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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
MacArthur Close‑Up
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
Vantage Press
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 16
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p120  The Closer Touch

Hitherto, the Tactical Officer had been looked upon by the cadet as a sort of master ogre in a tower, peering down from his "poop deck" to see whom he could devour. He was harder to approach than the manager of a chain store, knew the cadet mostly by form and face and regarded him more as #7449 at Sing Sing than as an upright young man doing his best to clear the tough hazards toward graduation. His contacts were limited to swift inspections of ramrod figures and bare rooms. Sometimes he let fall a smarting censure, but more often, tight-lipped, he made his way back to his tower and wrote out something like: "Smith, T. H. — Grease spots on floor at ten A.M."

The "skin" would be transferred to a "skin list" among its fellow skins produced by other ogres, and would be read out before the Corps in the evening. If Smith had no excuse, he'd let the matter ride and take his demerits, but if he had one, he would sit down and, after laborious scratchings, state his case in a meticulously prescribed form. This he'd drop in a box. A day or two later, the ogre would also laboriously write out an indorsement, either removing the skin or more often upholding it. Sometimes the paper went back and forth in a sort of contest to outwit each other, and always with the temptation of evasion or quibbling. All this correspondence, believe it or not, took place over a space of not more than 200 yards.

It was Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Danford who brought the matter to a head. He said to Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur, "Every morning I find on my desk a six‑inch pack of cadet explanations for delinquencies. Written explanations might have been all right back in our day, when we were told it was important for us to learn how to write an official letter, when Spencerian penmanship and Victorian form meant more than matter. But now, when an officer has his company clerk perform on the typewriter, explanations take time from more important things."

 p121  He said he wanted to establish a Company Orderly Room on the ground floor of each company's barracks, where the Company Tac at an appropriate time each day would handle these delinquencies, looking into the delinquent's eyes, exactly as a company commander in the service would handle them, thus teaching cadets an important duty in handling the American soldier.

Danford told me afterward, "He listened to me attentively and silently until I had finished, and then slapped his hand on his desk and said, 'Do it!' It was just that way in all our relations. My finest service was as Commandant of Cadets under MacArthur."

This episode was but one of many illustrations of MacArthur's refusal to arrogate all projects to himself, his willingness to accept suggestions wholesale without putting an egoistic tag on them, his quick discernment and reaction to a constructive proposition, his extraordinary ability to inspire subordinates, his ardent endeavor to raise the morale and better the development of the cadet, his loathing of backward procedures and his selectivity as to the type of evil he uprooted and benefit he planted.

But probably his greatest impulse toward efficiency and accomplishment lay in the inspirational freedom he bestowed on his subordinates, who got off the bench and ran faster, harder and more skillfully than they knew how. It was this quality which caused his officers to achieve many advances which otherwise might have been deadened or blocked. Haven't you been a subordinate who found access to the boss's office, and bubbled over with a scheme for betterment, only to have your smile washed away by a grunt? I'm not implying that MacArthur swallowed suggestions whole. He analyzed them to the core and had to disapprove some, but the suggester was welcomed, told explicitly why the plan wouldn't work and sent away with a smile which said, "You'll come up with something better next time."

It was this quality which lifted Danford into freedom of execution and advancement. For example, it had been a deep- p122 seated custom for the Tactical Officers to recommend who were to be cadet commissioned and noncommissioned officers. Danford found that the officers' knowledge of the man was sketchy and too often based on appearance, sentiment and social contacts, to the detriment of Corps respect for the appointee. Knowing MacArthur's views on morale and unfairness, Danford devised a rating system based on class standing, military bearing, appearance, leadership, athletics, extracurricular activities and demerit record. But military bearing and leadership were to be rated by cadets. Of course, the DOG's raised a howl that cadets were electing their officers.1

MacArthur approved the listing, as he had the abandonment of written correspondence.

We wrote the Tactical Officer into the Orderly Room in Barracks and wrote off the tedious Explanations, known to the cadet as "bellyaches." No more would the cadet and Tac send notes to each other across the aisle via the rear door. A cadet had the privilege of entering the Orderly Room by a simple knock after gaining permission from the Cadet First Sergeant. He could face the Tac eye to eye and stand at friendly length. He could present his case orally and frankly, whether it be an infraction or a personal problem. He would most often be told to sit down. It was the first time such human relations had been established in the history of the Academy.

The descent of the Tac from his fearful tower was but one of the unheard‑of changes in the Blue Book. We kept on hauling the dead horses to the boneyard and replacing them with fitting mounts. The whole renovation strove to follow MacArthur's dicta: throw as much responsibility on the cadet as he can carry, remove much unthinking rote and cause him to make independent decisions by developing his resourcefulness.

As Danford said, "We cut out about half the Book, even to making some officers howl."

Up to that point, the reaction of the Old Guard had been  p123 supercilious disdain. If the Supe wished to play around in his own back yard, it was his privilege, even if he were softening the Corps and lowering the dignity and demeanor of discipline. Some day when he was gone all that could and would be restored. It was something which had for the present to be borne.

But it wasn't borne silently as we went on in our rewrite. The first classman's (senior's) existence was especially broadened. He would accompany the salute to an army officer by passing the time of day, to which the officer must respond orally. He would spend more time in the First Class Club, ride, during releases from quarters, cavalry horses on the other side of the river, obtain six‑hour or week‑end leaves and draw cash to spend on the Post and elsewhere.

This was revolution and dissolution. The very vitals of the Academy were being torn asunder. MacArthur had smitten the rock. The waters might gush forth for a time, but the Lord would punish him.

The Author's Note:

1 As a matter of fact, they were not electing, but each upper classman listed the men of his class (except himself) and all classes below according to his belief in their merits. The lists were confidential, and were destroyed after the Com's office had made use of them.

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Page updated: 19 Jun 16