I have since heard commanders discourse fluently and earnestly on the elements of good leadership, and proceed afterward to violate their own commandments. But with MacArthur there was no imposition of tables of stone from on high. There was no imposition. Only an emanation from within which flowed out naturally as if it had been born in him and was as much a part of him as his Roman nose and liquid eyes. I had the feeling he could no more violate his tenets than he could change his sex.
It was in the middle of his first year that I became aware of his habitual treatment of a visitor. At his entrance he would rise, smile a greeting, shake hands, turn to his desk, pick up his cigarette case, hold it out and ask, "Have a pill?"
Since he did not keep anyone standing before his desk, he would point to a chair and they'd both sit. When they were comfortable, he'd ask, "What's on your mind?" Even if I had prepared him for what was on the visitor's mind, he'd hear it firsthand.
Once the recital was started, he'd give no sign or word of interruption. Those penetrating eyes not once left the face of the speaker. As one man said, "His listening fairly shrieks. He not only looks through you, but down the back of your neck."
When the visitor was completely winded, he would make sure he was finished by asking clinching questions. Then he would rise, pace and repeat what he had heard, turning toward the person occasionally with a questioning, "Bon?" He was always correct.
After this repetition he would unravel and analyze in time with his feet. It was a logical stream, as if he were dictating a legal brief. There were no ums or hesitations. The reasoning took its course in such clear fashion that, when he would come to the end, the conclusion or decision was self-evident, so that he was able to utter it as a sort of aside.
p50 One visitor, after leaving his office and passing my desk, said, "If I'd thought six months, I couldn't have found as good an answer."
After observing the ritual for some time, I said to my chief clerk, "Mr. Boyle, I think he's repeating the man's story word for word."
I determined to know. I stationed my best stenographer in the Aide's room — out of sight of the General, even when he paced. The visitor told approximately a five-minute story. The general, in his strides, repeated it.
When we later compared versions, we found he had omitted nothing of the story, and much was verbatim. It was almost as if he had learned a prepared speech. Such photographic memory was not new to me. I had met with two pronounced examples before, but in each there was a lack of originality and sense of analysis. It was the first time I had met all three qualities under a single scalp.
The dog case was but one illustration of this surprising trio of talents. Daily, his unique reactions convinced me he was neither dependent on precedent nor bound to custom. He welcomed problems with an extraordinary delight over a chance to construct or reconstruct. He received callers at once. Unless there was an emergency, he uttered nothing to me such as, "Tell him to come tomorrow." Immediate action was his watchword. At the mention of a tangled situation his eyes would widen and glow with an expression of "Let me at it!" Although knotty problems were continually put before him, and his disposition of them was important and often unconventional, there are two contrasting cases which stand out in my mind as examples of his flashing acumen.
One day he came in with that elusive gleam which told me that West Point monotony would again be jolted.
"Chief, send for Harry. I feel there's something wanting in the relationship between the Reservation and the adjacent communities. I want to have a report and recommendation. I think Harry can do it."
When Harry, who was head of a department, was ushered p51 in, MacArthur asked me to stay. He expanded on what he had told me and explained the objective and type of recommendation he sought.
Three weeks passed and no report.
"Chief," he asked, "has Harry submitted that paper?"
"No, sir. Shall I tickle him a little?"
He shook his head. I might have known my question was silly, for he'd never break his rule of noninterference.
"I know he's working on it," I hastened to add, "From my quarters I can see his study window. He's burning the midnight oil."
MacArthur nodded and said no more.
A few days later, Harry laid the report on my desk. I had time to read it through before the Supe arrived. I was disappointed. It bore little resemblance to requirements or instructions given.
When the General arrived, I carried it in and laid it on his desk without comment.
"Have you read it?" he asked.
He didn't ask what I thought of it, but gave me that sharp look of concentrated query. I pressed my lips and shook my head slowly.
I wasn't back at my desk long before I heard the quick, decisive footsteps. He stopped in the middle of the reception room and called placidly, "Ask Harry to come in at his convenience."
Harry took no convenience. He was in my office post haste, and we both went in.
I was interested and embarrassed, but I wanted to observe how MacArthur would handle Harry, and yet I was anything but comfortable at being a witness to a reproach or scolding of a senior officer. For, clearly, he had not only fumbled the ball but failed to fall on it.
Imagine my surprise when MacArthur shed his half-humorous, half-sympathetic smile and said, "Harry, I think I should apologize for not making myself thoroughly clear and explicit p52 in my instructions before. I should have realized how novel and unusual such a research and report would be."
He then went into the most minute details, illustrating his points as he went on his vivacious way. When he had finished, I felt a seven-year‑old moron would have understood.
He handed back the report, put his hand on Harry's shoulder and said almost jocularly, "Hop to it, my boy!"
In less than two weeks, Harry resubmitted a report. It was as near the Supe's desires as human thought could make it. The way MacArthur congratulated him, one might have felt he'd been waiting for the paper since childhood.
The handling of the whole affair struck me with astonishment. It wasn't the way commanding officers were supposed to act. There was no calling up on the carpet, no rasping, "Where is that report? You've had time . . ." or, "You've missed the whole point — now you go back and do it right." Here was a subordinate who had delayed, primarily failed and taken twice the time necessary. He had caused MacArthur anxiety, annoyance and disappointment. Yet there wasn't the slightest sign of impatience, blame or scolding, only sympathy in every word and gesture.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of West Point
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 15 Jun 16