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World War II: General Douglas MacArthur

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World War II: General Douglas MacArthur

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during the initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands, October 1944

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Peacetime Assignments

Leaving the academy in October 1922, MacArthur took command of the Military District of Manila. During his time in the Philippines, he befriended several influential Filipinos, such as Manuel L. Quezon, and sought to reform the military establishment in the islands. On January 17, 1925, he was promoted to major general. After brief service in Atlanta, he moved north in 1925 to take command of III Corps Area with his headquarters at Baltimore, MD. While overseeing III Corps, he was compelled to serve on the court-martial of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell. The youngest on the panel, he claimed to have voted to acquit the aviation pioneer and called the requirement to serve "one of the most distasteful orders I ever received."

Chief of Staff

After another two-year assignment in the Philippines, MacArthur returned to the United States in 1930 and briefly commanded IX Corps Area in San Francisco. Despite his relatively young age, his name was put forward for the position of Chief of Staff of the US Army. Approved, he was sworn in that November. As the Great Depression worsened, MacArthur fought to prevent crippling cuts in the US Army's manpower though was forced to close over fifty bases. In addition to working to modernize and update the US Army's war plans, he concluded the MacArthur-Pratt agreement with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William V. Pratt, which helped define each service's responsibilities in regard to aviation.

One of the best-known generals in the US Army, MacArthur's reputation suffered in 1932 when President Herbert Hoover ordered him to clear the "Bonus Army" from an encampment at Anacostia Flats. Veterans from World War I, the Bonus Army marchers were seeking early payment of their military bonuses. Against the advice of his aide, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, MacArthur accompanied the troops as they drove off the marchers and burned their camp. Though political opposites, MacArthur had his term as Chief of Staff extended by the newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Under MacArthur's leadership, the US Army played a key role in overseeing the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Back to the Philippines

Completing his time as Chief of Staff in late 1935, MacArthur was invited by now-President of the Philippines Manuel Quezon to oversee the formation of the Philippine Army. Made a field marshal of the Commonwealth of the Philippines he remained in the US Army as the Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines. Arriving, MacArthur and Eisenhower were forced to essentially start from scratch while using cast off and obsolete American equipment. Relentlessly lobbying for more money and equipment, his calls were largely ignored in Washington. In 1937, MacArthur retired from the US Army but remained in place as an advisor to Quezon. Two years later, Eisenhower returned to the United States and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sutherland as MacArthur's chief of staff.

World War II Begins

With tensions with Japan growing, Roosevelt recalled MacArthur to active duty as commander, US Army Forces in the Far East in July 1941 and federalized the Philippine Army. In an attempt to bolster the Philippines' defenses, additional troops and material were dispatched later that year. At 3:30 AM on December 8, MacArthur learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Around 12:30 PM, much of MacArthur's air force was destroyed when the Japanese struck Clark and Iba Fields outside Manila. When the Japanese landed at Lingayen Gulf on December 21, MacArthur's forces attempted to slow their advance but to no avail. Implementing prewar plans, Allied forces withdrew from Manila and formed a defensive line on the Bataan Peninsula.

As fighting raged on Bataan, MacArthur established his headquarters on the fortress island of Corregidor in Manila Bay. Directing the fighting from an underground tunnel on Corregidor, he was derisively nicknamed "Dugout Doug." As the situation on Bataan deteriorated, MacArthur received orders from Roosevelt to leave the Philippines and escape to Australia. Initially refusing, he was convinced by Sutherland to go. Departing Corregidor on the night of March 12, 1942, MacArthur and his family traveled by PT boat and B-17 before reaching Darwin, Australia five days later. Traveling south, he famously broadcast to the people of the Philippines that "I shall return." For his defense of the Philippines, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall had MacArthur awarded the Medal of Honor.

New Guinea

Appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area on April 18, MacArthur established his headquarters first at Melbourne and then Brisbane, Australia. Largely served by his staff from the Philippines, dubbed the "Bataan Gang," MacArthur began planning operations against the Japanese on New Guinea. Initially commanding largely Australian forces, MacArthur oversaw successful operations at Milne Bay, Buna-Gona, and Wau in 1942 and early 1943. Following a victory at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943, MacArthur planned a major offensive against the Japanese bases at Salamaua and Lae. This attack was to be part of Operation Cartwheel, an Allied strategy for isolating the Japanese base at Rabaul. Moving forward in April 1943, Allied forces captured both towns by mid-September. Later operations saw MacArthur's troops land at Hollandia and Aitape in April 1944. While fighting continued on New Guinea for the rest of the war, it became a secondary theater as MacArthur and SWPA shifted its attention to planning the invasion of the Philippines.

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