One of only five men in America’s military history to carry the rank of General of the Army (5-stars) General Douglass MacArthur was ordered by FDR to leave the Philippines on February 22, 1942. Though the general was one of America’s most decorated soldiers and deeply admired by a great many, he was also highly criticized for a number of his command decisions. Add to that, egotism was the least endearing of his personal characteristics.
Graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1903, he was valedictorian of his class. During World War I, he achieved the rank of Brigadier General, the youngest man in the Army at the time to do so. In 1937, MacArthur retired from the US Army and moved to the Philippines to command their army.
At the outbreak of World War II, MacArthur was back in the States, once again active in the US Army and appointed Commander of the United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE). Japanese Imperial Forces began their assault on the Philippines and MacArthur was ordered to attack their airfields in Taiwan. The general elected to overrule the Air Commander’s order and in doing so, provided Japan the opportunity to destroy the planes on the ground. As the Japanese began to claim larger portions of the Philippines, MacArthur was forced to move his headquarters to Corregidor. President Roosevelt now ordered him to Australia.
It was two years later, October 20, 1944, MacArthur was able to make good on his promise to return to the Philippines. The following September, he was aboard the USS Missouri to receive Japan’s official surrender. MacArthur now moved into the role of Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Asia. In this capacity, he oversaw Japan’s reconstruction. His staff was also instrumental in composing Japan’s new constitution, still in effect today.
Six years passed and in June 1950, the Army of North Korea attacked its southern neighbor. In an effort to aid the South Koreans, the United Nations sent a force there with General MacArthur as combat leader. By October 1950, the Chinese enter the Korean conflict as they crossed the Yalu River. General MacArthur sought to employ the use of nuclear weapons against China; however, President Truman opposed the idea.
Following General Matthew B. Ridgway’s successfully led counterattacks in March1951; MacArthur was informed by President Truman of the fact peace talks were now beginning. MacArthur’s response to his Commander-in-Chief’s news was to issue an ultimatum to Red China. President Truman saw his ultimatum and trumped it by relieving the general of his military command on April 11, 1951.
In a way, General MacArthur may have “had the last laugh.” When he returned to the United States for the first time in 11 years, he was welcomed with New York’s largest ticker tape parade ever. He then made a farewell address to Congress in which he declared, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Many harbored the idea MacArthur would seek the presidency, but he chose instead to live out the rest of his life quietly in New York.