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World War II: General Douglas MacArthur

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World War II: General Douglas MacArthur

Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney; Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief of U.N. Forces; and Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond observe the shelling of Inchon from the U.S.S. Mt. McKinley, September 15, 1950. Nutter (Army)

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

Return to the Philippines

Meeting with Pres. Roosevelt and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, in mid-1944, MacArthur outlined his ideas for liberating the Philippines. Operations in the Philippines commenced on October 20, 1944, when MacArthur oversaw Allied landings on the island of Leyte. Coming ashore, he announced, "People of the Philippines: I have returned." While Admiral William "Bull" Halsey and Allied naval forces fought the Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct. 23-26), MacArthur found the campaign ashore slow going. Battling heavy monsoons, Allied troops fought on Leyte until the end of the year. In early December, MacArthur directed the invasion of Mindoro which was quickly occupied by Allied forces.

On December 18, 1944, MacArthur was promoted to General of the Army. This occurred one day before Nimitz was raised to Fleet Admiral, making MacArthur the senior commander in the Pacific. Pressing forward, he opened the invasion of Luzon on January 9, 1945 by landing elements of the Sixth Army at Lingayen Gulf. Driving southeast towards Manila, MacArthur supported Sixth Army with landings by the Eighth Army to the south. Reaching the capital, the Battle for Manila began in early February and lasted until March 3. For his part in liberating Manila, MacArthur was awarded a third Distinguished Service Cross. Though fighting continued on Luzon, MacArthur began operations to liberate the southern Philippines in February. Between February and July, fifty-two landings took place as Eighth Army forces moved through the archipelago. To the southwest, MacArthur commenced a campaign in May which saw his Australian forces attack Japanese positions in Borneo.

Occupation of Japan

As planning commenced for the invasion of Japan, MacArthur's name was informally discussed as for the role of overall commander of the operation. This proved moot when Japan surrendered in August 1945 following the dropping of the atomic bombs and the Soviet Union's declaration of war. Following this action, MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan on August 29 and charged with directing the occupation of the country. On September 2, 1945, MacArthur oversaw the signing of the instrument of surrender aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Over the next four years, MacArthur and his staff worked to rebuild the country, reform its government, as well as implemented large-scale business and land reforms. Handing over power to the new Japanese government in 1949, MacArthur remained in place in his military role.

The Korean War

On June 25, 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea beginning the Korean War. Immediately condemning the North Korean aggression, the new United Nations authorized a military force be formed to aid South Korea. It also directed the US government to select the force's commander-in-chief. Meeting, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously chose to appoint MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command. Commanding from the Dai Ichi Life Insurance Building in Tokyo, he immediately began directing aid to South Korea and ordered Lieutenant General Walton Walker's Eighth Army to Korea. Pushed back by the North Koreans, the South Koreans and the lead elements of the Eighth Army were forced into a tight defensive position dubbed the Pusan Perimeter. As Walker was steadily reinforced, the crisis began to lessen and MacArthur began planning offensive operations against the North Koreans.

With the bulk of the North Korean army engaged around Pusan, MacArthur advocated for a daring amphibious strike on the peninsula's west coast at Inchon. This he argued would catch the enemy off guard, while landing UN troops close to the capital at Seoul and placing them in a position to cut the North Korean's supply lines. Many were initially skeptical of MacArthur's plan as Inchon's harbor possessed a narrow approach channel, strong current, and wildly fluctuating tides. Moving forward on September 15, the landings at Inchon were a great success. Driving toward Seoul, UN troops captured the city on September 25. The landings, in conjunction with an offensive by Walker, sent the North Koreans reeling back over the 38th Parallel. As UN forces entered into North Korea, the People's Republic of China issued warning that it would enter the war if MacArthur's troops reached the Yalu River.

Meeting with President Harry S. Truman on Wake Island in October, MacArthur dismissed the Chinese threat and stated he hoped to have US forces home by Christmas. In late October, Chinese forces flooded across the border and began driving UN troops south. Unable to halt the Chinese, UN troops were not able to stabilize the front until they had retreated south of Seoul. With his reputation tarnished, MacArthur directed a counter-offensive in early 1951 which saw Seoul liberated in March and UN troops again cross the 38th Parallel. Having publically clashed with Truman over war policy earlier, MacArthur demanded that China admit defeat on March 24, preempting a White House ceasefire proposal. This was followed on April 5 by Representative Joseph Martin, Jr. revealing a letter from MacArthur that was highly critical of Truman's limited war approach to Korea. Meeting with his advisors, Truman relieved MacArthur on April 11 and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgway.

Later Life

MacArthur's firing was met with a firestorm of controversy in the United States. Returning home, he was hailed as a hero and given ticker tape parades in San Francisco and New York. Between these events, he addressed Congress on April 19 and famously stated that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away." Though a favorite for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, MacArthur had no political aspirations. His popularity also fell slightly when a Congressional investigation backed Truman for firing him making him less a less attractive candidate. Retiring to New York City with his wife Jean, MacArthur worked in business and wrote his memoirs. Consulted by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, he warned against a military buildup in Vietnam. MacArthur died on April 5, 1964, and following a state funeral was buried at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA.

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