70 years ago today, General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on Leyte, fulfilling his famous pledge to return to the Philippines. The photo of him at that moment (shown here, center, with his staff) is one of the iconic images of World War II in the Pacific. It is also an echo of the Civil War.
Douglas was the youngest son of Arthur MacArthur, who as a 17-year-old boy became a Lieutenant and adjutant of the 24th Wisconsin in 1862. A year later he earned the Medal of Honor at Chattanooga for leadership under fire, and in 1864 commanded his regiment at the age of 19. Staying in the Army after the war, he married a Virginian (Mary Hardy, from Norfolk) in 1875 and had three sons. Arthur fought on the frontier and then in the Philippines, retiring in 1909 as a Lieutenant General. He died on September 5, 1912, while addressing the 50th Anniversary reunion of the 24th Wisconsin. “My whole world changed that night,” wrote Douglas in 1963. “Never have I been able to heal the wound in my heart.”
The Civil War was an important part of Douglas MacArthur’s identity. He grew up wanting to be a general like his father, and learned early on about both his father’s exploits and also the careers of his four maternal uncles, all Army of Northern Virginia veterans. Douglas inherited his father’s extensive library on military history and the Civil War. In 1951, he referred to himself as a “son of Virginia,” and “the reunion of blue & gray personified.” These sentiments led him to choose Norfolk, Virginia, as his final resting place (today’s MacArthur Memorial).
The Civil War also helped him arrive at Leyte in 1944. The loss of the Philippines in 1942 was a major personal blow. In July 1944, as U.S. commanders debated the next steps in the Pacific War, President Franklin Roosevelt journeyed to Pearl Harbor to discuss options with MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, his two top Pacific commanders. While arguing for the liberation of the Philippines, General MacArthur alluded to his father’s actions at Chattanooga in 1863, picking up the national flag when it fell and carrying on to victory.
Among MacArthur’s landing forces on 20 October 1944 were several units with Civil War pedigrees, most notably the 5th U.S. Cavalry (1st Cavalry Division) and 17th (7th Infantry Division) and 19th (24th Infantry Division) U.S. Infantry Regiments. The former two carried battle honors from the Army of the Potomac, while the latter was once in the Army of the Cumberland’s Regular Brigade.
Arthur MacArthur’s papers, Medal of Honor, and other effects were destroyed in the Manila Hotel in 1945.