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Douglas MacArthur (1880 - 1964)

Military General

A symbol of American determination and fighting ability, General Douglas MacArthur, by his defense of the Philippines, slowed the advance of the Japanese long enough to give the United States a few crucial weeks to prepare for war. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii without warning. Japan's trained troops then swept down through East Asia and the Pacific with frightening swiftness. The time gained through MacArthur's dogged defense of the Philippines proved crucial to the war effort.

MacArthur was born on Jan. 26, 1880, on an Army reservation in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father, General Arthur MacArthur, served with distinction in the American Civil and Spanish-American wars and was military governor of the Philippines under President William McKinley.

Young MacArthur graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1903, with the highest scholastic record achieved by any cadet in 25 years. When the United States entered World War I, he helped organize the Rainbow Division and served with distinction. After the war he was appointed superintendent of West Point. Only 39 years old, he was the youngest superintendent in the history of the Academy. When he was 50, he was made chief of staff of the Army by President Herbert Hoover; he became the youngest full general in American history.

For the next five years he tried, with little success, to get the Army mechanized. He was then assigned to organize the defense of the Philippines. In 1937 he retired from the service but continued his work in the Philippines. President Manuel Quezon gave him the rank of Field Marshal.

In July, 1941, MacArthur was recalled to active service as commander of the United States forces in the Far East. That December the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and launched another attack on the Philippines, but MacArthur stood firm. Under his command 12,000 American and 35,000 Filipino troops put up fierce resistance.

Besieged on the Bataan Peninsula, they beat back a vastly superior Japanese invasion force. The stand made by MacArthur's men delayed the Japanese "timetable of conquest" and gave the United States time to assess the situation.

On Feb. 22, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a secret message to MacArthur commanding him to break through the Japanese lines and go to Australia. There he was to take command of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific.

MacArthur transferred his Philippine command to General Jonathan M. Wainwright. On the night of March 11, MacArthur, his wife and son, and members of his staff, ran the Japanese blockade in four torpedo boats. The Philippines fell to Japan a few months later, but MacArthur's promise to the Filipinos, "I shall return," gave them courage through more than three years of Japanese occupation.

MacArthur was to keep that promise. On Oct. 20, 1944, he landed with his forces on Leyte, one of the Philippine Islands. Less than a year later, on Sept. 2, 1945, MacArthur, as Commander in Chief in the Pacific, accepted Japan 's surrender. He then directed the occupation of Japan.

At the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950, MacArthur became commander of the United Nations forces. In 1951, he urged the opening of a "second front" in China. President Harry S. Truman called him "out of sympathy" with United States policy and relieved him of all commands on April 11.

MacArthur and his family returned to the United States in 1951. In a speech before Congress he announced his retirement from active military service with the now famous line from an old ballad, "Old soldiers never die — they just fade away." In 1952, he became Chairman of the Board of a large corporation and was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.

In December, 1944, he was made a five-star General of the Army. MacArthur died in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 1964. He was buried in the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.