In 1917, a 37-year-old colonel named Douglas MacArthur help to lead the men of the 42nd “Rainbow” Division onto the battlefields of France during World War I. The battle-tested MacArthur later commanded the Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific during World War II as well as United Nations forces in the Korean War. Explore 10 surprising facts about the controversial five-star American general who remains a military icon 50 years after his death.
MacArthur’s father was a Union veteran, his mother from a Confederate family.
When Mary Pinkney Hardy wed distinguished Union general Arthur MacArthur Jr. in 1875, her Virginia family hardly approved. Two of Hardy’s brothers who had attended the Virginia Military Institute and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War even refused to attend the nuptials.
He was part of the first father-son duo to both receive the Medal of Honor.
Although just 18 years old, Arthur MacArthur Jr. displayed such valor at the 1863 Battle of Missionary Ridge that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Although nominated twice before, Douglas MacArthur did not receive the same accolade until 1942 for his service in defense of the Philippines during World War II. (When Theodore Roosevelt posthumously received the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his service during the Spanish-American War, he and son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. became the second father-son pair to receive the award.)
Only Robert E. Lee and another cadet surpassed his West Point performance.
When MacArthur enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy, his mother moved to West Point as well and stayed at a hotel on campus grounds. MacArthur’s mother had told him he “must grow up to be a great man,” either like his father or like Lee, and her watchful eye apparently worked as MacArthur graduated first out of 94 cadets in the class of 1903 by earning 2,424.2 points out of a maximum of 2,470. Only two other cadets in West Point history had matched MacArthur’s 98.14% performance—an 1884 graduate as well as the iconic Confederate general in 1829.
MacArthur was president of the American Olympic Committee (AOC).
When the AOC president died suddenly in 1927, the organization recruited MacArthur, who was a booster of amateur athletics, as his replacement to prepare the U.S. team for the 1928 Summer Games in Amsterdam. MacArthur paraded with the team during the opening ceremonies and exhorted the athletes like a general leading his men into battle. When the American boxing team manager withdrew his fighters to protest a bad decision, MacArthur ordered the team back into the ring and barked, “Americans don’t quit!” The U.S. team left Amsterdam with seven world records and twice as many gold medals as any other country.
He assisted in establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Although best known for his wartime exploits, MacArthur played a crucial role in the formation of one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signature New Deal programs. After Congress authorized the creation of the CCC in March 1933, the president wanted to enroll 250,000 men by July 1, an ambitious goal that only the military could implement. The task fell to MacArthur, who surpassed the goal by mobilizing nearly 300,000 recruits by the deadline.
He vomited on the front steps of the White House.
When Roosevelt proposed large military cuts in 1934, MacArthur visited the Oval Office for a heated meeting. The general later recounted that he “spoke recklessly and said something to the general effect that when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” After the outburst, MacArthur on the spot offered his resignation as Army chief of staff, but Roosevelt refused. Still nauseous from the confrontation, MacArthur got sick on the White House steps after leaving the meeting.
MacArthur had presidential ambitions.
Although on active duty and prohibited by military regulations, MacArthur did little initially to tamp down a movement to draft the general to be the Republican Party’s nominee against Roosevelt in 1944. MacArthur even won the Illinois primary before the party nominated Thomas Dewey. Four years later, MacArthur again flirted with the presidency but lost decisively in the Wisconsin primary to Harold Stassen. In 1952, the Republican Party once again bypassed MacArthur, this time for another war hero, Dwight Eisenhower.
MacArthur received a ticker tape parade after his firing.
On April 11, 1951, President Harry Truman relieved MacArthur from his Korean War command for insubordination after the general publicly criticized the president’s conduct of the war. Truman, who favored a “limited war” over MacArthur’s more aggressive approach, told the country he fired the general in part “to prevent a third world war.” MacArthur, more popular than the president at the time, received a hero’s welcome upon his arrival back in the United States. On April 20, 1951, confetti and cheers rained down on him as he rode in a limousine through the streets of New York. The day before, he had been interrupted by 50 ovations during an address to a joint session of Congress in which he closed with the words: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
A trophy in his honor is awarded annually to college football’s top team.
Although MacArthur played on the West Point baseball team, football was his true love. He was the student manager for the military academy’s football team and one of the founders of the National Football Foundation, which since 1959 has awarded the MacArthur Bowl to the top college football team in the United States. The 25-pound silver trophy is shaped like a football stadium and features this quote from the general: “There is no substitute for victory.”
MacArthur designed his trademark corncob pipes.
The publicity-conscious general personally fashioned his signature look that included his ornate hat, aviator sunglasses and corncob pipe. A long-time cigarette smoker, MacArthur provided the Missouri Meerschaum Company with precise specifications for the deep-bowled, long-stemmed pipe that he used as a distinctive prop during public appearances. The outsized pipe was good for show but difficult to smoke, so Missouri Meerschaum gave the general other pipes to use for his pleasure. Missouri Meerschaum continues to craft replicas of MacArthur’s customized pipe, and Ray-Ban named a sunglass line after him in 1987.