Schools were closed.
City offices were closed.
Roads were closed.
Spectators lined 7 miles of Norfolk streets as the funeral procession for General of the Army Douglas MacArthur passed by on April 11, 1964.
After lying in state in New York and Washington, his body was carried by plane, car and, finally, horse-drawn caisson to a crypt in Norfolk’s old City Hall.
That site, now known as The MacArthur Memorial, is on MacArthur Square, next to the MacArthur Center mall. The memorial is devoted to a larger-than-life general of World War II, liberator of the Philippines, ruler of occupied Japan, and leader – until he was fired – of United Nations forces in Korea. He was born in Arkansas and lived, after retirement, in New York City.
The MacArthur Memorial and research center, now grown to three buildings in the heart of the city, celebrates its 50th anniversary this week. Yet the question still comes up:
“I shall return.” – Douglas MacArthur, retreating from the Philippines, 1942
The simple answer is that it all goes back to Mom.
The general’s mother, Mary Pinkney Hardy, was born at Riveredge, her family’s estate along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk. His parents married there, and they intended that he should be born there, too.
But his Army officer father was transferred to Little Rock, Ark., where MacArthur was born Jan. 26, 1880. In later years, the general delighted in telling the story, saying, “The Norfolk papers were loyal, and in the paper’s headlines, it said Douglas MacArthur was born when his parents were away.”
That’s one of the least controversial things MacArthur ever said.
As a general in three wars, with a career that earned him every honor an Army officer could receive, MacArthur was loved and reviled, praised as a military genius and criticized as arrogant and self-serving. He has been described by at least one biographer as a classic tragic hero, his talents matched by personal flaw.
He earned distinction in World War I, was superintendent of West Point and led the U.S. Olympic Committee in the 1920s, and became Army chief of staff in 1930. In 1935, he became a military adviser to the Philippines army, to oversee the country’s transition from U.S. control to independence.
Then Japan invaded. MacArthur and his family were forced to retreat from Manila, then ordered to leave the country. The general cemented his place in history by declaring his intention to return and free the Philippines. He did, and then he oversaw Japan’s surrender, reconstruction and turn to democracy.
Tapped to lead U.N. forces during the Korean War, MacArthur wanted to attack communist forces just over the border in China. Interviews published after his death said he intended to use nuclear weapons. President Harry Truman would not allow attacks across the border and fired the five-star general in 1951, an unpopular move with the public. MacArthur returned to the United States to ticker tape parades and a hero’s welcome.
In the backlash of the firing, a group of Norfolk citizens began raising money to restore Riveredge. With the city’s help, and $25,000, they bought the old house. But it needed too much work and, after a fire gutted it, was razed and its bricks used to build a wall bearing a plaque to the general’s mother.
Later in 1951, MacArthur arrived in Norfolk to dedicate the little memorial park, accompanied by his wife, Jean, and 13-year-old son, Arthur MacArthur IV.
To the city’s delight, he announced, “I feel at long, long last, I have arrived home.”
Seeing an opportunity, Mayor Fred Duckworth, who has been described in print as “pushy” and “imperious” – much as MacArthur was – set out to woo the general.
“In war, there can be no substitute for victory.” – Douglas MacArthur, farewell speech to Congress, 1951
Norfolk’s old City Hall building, which houses The MacArthur Memorial, was built in 1847 and renovated in the early 1960s at a cost of about $500,000.
“This is the rotunda,” Christopher Kolakowski, memorial director, said, leading the way to an iron railing encircling a hole in the floor. He looked down on the crypts of MacArthur and his wife, then walked to another room, where a display case holds the general’s iconic corncob pipe, sunglasses and cap.
“That hat, if you see a picture of General MacArthur from World War II through Korea, that’s the hat he was wearing,” Kolakowski said. “The pipe has been smoked. If you look real carefully on the end of the stem, you can see teeth marks.”
The exhibit galleries contain photos and memorabilia from the general’s life and career. The Truman-MacArthur public spat is represented. A collection of art objects, gifts to the MacArthur family from Japan, the Philippines and other countries, is displayed, along with deadlier items: a samurai sword and the bullet that Japan’s former prime minister, Hideki Tojo, fired in a suicide attempt.
The general’s car is there, and a tabletop map that illustrates the impact MacArthur had on a swath of the globe.
“To understand the Far East today, you have to understand the story of Douglas MacArthur,” Kolakowski said.
The museum does not contain much material prior to World War II; papers and books were lost when the MacArthurs’ penthouse suite in Manila burned. As the Japanese invaded, the MacArthurs retreated to the island of Corregidor off the Bataan Peninsula, later the site of the infamous Bataan Death March. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the general and his family to Australia, and they evacuated in torpedo boats.
“I shall return,” MacArthur declared, a phrase that resonated so much it was reprinted on pencils and matchboxes and other items and circulated throughout the islands as a morale booster for guerrilla fighters. MacArthur did return, his troops fighting island to island from Australia north, culminating with him triumphantly wading ashore at Leyte in the Philippines, wearing the same sunglasses and hat that are displayed at the museum.
“Those have a power you can’t get from a book,” Kolakowski said.
MacArthur went on to accept Japan’s surrender, and he remained in the country as supreme commander for the Allied powers – in effect, its ruler. He was instrumental, Kolakowski said, in distributing food and medical supplies with a generous hand and writing a constitution for the rebuilding country.
“He won their hearts,” the director said. “He gave them a hand back up.”
In the memorial’s archive is a photograph of MacArthur dressed in khakis, hands on his hips, standing next to – and towering over – the defeated emperor of Japan, who is wearing formal mourning clothes. Archivist James Zobel said the photo, signed by both men, is one of three known to exist. It is valued in six figures.
“That’s the greatest example of psychological warfare that MacArthur ever pulled off,” Zobel said. “The Japanese saw the photo in newspapers and knew the world had changed.”
Norfolk first intended to create a museum to house such items, Kolakowski explained. The general, perhaps liking the idea of a whole building devoted to him, agreed to donate his papers and belongings, on one condition.
Again, MacArthur’s request can be traced to his mother. One of her sons, who died at 4, is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery. Her eldest son died at 23 during surgery for appendicitis, an event that caused MacArthur to shun doctors for most of his life, Kolakowski said.
Bereft of two sons, Mary Hardy followed her general son for the rest of her life – to West Point, to Washington, to the Philippines. When she died there in 1935, he brought her back to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. But the general chose not to be buried there himself.
After nine years of negotiations, he agreed to donate his belongings to Norfolk, but only if his body could come with them.
“Whether I am alive or dead, I will be in Norfolk on May 30th.” – Douglas MacArthur, Jan. 27, 1964
Renovating the old City Hall took several years. The exhibit galleries opened Jan. 26, 1964, MacArthur’s 84th birthday. In a letter to Mayor Roy Martin, written the next day, MacArthur pledged to attend the dedication ceremony Memorial Day weekend.
But a few weeks later, he entered Walter Reed General Hospital to be treated for jaundice. He had gallbladder surgery. Two weeks after that, he had emergency surgery to remove his spleen and stop bleeding in his esophagus. Six days later, doctors removed eight feet of his small intestine and repaired two hernias that, thanks to his brother’s early death, he had ignored for years.
On April 5, despite their efforts, he died. In accordance with his wishes, funeral processions were held in New York and Washington, complete with the casket carried by horse-drawn caisson, followed by a riderless black horse.
MacArthur’s body lay in state in both places before everything moved to Norfolk, the city that he once declared his spiritual home.
The body was flown to Norfolk Naval Air Station; the black horses were trucked from the Old Guard at Fort Myer. A hearse carried the casket to the intersection of 21st Street and Monticello Avenue, where it was transferred to the caisson for the long, slow procession to MacArthur Square.
Thousands of people lined the streets to watch. Then they lined up to file past the body as it lay in state in the memorial’s rotunda, atop a catafalque covered with royal purple velvet. On April 11, funeral services were held in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, followed by interment.
No formal dedication of the memorial was ever held; this month’s anniversary events will be Friday, 50 years to the day after MacArthur’s funeral.
The archive at The MacArthur Memorial has 50,000 get-well and condolence letters and telegrams that were sent to the general and his family. They are signed by Japanese royalty, the president of the Philippines, entertainers such as Red Buttons and Gene Autry, Robert Kennedy and West Point classmate Ulysses S. Grant III, among others.
One, dated April 2, three days before MacArthur’s death, was recently discovered by Zobel. It has never been published before, he said.
“We are all deeply sorry that you are experiencing so great an illness,” it reads. “You are putting up a valiant fight to overcome this difficulty and I hope and pray that you succeed.” It is signed by Harry S. Truman.
“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Douglas MacArthur, speech to Congress, 1951
In 2000, Jean MacArthur died at 101 and was interred beside her husband in The MacArthur Memorial, which now takes up an entire city block. Four million people have visited in the past 50 years. Admission has always been free.
The memorial is supported in part by the General Douglas MacArthur Foundation. Staff members are Norfolk city employees.
The archive is still growing. It contains about 2 million pages of documents, 80,000 photos, 25,000 books, 500 films and numerous clippings from magazines and newspapers. Boxes that take up 2 linear feet of shelf space are still classified, Zobel said, including some about the Korean War, nuclear attacks, the CIA, chemical weapons plans from World War II and the occupation of Japan.
Home movies were donated recently by the family of MacArthur’s mess officer. The archive has grown into a research center and solicits donations from people who worked with or knew MacArthur to augment the collection of his personal papers.
“This is not a dusty museum,” Kolakowski said. “This is a living, breathing, growing place.”
Friday’s ceremony will be followed by a forum featuring the authors of four books about the general and his era. Representatives will attend from many of the nations MacArthur influenced, the director said. Arthur MacArthur IV was invited but declined. He lives in New York under, for unknown reasons, an assumed name.
At the end of the month, the memorial will premiere two films as it hosts a reunion of World War II civilian prisoners of war who were held in Asian countries. “Corregidor: The Road Back” is about the retaking of the Philippines during World War II, by the son of Lt. Cmdr. Charles “Chick” Parsons, a resistance leader. “4-4-43: Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess and the Greatest Story of the War in the Pacific” is about 10 Americans breaking out of a Philippine POW camp and reaching Australia with Parsons’ help.
But the generation that revered MacArthur is fading away. To maintain interest, emphasis is being placed on the general’s continuing impact on today’s world, updating exhibits with QR codes to appeal to younger visitors, and emphasizing eternal lessons such as leadership, Kolakowski said. He’s had experience with that, having led a museum devoted to another famous general, George S. Patton, before coming to The MacArthur Memorial.
“I would say one thing about the two of them,” he said. “They are iconic American generals. They had amazing stories, and they were complex people. They had such important impacts on this country and the world, and they continue to be recognizable and famous figures today.”
Civil War sites and presidential libraries face the same problem, he noted, and still thrive.
“Because time has marched on, you have to relate it to generations that don’t have a living memory of them,” Kolakowski said. “You need to understand how MacArthur influenced our partnerships with Japan, the Philippines, Australia. It remains highly relevant to the world today.”