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February 27, 2024

Profiles of Valor: The MacArthurs

“Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.”

Of the 3,517 Medals of Honor awarded since 1863, remarkably, there are two father-son recipient pairs.

Today, I am profiling the earliest of those recipients Arthur MacArthur Jr. and his son, Douglas MacArthur. (To follow will be Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Jr. and his son, Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III.)

Arthur MacArthur was a Springfield, Massachusetts, native. On August 4, 1862, 16 months after the onset of the War Between the States, he received a commission as a First Lieutenant with the 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He would be engaged in heavy military operations in the battles of Stones River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign, and Franklin.

It was during the November 25, 1863, Battle of Missionary Ridge during the Chattanooga Campaign that then 18-year-old MacArthur, at great personal risk to himself, grabbed his 24th Wisconsin flag from the bearer who had just been killed in order to refocus his scattered unit and lead his men up the Ridge. In the chaos of battle, regimental flag bearers were constantly in the gun sights of their enemy, not only because they were at the front of the line but because they were charged with leading attacks. By day’s end, Confederate troops retreated south from the Ridge into Georgia, leaving Chattanooga in Union hands.

According to his citation, shouting “On Wisconsin,” MacArthur “seized the colors of his regiment at a critical moment and planted them on the captured works on the crest of Missionary Ridge.” For his actions, he was brevetted colonel the next year and became nationally recognized as “The Boy Colonel.”

Missionary Ridge is across the valley from the location of another famous confrontation a day earlier, the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and only a stone’s throw from where the first Medals of Honor were awarded for the actions of Andrews’ Raiders in 1862.

MacArthur was severely wounded a year later at the Battle of Franklin, sustaining bullet wounds to his chest and leg. After his recovery, he would continue to serve in combat theaters for decades, the last being the Philippine-American War in 1901 and the the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. He retired as a Lieutenant General in 1909.

Arthur MacArthur and his wife Mary had three sons: Arthur MacArthur III, Malcolm, and Douglas.

His son, Douglass MacArthur, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), Class of 1903, and would become one of five men promoted to the five-star rank of General of the Army during World War II.

He is among the most famous military leaders in American history, and over his 52 years of military service ending in 1951, he had held many commands and received many decorations for his service, including the Distinguished Service Cross (3), Army Distinguished Service Medal (5), Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star (7), Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with V, and two Purple Hearts.

MacArthur was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times. The first nomination was by Gen. Leonard Wood, a Medal of Honor recipient himself, to recognize MacArthur for a daring act of reconnaissance while alone deep in enemy territory during the Vera Cruz, Mexico (1914) action. That award was denied because his actions were conducted without the knowledge of the local commanding officer. That is an anomaly given the number of Medals of Honor that have been awarded since for actions often in direct defiance of orders. He was also nominated for his actions during World War I, but that was “downgraded” to a Distinguished Service Cross.

Ultimately, MacArthur received the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines. At the end of the War in the Pacific, he was designated to officially accepted the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, and oversaw the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951.

In April of 1951, Gen. MacArthur was summarily “relieved of his command” by President Harry Truman over an open dispute between the two regarding MacArthur’s advocacy for the continued strenuous defense of South Korea until the Red Chinese had been ejected.

On April 19, 1951, Patriots’ Day, immediately upon returning from Korea, MacArthur addressed a joint session of Congress and delivered his famous retirement speech, “Old Soldiers Never Die.” The short speech lasted 35 minutes because it was interrupted more than 50 times by applause and standing ovations.

He concluded his remarks: “The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away.’ And like the old soldier of that ballad, 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. Goodbye.”

A decade later, West Point honored MacArthur with its Thayer Award for outstanding service to the nation. Dwight Eisenhower was the previous year’s recipient. It was there that a frail MacArthur delivered a second famous speech — “Duty, Honor, Country” — for which he is best remembered by generations of cadets since. “The shadows are lengthening for me,” he said. “The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing Reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams, I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country. Today marks my final roll call with you, but 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. I bid you farewell.”

Arthur and Douglass MacArthur: Your examples of valor — distinguished American Patriots defending your fellow warriors and Liberty for all — above and beyond the call of duty, and in disregard for the peril to your own lives, is eternal. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our Military Mission of Service to our uniformed service members and veterans, are proud to support and promote the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, both the Honoring the Sacrifice and Warrior Freedom Service Dogs aiding wounded veterans, the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, the Folds of Honor outreach, and Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, and Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)


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