Brigadier General MacArthur holding a crop at a French chateau, September 1918
Born: January 26, 1880 Little Rock, Arkansas
Died: April 5, 1964 Washington, D.C.
American general Douglas MacArthur attained widespread fame through his military activities in the Pacific region during World War II (1939–45) and the Korean War (1950–53). His military conquests were sometimes inspiring and other times highly criticized. Regardless, MacArthur remains the key figure in the American victory in the Pacific during World War II.
Student to soldier
Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 26, 1880, the descendant of a long line of military men. His father, Arthur MacArthur, was a well-known general. Educated in a random fashion on the rugged Western frontier posts, Douglas MacArthur recalled, “I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write.”
An average student, MacArthur began to excel upon entering the military academy at West Point, New York, in 1899. Proud and convinced of his destiny as a military leader MacArthur graduated first in his class in 1903 with the highest scholastic average at the academy in twenty-five years. After graduation from the academy, MacArthur sailed to the Philippines for his first military assignment. In 1904 he was promoted to first lieutenant, and that October was ordered to become his father’s aide-de-camp (secretary) in Japan. Shortly thereafter he embarked upon a tour of the Far East, which he later called the “most important preparation of my entire life.”
Rising military career
Returning to the United States, Mac- Arthur began his fast rise through the military ranks. In 1906 he was appointed aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and in 1913 became a member of the general staff. He was appointed colonel of the Rainbow Division during World War I (1914–18), or the Great War, in which European powers, along with America and Russia, waged war over control of Europe. MacArthur emerged as a talented and colorful military leader. He returned from combat with many military honors.
During the 1914 United States occupation of Veracruz, he conducted a reconnaissance mission, for which he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. In 1917, he was promoted from major to colonel and became chief of staff of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division. In the fighting on the Western Front during World War I, he rose to the rank of brigadier general, was again nominated for a Medal of Honor, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice and the Silver Star seven times.
MacArthur returned to the War Department, where he was promoted to major on 11 December 1915. In June 1916, he was assigned as head of the Bureau of Information at the office of the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. MacArthur has since been regarded as the Army’s first press officer. Following the declaration of war on Germany on 6 April 1917, Baker and MacArthur secured an agreement from President Wilson for the use of the National Guard on the Western Front. MacArthur suggested sending first a division organized from units of different states, so as to avoid the appearance of favoritism toward any particular state. Baker approved the creation of this formation, which became the 42nd (“Rainbow”) Division, and appointed Major General William A. Mann, the head of the National Guard Bureau, as its commander; MacArthur was its chief of staff, with the rank of colonel. At MacArthur’s request, this commission was in the infantry rather than the engineers.
The 42nd Division was assembled in August and September 1917 at Camp Mills, New York, where its training emphasized open-field combat rather than trench warfare. It sailed in a convoy from Hoboken, New Jersey, for France on 18 October 1917; MacArthur made the passage on the transport Covington. On 19 December, Mann was replaced as division commander by Major General Charles T. Menoher.
The 42nd Division entered the line in the quiet Lunéville sector in February 1918. On 26 February, MacArthur and Captain Thomas T. Handy accompanied a French trench raid in which MacArthur assisted in the capture of a number of German prisoners. The commander of the French VII Corps, Major General Georges de Bazelaire, decorated MacArthur with the Croix de guerre. Menoher recommended MacArthur for a Silver Star, which he later received. The Silver Star Medal was not instituted until 8 August 1932, but small silver Citation Stars were authorized to be worn on the campaign ribbons of those cited in orders for gallantry, similar to the British mention in despatches. When the Silver Star Medal was instituted, it was retrospectively awarded to those who had been awarded Silver Stars. On 9 March, the 42nd Division launched three raids of its own on German trenches in the Salient du Feys. MacArthur accompanied a company of the 168th Infantry. This time, his leadership was rewarded with the Distinguished Service Cross. A few days later, MacArthur, who was strict about his men carrying their gas masks but often neglected to bring his own, was gassed. He recovered in time to show Secretary Baker around the area on 19 March.
MacArthur was promoted to brigadier general on 26 June. In late June the 42nd Division was shifted to Châlons-en-Champagne to oppose the impending German Champagne-Marne Offensive. Général d’Armée Henri Gouraud of the French Fourth Army elected to meet the attack with a defense in depth, holding the front line area as thinly as possible and meeting the German attack on his second line of defense. His plan succeeded, and MacArthur was awarded a second Silver Star. The 42nd Division participated in the subsequent Allied counter-offensive, and MacArthur was awarded a third Silver Star on 29 July. Two days later, Menoher relieved Brigadier General Robert A. Brown of the 84th Infantry Brigade of his command, and replaced him with MacArthur. Hearing reports that the enemy had withdrawn, MacArthur went forward on 2 August to see for himself. He later wrote:
It was 3:30 that morning when I started from our right at Sergy. Taking runners from each outpost liaison group to the next, moving by way of what had been No Man’s Land, I will never forget that trip. The dead were so thick in spots we tumbled over them. There must have been at least 2,000 of those sprawled bodies. I identified the insignia of six of the best German divisions. The stench was suffocating. Not a tree was standing. The moans and cries of wounded men sounded everywhere. Sniper bullets sung like the buzzing of a hive of angry bees. An occasional shellburst always drew an angry oath from my guide. I counted almost a hundred disabled guns various size and several times that number of abandoned machine guns.
MacArthur reported back to Menoher and Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett that the Germans had indeed withdrawn, and was awarded a fourth Silver Star. He was also awarded a second Croix de guerre and made a commandeur of the Légion d’honneur.
Battle of Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensive
The 42nd Division earned a few weeks rest, returning to the line for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel on 12 September. The Allied advance proceeded rapidly and MacArthur was awarded a fifth Silver Star for his leadership of the 84th Infantry Brigade. He received a sixth Silver Star for his participation in a raid on the night of 25–26 September. The 42nd Division was relieved on the night of 30 September moving to the Argonne sector where it relieved the 1st Division on the night of 11 October. On a reconnaissance the next day, MacArthur was gassed again, earning a second wound chevron.
The 42nd Division’s participation in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive began on 14 October when it attacked with both brigades. That evening, a conference was called to discuss the attack, during which Charles Pelot Summerall, commander of the First Infantry Division and V Corps, rang and demanded that Châtillon be taken by 18:00 the next evening. An aerial photograph had been obtained that showed a gap in the German barbed wire to the northeast of Châtillon. Lieutenant Colonel Walter E. Bare—the commander of the 167th Infantry—proposed an attack from that direction, where the defenses seemed least imposing, covered by a machine-gun barrage. MacArthur adopted this plan. He was wounded, but not severely, while verifying the existence of the gap in the barbed wire.
Summerall nominated MacArthur for the Medal of Honor and promotion to major general, but he received neither. Instead he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross. The 42nd Division returned to the line for the last time on the night of 4–5 November 1918. In the final advance on Sedan. MacArthur later wrote that this operation “narrowly missed being one of the great tragedies of American history.” An order to disregard unit boundaries led to units crossing into each other’s zones. In the resulting chaos, MacArthur was taken prisoner by men of the 1st Division, who mistook him for a German general. His performance in the attack on the Meuse heights led to his being awarded a seventh Silver Star. On 10 November, a day before the armistice that ended the fighting, MacArthur was appointed commander of the 42nd Division. For his service as chief of staff and commander of the 84th Infantry Brigade, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
His period in command was brief, for on 22 November he, like other brigadier generals, was replaced, and returned to the 84th Infantry Brigade. The 42nd Division was chosen to participate in the occupation of the Rhineland, occupying the Ahrweiler district. In April 1919, they entrained for Brest and St Nazaire, where they boarded ships to return to the United States. MacArthur traveled on the ocean liner SS Leviathan, which reached New York on 25 April 1919.
Following the war, he became a brigadier general and superintendent of West Point, where he remained until 1922. After another assignment in the Philippines, MacArthur was appointed chief of staff of the U.S. Army in 1930, a post he held through 1935.