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World War II: General Douglas MacArthur

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World War II: General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Douglas MacArthur: Early Life

The youngest of three sons, Douglas MacArthur was born at Little Rock, AR on January 26, 1880. Born to then-Captain Arthur MacArthur, Jr. and his wife Mary, Douglas spent much of his early life moving around the American West as his father's postings changed. Learning to ride and shoot at an early age, MacArthur received his early education at the Force Public School in Washington, DC and later at the West Texas Military Academy. Eager to follow in his father into the military, MacArthur began seeking an appointment to West Point. After two attempts by his father and grandfather to secure a presidential appointment failed, he passed an appointment examine offered by Representative Theobald Otjen.

West Point

Entering West Point in 1899, MacArthur and Ulysses Grant III became the subjects of intense hazing as the sons of high-ranking officers and for the fact that their mothers were lodging at the nearby Crany's Hotel. Though called before a Congressional committee on hazing, MacArthur downplayed his own experiences rather than implicate other cadets. The hearing resulted in Congress banning hazing of any sort in 1901. An outstanding student, he held several leadership positions within the Corps of Cadets including First Captain in his final year at the academy. Graduating in 1903, MacArthur ranked first in his 93-man class. Upon leaving West Point, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Early Career

Ordered to the Philippines, MacArthur supervised several construction projects in the islands. After brief service as Chief Engineer for the Division of the Pacific in 1905, he accompanied his father, now a major general, on a tour of the Far East and India. Attending the Engineer School in 1906, he moved through several domestic engineering posts before being promoted to captain in 1911. Following the sudden death of his father in 1912, MacArthur requested a transfer to Washington, DC to aid in caring for his ailing mother. This was granted and he was posted to the Office of the Chief of Staff.

In early 1914, following heightened tensions with Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson directed US forces to occupy Veracruz. Dispatched south as part of a headquarters staff, MacArthur arrived on May 1. Finding that an advance from the city would require the use of a railroad, he set out with a small party to locate locomotives. Finding several in Alvarado, MacArthur and his men were forced to fight their way back to the American lines. Successfully delivering the locomotives, his name was put forward by Chief of Staff Major General Leonard Wood for the Medal of Honor. Though the commander in Veracruz, Brigadier General Frederick Funston, recommended the award, the board tasked with making the determination declined issuing the medal citing that the operation had occurred without the knowledge of the commanding general. They also cited concerns that making the award would encourage staff officers in the future to conduct operations without alerting their superiors.

World War I

Returning to Washington, MacArthur received a promotion to major on December 11, 1915 and the following year was assigned to the Office of Information. With the US entry into World War I in April 1917, MacArthur helped form the 42nd "Rainbow" Division from existing National Guard units. Intended to build morale, the units of the 42nd were intentionally drawn from as many states as possible. In discussing the concept, MacArthur commented that the membership in the division "will stretch over the whole country like a rainbow."

With the formation of the 42nd Division, MacArthur was promoted to colonel and made its chief of staff. Sailing for France with the division in October 1917, he earned his first Silver Star when he accompanied a French trench raid the following February. On March 9, MacArthur joined a trench raid conducted by the 42nd. Moving forward with the 168th Infantry Regiment, his leadership earned him a Distinguished Service Cross. On June 26, 1918, MacArthur was promoted to brigadier general becoming the youngest general in the American Expeditionary Force. During the Second Battle of the Marne that July and August, he earned three more Silver Stars and was given command of the 84th Infantry Brigade.

Taking part in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September, MacArthur was awarded two additional Silver Stars for his leadership during the battle and subsequent operations. Shifted north, the 42nd Division joined the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in mid-October. Attacking near Châtillon, MacArthur was wounded while scouting a gap in the German barbed wire. Though again nominated for the Medal of Honor for his part in the action, he was denied a second time and instead awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross. Quickly recovering, MacArthur led his brigade through the final campaigns of the war. After briefly commanding the 42nd Division, he saw occupation duty in the Rhineland before returning to the United States in April 1919.

West Point

While the majority of US Army officers were returned to their peacetime ranks, MacArthur was able to retain his wartime rank of brigadier general by accepting an appointment as Superintendent of West Point. Directed to reform the school's aging academic program, he took over in June 1919. Remaining in the position until 1922, he made great strides in modernizing the academic course, reducing hazing, formalizing the honor code, and increasing the athletic program. Though many of his changes were resisted, they ultimately were accepted.

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