and cited for bravery in action 7 times.
Unlike most of his fellow officers, MacArthur kept his General's commission after the war. In 1919 he was made Superintendent of West Point, the youngest man ever to hold that position. He is credited with making major improvements to the institution, including a broadening of the curriculum and a dramatic increase in its academic standards.
In 1922, MacArthur left his West Point position for a command in the Philippines. He returned briefly to the United States in 1925, was promoted to Major General, and then returned to the Philippines as Commander of the 3rd Corps.
In 1930, MacArthur became the youngest 4-Star General in U.S. Army history, as well as the youngest Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. In 1932, acting on orders from President Herbert Hoover, he broke up the Bonus Army demonstration in Washington with a show of force that included tanks, four troops of cavalry with drawn sabers, and infantry with fixed bayonets.
In 1935, MacArthur again returned to the Philippines, this time as a military adviser to the Philippine government; it was his job to prepare the islands for independence. He retired from the Army in 1937, but stayed in the Philippines as Grand Field Marshal of the Philippines, in which position he helped train the Philippine Army for an expected Japanese attack.
World War II
By the summer of 1941 Japanese aggression in the Pacific directly threatened the Philippines. MacArthur was recalled into active duty, the entire Philippine Army was inducted into the Army of the United States, and MacArthur was named Commander of all U.S. Army forces in the Far East. The Japanese launched their attack on the Philippines on December 8, just hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite MacArthur's leadership, the combined U.S.-Philippine Army was unable to fend off the Japanese and was forced to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula, where it fought valiantly for four months. Fearing for the safety of his most valued Pacific commander, President Franklin Roosevelt eventually ordered MacArthur to evacuate the Philippines. Although the leader in him did not want to leave his men behind, the soldier in him would not allow him to disobey direct orders from the President, so in March 1942 he, his wife, and his son were taken by a Navy torpedo boat to Australia, where he became Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific. As he left the Philippines he made his now-famous declaration: "I shall return." For his actions in defending the islands he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor that same year.
Once in Australia, MacArthur set about planning his strategy for wresting the Japanese from their Pacific island "nests." The three-year offensive began in late 1942. By early 1944 the Allies had freed most of New Guinea, New Britain, the Solomons, and the Admiralty Islands, and were poised to retake the Philippines.
The retaking of the Philippines began with a naval bombardment of Leyte Island on October 20, 1944. The 6th Army, with MacArthur at its head, landed on Leyte on October 22. Within six months, most of the Philippines were free.
MacArthur was promoted to 5-Star General in December 1944, and took command of all American Army forces in the Pacific in April 1945. In this position he was to be in charge of the expected Allied invasion of Japan. That invasion never took place, however, since Japan finally agreed to surrender following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. MacArthur was then named Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan, in which capacity he accepted the formal surrender of Japan aboard the battleship Missouri on September 2 (September 1 in the United States), 1945.
As the sole administrator of the occupation government in Japan, MacArthur earned a reputation for being firm but fair. Under his direction Japan made a successful transition from military-led government to democracy, and subsequently became one of the world's leading economic powers.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, in violation of an agreement brokered by the newly-formed United Nations. On July 14, MacArthur was named Commander of UN troops in Korea, and soon after launched an offensive aimed at driving North Korea back to the 38th Parallel, the UN-negotiated border between North and South Korea. Unfortunately MacArthur had little more than a small army of poorly trained South Korean troops and "leftover" American troops previously stationed in Japan with which to fight, and his forces were pushed all the way down the Korean Peninsula to the port city of Pusan, which was defended fiercely for the next three months.
On September 15, having obtained the troops he needed, MacArthur launched a daring attack on Inchon, which lay many miles behind enemy lines. The counter-offensive worked, and by October 24 UN forces had reached the Yalu River, the border between Korea and China. MacArthur hoped to carry the offensive on into China in order to prevent Chinese Communists from joining the fight, but was rebuffed by both the United Nations and President Harry Truman.
Chinese Communists did indeed join the fight, and, on November 24, launched their own assault. By the end of the year the UN forces had been pushed back below the 38th Parallel.
Still prevented from taking the war into China, MacArthur began publicly criticizing United Nations and United States policies in Korea. When he refused to tone down his criticism, President Harry Truman relieved him of command, on April 11, 1951.
MacArthur returned to the United States to a hero's welcome. On April 19, he addressed a joint session of Congress and defended his plans for taking the war into China. It was during this address that he gave the famous line: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." Settling into a quiet private life, MacArthur became board chairman of Remington Rand, Inc. Aside from a "sentimental journey to the Philippines in 1961, his only venture back into public life came in 1963, when, at the request of President John F. Kennedy, he helped settle a dispute between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Amateur Athletic Association that could have severely hampered the United States Olympic Team.
General Douglas MacArthur died at Walter Reed Hospital on April 5, 1964. He was buried in the crypt of MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.
World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979.
American Experience: MacArthur www.pbs.org
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This page was last updated on January 26, 2019.