General Douglas MacArthur certainly was a controversial military figure in American history.
Born in 1880 in Little Rock, Ark., to a military family, MacArthur went on to graduate first in his class of 93 at West Point in 1903.
Serving in 20 campaigns from Veracruz to Korea on 100 battlefields, he earned numerous decorations from the Purple Heart to the Medal of Honor. He retired at 57 in 1937 and was called back to duty in 1941 at 61.
As Commander of American Army in the Philippines, his reputation survived the disaster of the Japanese invasion and conquest of the Philippines. He became the military commander of Japan after the war and aided in the reconstruction of the shattered island nation.
His contentious relationship with President Harry Truman during the Korean War resulted in his final retirement from the Army at 71. Australian Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey, who served with MacArthur during World War II, once said of him, “the best and worst things you hear about him are both true.”
MacArthur’s last appearance at West Point at 82 was to receive the Thayer Award. In his moving and emotional acceptance speech, he spoke about his admiration of the American soldier. The following are excerpts from his speech, which I thought were appropriate for Memorial Day.
“The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training – sacrifice. The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
“But, when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire and his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism; he belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom.”
MacArthur concludes his speech with, “I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps and The Corps and The Corps.” Eighteen months later, General Douglas MacArthur, at 84, did cross that river and I am certain his last thoughts were of the American soldier of which he thought of so highly.
• Pete DeLaney of Crest Hill is a veteran of the Silent Service.