Weekly Travel Features

Going to Manila Soon? then Meet Mac Arthur

by Harold Stephens,
Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International

This coming December marks American’s anniversary into World War II and you will be hearing a lot about Douglas: MacArthur. Remember him who fulfilled his vow "I shall return" and did just that.  On October 20, 1944, U.S. forces landed on Leyte, in central Philippines, with General MacArthur in the lead.

Following MacArthur's footprints in the Philippines leads us over some dusty and controversial paths.  He lived almost half his professional life overseas, most of which were in the Philippines.  In fact, his whole lifetime was preoccupied with the Philippines.  Today his memories are found everywhere around the country.  Statues of MacArthur and his staff making the landing at Leyete stand at the actual site.  At the Light and Sound presentation on Corregidor Island visitors can hear his actual voice and see his image, along with other officers and Filipino dignitaries in the command cave within the rock.  And. of course, there the Manila Hotel, his home for many years.  For those who have a thousand dollars a day to spend, they can open their luggage in the famous MacArthur Suite.

And in the same hotel, at no cost this time, hotel guests can visit the Archives Room and see photographs of a very young MacArthur when he first arrived in the islands and an older MacArthur when he returned on a sentimental visit in 1964, shortly before his death.

There's no doubt MacArthur had a lasting romance with the Philippines, and also with a young Filipina that the War Department managed to keep suppressed, and forced him for a time to lead two lives.  Even the famous Dugout Dug had skeletons in his closet.

MacArthur was surrounded by the military from birth. He was born January 26, 1880, at Fort Dodge, Arkansas, the third son of Capt. Arthur MacArthur, Jr., and his wife, Mary, known as Pinky, a Virginia cotton merchant's strong-minded daughter.

The senior MacArthur had been a hero in the Union Army during the American Civil War, having won the Medal of Honor for helping lead his men in the charge that took the Rebel guns at Missionary Ridge.

The young MacArthur was raised in military bases and dusty frontier Army outposts, where, with his father, he was treated as someone special.  From earliest childhood he was made to feel that his mission in life was to command.
Douglas had two older brothers whose untimely deaths had a tremendous impact on his life. When Malcolm, 15 months older than him, died at four in 1883, and Arthur III died in 1923 of appendicitis, the loss of was a terrible blow to his mother which increased her devotion to Douglas. The tie was to become one of the dominant factors of his life. Until her death in 1935, MacArthur's mother was rarely far from her son's side.

Even when he was a cadet at West Point Military Academy,  she stayed at his side through his entire four years.  She took up residence in nearby Craney's Hotel so she could make certain his study light was on, and each evening she could be seen strolling with her son along Flirtation Walk.  She made a point of turning away any young woman even slightly interested in her son. It paid off.  His overall scholastic record for four years was 98.14, a record since never equaled.

In 1903 he graduated from West Point as a 23-year-old second lieutenant and began in the Army Engineers in the Philippines, which had become a United States possession as a result of the Spanish-American War a few years before.
MacArthur moved up fast, and it's often said as a result of shameless, string-pulling letters from his mother.  After the tour in the Philippines, he served as an aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt.

His first experience in combat came in 1914 near Veracruz, where he was sent on a daring spy mission deep inside Mexican territory.  On his return he claimed to have shot seven gunmen in combat, but became enraged when the Awards Board refused to award him the Medal of Honor--his local commander had not been informed of his mission.

World War I gave him with the stage he needed. As one biographer pointed out, "As a colonel in the 42nd Rainbow Division, he proved perhaps the most courageous American officer on the western front—and certainly the most conspicuous."  We can see him in photographs at the front, carrying a riding crop and wearing riding britches, polished cavalry boots and a four-foot woolen muffler knitted by his mother.

His men admired him, and he distinguished himself by scampering with his men up the sides of trenches under machine-gun fire and crawling through mud.  One episode reports how, when a shell exploded in the courtyard of a farmhouse in which he and his staff were dining, his fellow officers hit the floor.  He right on eating, claiming all of Germany could not fabricate a shell that will kill him. Such theatrics impressed his men and provided colourful copy for the newspapers.
At 38, MacArthur rose to brigadier general and became the Army's youngest divisional commander.  The secretary of war declared him "the greatest front-line generals of the war."  He was decorated with 31 honors, including the French Croix de Guerre, the Distinguished Service Cross, and seven Silver Stars for "extraordinary heroism and gallantry in action."

But MacArthur was not satisfied.  He had been denied the Medal of Honor, which he blamed on Gen. John J. Pershing.   He considered Pershing his personal enemy, for reasons which I will explain.

After the war MacArthur was made superintendent of West Point and set out, against stubborn resistance, to change the Academy.  He streamlined courses, ended the more extreme forms of hazing, and brought in civilian teachers.
Then unexpectedly in 1922, he received orders to take command of the district in the Philippines.  The order came from the Chief of Staff, who was now General Pershing.

The reason, MacArthur, wrote in his biography, was due to his proposed marriage to Louise Brooks, a divorcee who had once been linked romantically with Pershing.  MacArthur held that Pershing was exiling him out of jealousy.
This was MacArthur's second tour in the Philippines, which he enjoyed.  But his new bride was not happy and the marriage ended in divorce.  She blamed the break-up on hostile interference by her mother-in-law.  He spent eight years in the Philippines.

In 1930 MacArthur was appointed Army chief of staff and returned to Washington, at the great satisfaction of his mother, with home he now lived, at the age of 50.  But he also led a secret life about which few people knew.  He brought from Manila a Filipina mistress, known as "Dimples," and set her up in a Washington hotel suite.

But Dimple grew bored and took other lovers. MacArthur paid her passage back to Manila, but she refused to go and instead moved to California.  But the matter was still not settled.

During the Great Depression, a ragtag army of desperate, jobless veterans of World War I, descended upon Washington. President Herbert Hoover persuaded MacArthur to disperse the army, which he did.

Following the incident, two newspaper columnists charged MacArthur with having been brutal in his duties.  MacArthur immediately sued them for libel, then learned that among the witnesses his opponents planned to call was his estranged mistress. He dropped the case, but not before he was forced to come up with $15,000 to buy her silence.

MacArthur's was 55 in 1935 and time for him to step down, when President elect Manuel Quezon offered him the post of military adviser of the Philippines. MacArthur agreed to  accept provided he was given "accommodation equal to those of the president."  His wish was granted and the top floor of the Manila Hotel was refurbished as his quarters.  The government spared no costs.

MacArthur's mother sailed with him for Manila but fell ill en route and died five weeks after they arrived.  MacArthur was devastate.  But he would not be alone long.

Aboard ship he met Jean Faircloth, a southern woman 20 years younger than him, and in1937 they were married. They had a son, Arthur MacArthur IV, a year later.
The rest is history.  In 1941 when he Japanese moved into Indochina within easy striking distance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled MacArthur to active duty as commander of all U. S. forces in the Far East, including the Philippines.  In case of an invasion, U. S. troops were to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor, the fortress at the entrance to Manila Bay. They would hold out until American warships came to their aid.  They waited three years.

MacArthur was asleep when the telephone rang with the news that Japan had destroyed most of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.  Two weeks later, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. MacArthur, his wife, his three-year-old son, and President Quezon fled to island of Corregidor, to await reinforcements that never came.

Nevertheless, the men on Corregidor and Bataan held out for five months.  In the public mind Douglas MacArthur had become the living symbol of their defiance, the "Lion of Luzon." He was determined to remain with his men but President Roosevelt ordered him to proceed to Australia to organise a new army.  From Australia, he issued a fateful promise: "I have come through," he said, "and I shall return."  He did, 31 months and 56-amphibious landings later.  On October 20, 1944, the general found himself aboard a landing barge and landed at Leyte beach.
With the war ended, MacArthur presided over the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945.  He then became supreme commander in charge of the occupation of Japan.  He transformed Japanese society, guaranteed civil liberties and the equality of the sexes, reformed the Diet, and renounced war for all time.   He returned to San Francisco on April 17, aboard USS Bataan, his first return home in 14 years.

To he U.S. Congress at a join session he said, "And like the old soldier, I now close my military career and just fade away—an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty."

MacArthur lived on with his wife and son in a suite at the Waldorf Towers in Manhattan; he did get one more chance to return to his beloved Philippines. In 1961, three years before his death at 84, MacArthur was invited back to the islands to join the celebrations marking the 15th anniversary of national independence.

You can stand at the Manila Hotel today and take in the same view Gen. Douglas MacArthur had when in lived in colonial splendor in the old hotel during the years before America entered World War II.  Like then, the great harbor is crowded with anchored ships, and the island of Corregidor and the mountainous silhouette of the Bataan Peninsula shimmer in the distance. The general is said to have enjoyed that the sunset from his penthouse terrace here nearly every evening.

Harold Stephens
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (hstephens_1@yahoo.com)

Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.

General Douglas MacArthur, he made Manila his home

The Manila Hotel today

The gracious inter is the Manila Hotel

The Manila Hotel was bombed