Monday, August 20, 2012

Douglas MacArthur, the Most Famous American General in the Philippines


Douglas MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880 at Little Rock, Arkansas, USA.  He was one of the three sons of Arthur MacArthur Jr. and Mary Pinkney Hardy.  Arthur MacArthur Jr., Douglas’ father, was a hero of the American Revolution and an American general.  At the end of the 19th century Arthur MacArthur Jr. was sent to the Philippines after the Spain ceded it to the United States in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. He was later named as the Governor General of the Philippines in 1900. His clash with the civilian governor, William Howard Taft, made his position short lived. Taft later became a President of the United States.

Scholastic achievements and early career

Douglas MacArthur enrolled at the West Texas Military School and graduated as a valedictorian. He further pursued his study at the United States Military Academy at West Point where he graduated as the first captain. He was also at the top of his class of 93 cadets in 1903.


After his graduation at West Point, Douglas MacArthur was commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers. He was assigned in the Philippines, re-assigned to the United States and was posted to Europe during World War 1. He was the Superintendent of West Point from 1919-22. In 1925 he became the youngest major general ever to be promoted in that rank at the age of 44. That record was passed several years later by William Westmoreland who attained that rank at age 40. In 1930 General MacArthur became the US Army Chief of Staff, a position he held for five years which was longer than any of his predecessors. He retired from the US Army in 1937.

Services to the fledgling Philippine Commonwealth

In 1935, the Philippines was given a commonwealth status by the United States. It was a prelude to giving it full independence after an interim period. Manuel L. Quezon became the first elected president of the Philippines. He was a friend of Arthur MacArthur JR. and his son Douglas. To organize the army, Quezon tapped the services of Gen. Douglas MacArthur as his adviser on military affairs. He also made him as a field marshal, a status which was confirmed by President Franklin Roosevelt. When MacArthur retired from the army, President Quezon still retained his services as a military advisor in a personal capacity. MacArthur made many innovations to improve the Philippines Army. He increased the army’s strength as well as its number of units and proposed for increase of pay. Some of his innovations were however hampered with lack of funds. He also created the Philippine Military Academy whose curriculum and training were patterned after that of the West Point.

Marriages and love affair

During his tour of duty in the United States MacArthur was married in February 14, 1922 to Louise Cromwell Brooks in her family’s Villa in Palm Beach, Florida. Their relationship later soured and they separated in 1927. While in the Philippines, Gen MacArthur had an affair with Isabel Rosario Cooper, a Scottish-Filipina mestiza and a Philippine movie star. She later lived in an apartment in Washington D.C. At that time two journalists made a report critical of MacArthur dispersion of the “Bonus Party” demonstration in Washington D.C. during the Great Depression.  MacArthur sued the journalists. However, their threat to make Miss Cooper as one of their witnesses forced him to make an off court settlement and withdrew the case. Later, General MacArthur met Jean Faircloth. The two married on April 30, 1937 in a civil ceremony. While he was in Manila Louise obtained a divorce from MacArthur. In Manila, Jean gave birth to a baby boy who was named Arthur MacArthur IV.

The Fall of Bataan

With the armed conflict in Europe and the looming war with Japan President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled General MacArthur to active duty with a rank of major general to command the US Army Forces Far East (USAFFE). The next day he was promoted to lieutenant general. On 07 December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As a result 188 aircrafts on the ground were destroyed and 159 others were damaged.  In addition 4 ships were sunk and 2,335 servicemen were killed while 1,143 others were wounded.  The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. On same day the Clark Air Field in the Philippines was attacked by Japanese planes destroying dozens of aircrafts on the ground. MacArthur thought that the Japanese could not be stopped on the beaches and he ordered his American and Filipino troops to consolidate in Bataan for defense. He declared Manila an “open city” to spare it from bombardment by the Japanese and avoid huge civilian casualties. In 1942 the troops at Bataan were overran by the Japanese and General Jonathan Wainwright the American Commander there was captured. Thousands of Filipino and the American defenders were later brought by their captors to San Fernando through a long, forced and torturous travel which was infamously called “Death March”.

Escape to Australia and the New Guinea campaign

In his headquarters at Corregidor Island off the shore of Manila General MacArthur received orders from President Roosevelt to go to Australia. Macarthur, his wife Jean, and son, Arthur, along with his staff on board 4 PT boats left Corregidor and proceeded to Mindanao. They landed at the Macabalan wharf in Cagayan de Oro where American soldiers and Filipino guerillas were waiting to fetch them to Del Monte in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon where a B17 would fly them to Australia. It was in Australia where MacArthur made his famous speech that made headlines. “I came through, and I shall return”, he said.
In Australia MacArthur was made the supreme commander of Southwest Pacific area. Over there, he successfully directed American, Australian and British forces in campaigns against the Japanese at Papua and New Guinea.


The return to the Philippines

Easing Japanese resistance in New Guinea and Malaya, MacArthur then turned his focus to recapture the Philippines from the Japanese and fulfill his promise to return. On 20 October 1944, the 6th army landed in Leyte to engage the Japanese. MacArthur was aboard light cruiser USS Nashville. Near the beach the ship ran aground and he requested for a landing craft. But the beach master who was busy with his work did not hear him. McArthur and his staff disembarked the ship and they had to wade to the shore. Others who were with him were Carlos P. Romulo and Philippine President Sergio Osmeña Sr.

After Leyte, the American forces advanced to Mindoro and then to Luzon. Despite great dangers of his life, General Douglas MacArthur aboard USS Boise personally oversaw the conduct of the battle despite dangers of Japanese plane attacks and threat of enemy sniper fires on the shore. Such an action of a commander was a great morale booster for the fighting troops on the ground. As the battle raged on the Japanese were gradually dislodged from their hold on Luzon. Visayas and Mindanao also slowly fell into the hands of the Americans. From all indications the victory of the allied forces was drawing near.

The Battle of Manila

Manila was the final battle ground to liberate the Philippines and deal the Japanese a strategic defeat. To prevent huge civilian casualties, MacArthur refused to restrict traffic of civilians who clogged the road in and out of the city. He also ordered his troops to minimize the use of aerial bombardment if possible. When the American troops entered the city they freed about 3,000 POWs from the University of Santo Tomas on February 3, 1945. The Japanese commander Rear Admiral Saji Iwabuchi was determined to fight to the death. Heavy fighting that lasted for a month ensued between the Japanese and the Americans and their Filipino allies. In their desperation Japanese soldiers killed many civilians along the way as they tried to flee from the Americans’ onslaught. They also held civilian hostages who also perished when the Americans bombarded the enemy positions with artillery, tanks and plane bombs. The Americans eventually overpowered the Japanese and liberated the city on March 3, 1945. The victory came with a heavy price for the Filipinos. It was estimated that about 100,000 civilians died during the battle and national treasures such as historical buildings and important sites were leveled to the ground. It was estimated that 1,010 Americans were killed and 5,665 were wounded. On the Japanese side there were about 16,665 killed. After the Second World War, Manila emerged as the second most devastated city after Warsaw in Poland.

The rehabilitation of Japan

After atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese Industrial cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan tendered its unconditional surrender to the United States in August 1945. And fighting in Asia stopped. MacArthur the Supreme Commander of the allied power in Asia accepted the formal surrender of the Japanese aboard USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. Several Japanese Officers and collaborators were later tried for their war crimes. One of them was General Tomoyoki Yamashita who was tried in Manila. He was found guilty and sentenced by the military tribunal. On 23 February 1946, he was hanged in Los Baños, Laguna.

In the aftermath of the war Japan was occupied by the Americans and Douglas MacArthur was the one in charge for its reconstruction. With his power, MacArthur virtually became Japan’s interim ruler. To respect Japanese sensibilities and restore national unity, he spared the emperor and his family from investigation relative to the war. He also initiated the drafting of the new constitution and the implementation of land reform. General MacArthur’s reconstruction and reformation efforts helped made Japan one of the leading world economies after the ravages of the war.

The Korean War

In 1950 communist North Korea attacked South Korea, and another armed conflict erupted. The five-star General MacArthur was again designated as the Supreme commander of the allied forces. He landed his troops at Inchon and drove the North Koreans further north. However, thousands of Chinese reinforcement pushed the allied forces back to the south. MacArthur then wanted to bring the war deep into China, but President Truman refused because it might escalate the war. Later MacArthur wrote a letter that a Republican Rep. Joseph William Martin, Jr. read in congress on April 5, 1951. The letter which was critical of the administration’s limited war policy prompted President Truman to relieve MacArthur of his command in April 1951. MacArthur was replaced by General Matthew Ridgway.

The final years

Living as civilian, MacArthur got himself employed as Chairman of the Remington Rand Corp. Later his advance age took a toll on his health. The frail retired General MacArthur along with Jean and Arthur made a “sentimental journey” back to the Philippines. He was warmly welcomed by President Carlos P. Garcia who awarded him the Philippine Legion of Honor. In 1962 General MacArthur was honored by West Point which conferred him the Sylvanus Thayer Award for outstanding service to the nation. He made a speech with a theme “Honor, Duty, Country”. In that speech he uttered the unforgettable saying:  “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”. MacArthur died on April 5, 1964 at Washington D.C. where President Lyndon Johnson gave him a state funeral.

 MacArthur was an American general and hero who had somehow shaped the course of history of the Philippines and the world. He affected the lives of many people during the course his career. Perhaps, the Philippines had a special place in his heart. It was in Manila, Philippines where his mother died and his son Arthur was born. Above all, the Philippines was the place where he stayed most while he built his career as an officer. It was also the place where he fought and won most of his battles.

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