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General Douglas MacArthur

By BFHA Member Daniel E. Dragonetti

BFHA Member Daniel E. Dragonetti, 7510 N. Devon Dr., Tamarac, FL 33321 has done considerable research on our cousin, of General-of-the-Army Douglas MacArthur, and we are fortunate that he is willing to share his knowledge.

Judge Arthur MacArthur, Sr. (1817 - 1896)

As great as his accomplishments were, Douglas MacArthur would have been quick to state that he represented merely the third generation of highly successful MacArthurs in America. Always proud of his Scottish heritage, MacArthur cherished the man who established the venerable clan here, his grandfather, Judge Arthur MacArthur, born in Glasgow, Scotland Jan. 26, 1817.

The Judge called him-self a “double-distilled” MacArthur: the maiden name of his mother, Sarah, had also been McArthur. But tragically his father died just days before his birth. When Arthur was seven, his mother remarried, and in 1828 the family emigrated to the United States and joined one of her sisters in the Massachusetts mill town of Uxbridge. It did not take long for the first-generation immigrant to succeed. After briefly attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Arthur dropped out to help the family through a severe depression in 1837, working as a law clerk first in Boston, then in New York. By 1841, he had been admitted to the New York bar.

In 1844, Judge MacArthur found the proper girl he thought should be his wife - “the proper girl,” said Judge MacArthur, “to become mother of the MacArthurs in America.” The dark-eyed girl whom Arthur MacArthur married was Aurelia Belcher, born January 2, 1818 in Chicopee Falls, Mass., the daughter of Benjamin Barney and Olive (Keep) Belcher.

The next two generations of MacArthurs included sons whose brilliance illuminated the military corps. Judge Arthur and Aurelia (Belcher) MacArthur’s son, Lt. General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the American Civil. His son General Douglas MacArthur won the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II, thus making himself and his father the only father-son combination to each win a Medal of Honor.

Thus, Aurelia Belcher was the ancestress of two Medal of Honor recipients: General Arthur MacArthur, Jr., of whom she was the mother, and General Douglas MacArthur, of whom she was the grandmother. Her father was Benjamin Barney Belcher, a prominent industrialist and land owner in Chicopee Falls, Mass., who was born Dec. 9, 1793 in Easton, Bristol Co., Mass., the eldest of nine children of Benjamin and Sarah (Barney) Belcher [see Genealogy of the Barney Family in America, p.110].

Sarah “Sally” (Barney) Belcher*, the daughter of John and Jemima (Shaw) Barney, was born June 26, 1771 in Taunton, Mass. The marriage of Benjamin Belcher and Sally Barney is recorded at Taunton, Jan. 1, 1792. Benjamin Belcher was born in Easton, Bristol Co., Mass. Sept. 17, 1765, the son of Gregory and Deborah (Williams) Belcher. He removed from Taunton to Chicopee Falls, Mass. about 1800-02 and started an iron foundry, the ore being dug from the banks of the Chicopee River. In 1815 he built the house in which they lived. As a hollow-ware manufacturer, he established Chicopee Falls as an industrial center. He was an energetic and successful man in the Springfield district. Benjamin died Dec. 17, 1833; Sally died Oct. 14, 1869; both are buried in the Earl Street Congregational Church Cemetery in Chicopee Falls.

Accepting an offer of help from his powerful father-in-law, Arthur MacArthur and his young bride moved to Springfield, Mass. in 1842, where he established a law practice that soon thrived. Although he benefited from his wife’s influential Yankee family, Arthur soon chafed at their Whiggish conservatism. A staunch Democrat, his own immigrant background made him suspicious of “the aristocracy of birth,” and it wasn’t long before he struck out on his own.

After setting up a law office in New York, in 1849 he moved his family, which now included young Arthur Jr., to the rapidly growing city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the family flourished. Arthur established a successful practice and purchased a home in an exclusive section of town; the MacArthurs were soon enjoying membership in the city’s social elite.

According to historian Kenneth Ray Young, MacArthur “became a rising star in Milwaukee politics.” Elected city attorney just two years after his arrival, he made friends with the most powerful men in the state. In 1857 he was elected to the first of two six-year terms as a judge on the state’s second judicial circuit. In 1870 he achieved his greatest success, when President Grant appointed him associate justice of the supreme court of the District of Columbia, a position he held until his retirement in 1887. He spent the remainder of his years writing several books, fielding numerous offers for speaking engagements, and entertaining Washington’s elite.

It was during these lofty years in Washington, just when he was entering adolescence, that an impressionable Douglas MacArthur got to know his grandfather best. If in Douglas’ mind his father represented the ideal soldier, his grandfather was the model for the gentleman-scholar. As D. Clayton James has written of the Judge, “The family heritage which he largely created and passed on by example to Douglas was one of nobility: A MacArthur is a man of superior mind and talents, a potential master of sundry fields; a MacArthur commands the respect of important personages at the highest levels of government and society; a MacArthur, by virtue of his family’s high rank in the Scottish aristocracy of blood and the American aristocracy of success and wealth, is obligated to conduct himself with honor, gallantry, and magnanimity.” These were clearly the signposts by which Douglas MacArthur would navigate his way into the history books.

Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Jr. (1845 - 1912)

Not long before his own death, Douglas MacArthur summed up his feelings about the passing of his father this way: “My whole world changed that night. Never have I been able to heal the wound in my heart.”

In a fundamental way, Douglas MacArthur’s remarkable career was fueled by his desire to live up to the shining example of his father. From his exploits as a teenaged hero in the Union Army until his death at a reunion of his Wisconsin regiment, Arthur MacArthur, Jr. was a dedicated soldier who was in many ways the archetype of the 19th century U.S. Army officer.

Arthur was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but at the age of four the family moved to Milwaukee. Although just sixteen when the Civil War erupted, Arthur was determined to enlist, ignoring his father’s wishes that he train for a career in the law, or at least attend West Point if he insisted on becoming a soldier. But no sooner had Judge MacArthur arranged an appointment to West Point, than his headstrong son forced him into arranging a commission as first lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Volunteers.

At first soldiers laughed at the “baby adjutant,” but not for long. Quickly impressing others with his coolness and dedication to duty, Arthur first became a highly valued member of the unit, then a genuine hero. In an action which eventually earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, MacArthur seized the regimental flag from the fallen color bearer and led his men up Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The commander who recommended him for the award commented that “he was most distinguished in action on a field where many in the regiment displayed conspicuous gallantry, worthy of the highest praise.”

But for career officers like Arthur MacArthur, life in the post-Civil War U.S. Army would hold little glory. Without foreign wars, promotions were few and far between; instead, the Army was asked to make settlement of the West safe from the Indian “menace.” Occasional orders to serve as Courts-Martial officers offered periodic relief from the rough life at frontier army posts.

During one such reprieve, while serving on a military court in New Orleans, he fell in love with Mary Pinkney Hardy, a 22-year-old belle who was the daughter of a Norfolk, Va. Cotton broker. They were married in May 1875 at the bride’s Norfolk home, “Riveredge,” on the Elizabeth River. Two of her brothers, graduates of the Virginia Military Institute who had fought under General Robert E. Lee, refused to attend the ceremony.

Pinky tried to return to “Riveredge” in Norfolk for the birth of each child, and was successful with the first two, Arthur III and Malcolm (who died of measles at age 5). Her third son arrived early, on Jan. 26, 1880, just as she was packing for Virginia. Thus, Douglas MacArthur came to be born on army property at what was then Fort Dodge and is now part of Little Rock, Arkansas, where Capt. MacArthur’s “K” Company was stationed at the time.

For Arthur and his wife Pinky, whom he had married in 1875, this meant raising their young family on a series of dusty Army posts like the one at Ft. Selden, New Mexico. A voracious reader, MacArthur did his best to challenge himself intellectually, and his efficiency reports were always excellent. Nevertheless, these were difficult and frustrating years for the MacArthurs.

After many years of oblivion in remote army posts such as Fort Bridger, Fort Kearny, Fort Selden and Fort Dodge, in 1886 MacArthur’s Company “K” was transferred to the large Army base at Leavenworth, Kansas. Just three years later, his excellent work as an instructor -- and the ceaseless lobbying by him and his well-placed father -- finally paid off, and MacArthur was promoted to major and assigned to the Adjutant General’s office in Washington. There, while his family enjoyed the high society that gathered around his father’s table, Arthur flourished at the War Department. By the time the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he was ready for a sizeable command.

Newly-minted Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur, commanding a 4800-man brigade of volunteers, arrived in Manila on August 1, three months after Admiral Dewey’s navy had defeated the Spanish navy. When the American army arrived, the Spanish commander in Manila, hopelessly outnumbered by the Americans and Emilio Aguinaldo’s Filipino insurgents, negotiated the surrender of his forces after a staged battle. All went smoothly at first, until suddenly MacArthur’s brigade ran into heavy fire from a Spanish unit which had not received word of the understanding. Displaying “much gallantry and excellent judgment” during the skirmish, MacArthur defeated the renegade Spaniards. Unfortunately for MacArthur, subduing the Filipinos, eager for true independence after generations of colonial domination, would prove far more difficult.

In April of 1900, in recognition for his work in managing the guerrilla war, Mac-Arthur was appointed Military Governor of the Philippines, re-placing General Otis. As if fighting the Filipinos wasn’t hard enough, MacArthur soon faced another challenge: the arrival of a civilian commission from Washington, headed by rising Ohio Republican William Howard Taft. Resentful of what he saw as political interference in an essentially military situation, MacArthur treated Taft coolly at best. Taft, knowing that Washington wanted only good news and the quick establishment of a civilian government, saw MacArthur as an inconvenience and successfully lobbied for his removal.

Upon his return to the States in 1901, MacArthur was first disappointed by the lack of fanfare he received, then by his assignments, which did not conform to his rigid sense of honor. The final straw came in 1909, when he retired after being passed over for the Army’s top job, Chief of Staff, despite being the highest ranking officer. For the rest of his life he would harbor bitter resentment against what his biographer called “civilian politicians and deskbound warriors of the general staff.” It was a lesson his son Douglas would not soon forget.

General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)

“You couldn’t shrug your shoulders at Douglas MacArthur,” observes historian David McCullough. “There was nothing bland about him, nothing passive about him, nothing dull about him. There’s no question about his patriotism, there’s no question about his courage, and there’s no question, it seems to me, about his importance as one of the protagonists of the 20th century.”

Douglas MacArthur lived his entire life, from cradle to grave, in the United States Army. He spent his early years in remote sections of New Mexico, where his father, Arthur MacArthur Jr., commanded an infantry company charged with protecting settlers and railroad workers from the Indian “menace.” Seen through a boy’s eyes, life at a place like Ft. Selden, New Mexico, was heady stuff. “My first memory was the sound of bugles,” Douglas MacArthur recalled in his “Reminiscences.” “It was here I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write -- indeed, almost before I could walk or talk.” Even more importantly, by watching his father and listening to his mother, he learned that a MacArthur is always in charge.

When Douglas was six, Captain MacArthur was assigned to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where Pinky could finally introduce him and his older brother Arthur to life back in “civilization.” Three years later the family took another step in that direction when they moved to Washington, D.C., where Arthur took a post in the War Department. During these formative years, Douglas was able to spend time with his grandfather, Judge Arthur MacArthur, a man of considerable accomplishment and charm. As his grandfather entertained Washington’s elite, Douglas learned another valuable lesson: a MacArthur is a scholar and a gentleman.

Douglas, who had always been an unremarkable student, first started to reveal his own intellectual gifts when his father was posted to San Antonio, Texas, in 1893. There he attended the West Texas Military Academy, thriving in an atmosphere which combined academics, religion, military discipline and Victorian social graces. By virtue of his excellent record there, his family’s political connections and top scores on the qualifying exam, Douglas received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1898. Over the next four years, he would achieve one of the finest records in Academy history. General Arthur MacArthur looked on proudly as his son graduated first in the class of 1903.

What became a lasting connection with the Philippines began with Douglas’ first assignment out of West Point, when the young Lieutenant sailed to the islands to work with a corps of engineers. While on a surveying mission there, he recalled being “waylaid on a narrow jungle trail by two desperados, one on each side.” MacArthur responded without hesitation. “Like all frontiersmen, I was expert with a pistol. I dropped them both dead in their tracks, but not before one had blazed at me with an antiquated rifle.” Soon after this first brush with physical danger, MacArthur enjoyed excitement of a different kind, when he was assigned to accompany his father on an extended tour through Asia, where the General would review the military forces of eleven countries. The MacArthurs, Pinky included, were treated like royalty, and Douglas came away from the trip firmly convinced that America’s future -- and his own -- lay in Asia.

One of Douglas’s next assignments included service as an aide in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House. But when he found himself in a tedious engineering assignment in Milwaukee in 1907, his performance dropped and he received a poor evaluation. To add to his confusion, he had fallen in love with a New York debutante named Fanniebelle, and his brilliant career prospects seemed to wane. But Douglas made amends in his next assignment, at the staff college at Leavenworth, and when his father died in 1912 he was transferred to the War Department in Washington, so that he could care for his mother. While there he was taken under the wing of Chief of Staff Leonard Wood, a protégé of his father, and his career was again firmly on track.

During May of 1914 he was selected, because of his ability, to secretly visit Vera Cruz as a reconnaissance mission because war appeared imminent with Mexico. If he were caught he would be shot as a spy. During this mission he was attacked 3 times and left 7 adversaries dead in 3 separate gunfights. In 1915 MacArthur was promoted to Major and the following year became the Army’s first public relations officer, performing so well that he is largely credited with selling the American people on the Selective Service Act of 1917, as the country moved ever closer to joining the war in Europe.

Even though his record to that point had been excellent, the First World War gave Douglas MacArthur his first real measure of fame. Quickly promoted to brigadier general, he helped lead the Rainbow Division -- which he had helped create out of National Guard units before the war -- through the thick of the fighting in France. With a flamboyant, romantic style matched only by real feats of courage on the battlefield, MacArthur became the most decorated American soldier of the war. He was awarded 7 silver stars during WW1. The doughboys loved him. He suffered gas inhalation twice.

While his peers were demoted to their pre-war ranks, MacArthur kept his through a plum new assignment as Superintendent of West Point. Although he antagonized many of the old guard, MacArthur made good on his mandate to drag the moribund Academy into the 20th century, enabling it to produce officers fit to lead the country in the type of modern war he had just experienced first hand. He revitalized the curriculum to produce a soldier- statesman Officer who would be capable of diplomacy as well as the outer extension of diplomacy, namely war.

He also managed to get married -- to Louise Cromwell Brooks, a vivacious flapper and heiress very different from her spit-and-polish second husband. A minor scandal erupted when Chief of Staff John J. Pershing shipped MacArthur from West Point to a makeshift assignment in the Philippines. Although disappointted, MacArthur was glad to be back in his beloved islands; Louise, used to the glamorous society of cities like New York and Paris, was not pleased. Even after their return to the States in 1925, the marriage continued to deteriorate; Louise filed for divorce in 1928. On January 17 ,1925 he was awarded his second star. During October of 1925 he was appointed to the Court Martial board of Gen. Billy Mitchell. In a vote akin to the one cast by Jacob Barney during the trial of Roger Williams he followed his conscience and voted not guilty.

Once again, MacArthur found solace in the Philippines, where he took command of the Army’s Philippine Department and renewed a friendship with the island’s leading politician, Manuel Quezon, whom he had known since 1903.

Although he and Quezon failed in their bid to have MacArthur named governor of the Philippines, President Hoover helped take the sting out of it by naming MacArthur to the Army’s top job, Chief of Staff, in 1930. But the early ‘30s were a trying time to be Chief, when the Great Depression made Americans deaf to MacArthur’s warnings about the rising tide of world fascism. Despite his able leadership, the Army fell to all-time lows in strength under his watch. This, along with the damage to his reputation from the Bonus March of 1932, when he very visibly led army troops in routing impoverished World War I vets from the capital, made MacArthur receptive to other opportunities. Once again, he was drawn to the Philippines. In 1935, his old friend Quezon, President of the newly created Philippine Commonwealth, invited him to return to Manila as head of a U.S. military mission charged with preparing the islands for full independence in 1946.

The next few years were among the happiest in MacArthur’s life. On his way to Manila, he met and fell in love with 37-year-old Jean Marie Faircloth from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When Pinky died shortly after their arrival in Manila, Jean helped fill the void, and her devotion would remain a source of strength for the rest of his life. After the birth of their son, Arthur MacArthur IV, the 58-year-old general proved a doting father. But their blissful life in Manila was slowly over-shadowed by the growing threat posed by an expansionist Japan. MacArthur, despite the able assistance of top aide Dwight Eisenhower, would not have enough time or money to build a force capable of resisting the Japanese.

When war finally came with the blow at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Philippines was doomed: MacArthur’s air force was quickly destroyed, his army shredded, and by January his forces had retreated to the Bataan peninsula, where they struggled to survive. From his command post on the island of Corregidor at the mouth of Manila Bay, MacArthur watched his world fall apart.

But despite MacArthur’s poor showing in the Philippines, President Roosevelt knew he couldn’t let America’s most famous general fall to the enemy, and ordered him to withdraw to Australia. Although it ran counter to his notion of a soldier’s duty, MacArthur left his men facing sure destruction, comforted only by the belief that he might lead an army back to rescue them. For the next three years, the world watched as his personal quest -- “I shall return” -- became almost synonymous with the war in the Pacific. Although MacArthur’s path through the dense jungles of New Guinea was hardly imagined in the initial war plans, his single-minded drive and resourcefulness made it one of the two prongs in the Allied drive to roll back the Japanese.

Simultaneously fighting a two front war -- one with the Japanese, the other with the U.S. Navy, who understandably saw the Pacific as theirs -- MacArthur slowly gained momentum. In October of 1944 the world watched as he dramatically waded ashore at Leyte, and in the following months liberated the rest of the Philippines. On September 2, 1945, he presided over the Japanese surrender on board the “U.S.S. Missouri,” bringing an end to World War II.

His place as a leading figure of the 20th century already secure, MacArthur may have made his greatest contribution to history in the next five and a half years, as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan. While initiating some policies and merely implementing others, by force of personality MacArthur became synonymous with the highly successful occupation. His GHQ staff helped a devastated Japan rebuild itself, institute a democratic government, and chart a course that has made it one of the world’s leading industrial powers. Yet by the late 1940s, MacArthur was increasingly bypassed by Washington, and it seemed his remarkable career might be over.

But in June of 1950, the sudden outbreak of the Korean War -- “Mars’ last gift to an old warrior” -- thrust MacArthur back into the limelight. Placed in command of an American-led coalition of United Nations forces, MacArthur reversed the dire military situation in the early months of the war with a brilliant amphibious assault behind North Korean lines at the Port of Inchon. But within weeks of this great triumph he and Washington miscalculated badly. MacArthur’s approach to the Chinese border triggered the entry of Mao’s Communist Chinese, and as 1951 dawned, they faced what he called “an entirely new war.” Although the able leadership of General Matthew B. Ridgway stabilized the military situation near the prewar boundary at the 38th parallel, MacArthur’s months of public and private bickering with the Truman administration soon came to a head. On April 11, 1951, the President relieved General MacArthur, triggering a firestorm of protest over our strategy not only in Korea, but in the Cold War as a whole. As the last great general of World War II to come home, MacArthur received a hero’s welcome. Despite his dramatic televised address to a joint session of Congress, however, the issue died quickly, and with it any hopes MacArthur had of reaching the White House in 1952.

True to his word, the old soldier “faded away” from the public eye, living quietly in New York until his death in 1964. While it’s questionable whether his storied life ever brought him complete satisfaction, one thing is clear: Douglas MacArthur had more than fulfilled his self-imposed destiny of becoming one of history’s great men. My first awareness of my relatedness to him came during the Inchon landing. I had been visiting my grandmother Isabel Barney in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and the landing had made the news. My grandmother had met him and was his biggest fan. She was happy to see America winning and very happy to see a family member a General. His vision of reuniting Korea is very pertinent to the geopolitical events of the past few months in North Korea.

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