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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 20

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 22
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p155  The Blow

A fist hit my heart and lumps dropped in my stomach. What could I have done? I had a fleeting vision of the officer who was ousted without ceremony for his neglect. The Supe's voice came to me from a distance.

"I am not relieving you from duty at the Academy. I am relieving you of all duties but one. You are one year over your allotted four years, anyway. I shall have to let you go altogether in a month. Meanwhile, you will write my next Annual Report to the War Department. Heretofore, that document has been so full of desiccated statistics, and matter which can be found elsewhere in print, that it goes through the mails to gather dust in dark files. No one voluntarily wades through it. This next report dare not be that sort of lifeless treatise. You are a recognized writer for some of our leading magazines. You are also the only one beside myself who is cognizant of all we've been trying to do here ever since I came. I am going to turn you loose for a month to work on that report with no interference. You'll have free access in my name to anyone or anything. I don't want a lengthy account filled with secondary matter. We've made some radical changes here, more than at any single time in over a century. The truth must be told about them and the reasons therefor. They must be laid bare fully, succinctly, clearly. They must be made interesting to the public, so that the report will read well and our principles will not be misunderstood. From the rumblings of the cannon in the distance, I would not be surprised if war on them may come."

I left him with the sensation of a man who has just had a burden lifted, to be saddled with another. My words would have to represent Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur's reforms to the world.

It was a work of search, research and rewrite. I was able to hand it to him before the month was up and I had to say good‑by for a leave. I went fishing and thought no more about  p156 the Report. When I received a printed copy, I was gratified to see there was only one minor change. Then other events crowded it from my mind.

Six months later, after I had served under an officer whose name should have been "Martinet," who had bawled me out in old‑time yearling style for something I hadn't done, I received a letter from West Point on the old familiar stationery which bore the seal of the Academy and the line: Superintendent's Office. It began: "My dear Chief: I have just realized I have not thanked you for your . . . report . . ." He went on with some nice thoughts and adjectives, implying he wanted it known over his signature that it was my Report.

I've done a lot of ghost writing for men in high position who were too taken up with the cares of their office to have time for phrasing their own speeches and articles. Only one of them acknowledged the work — and he picked up the phone and thanked me perfunctorily. I never expected this. I, and others like myself, felt it was a part of our duty and the natural routine of bureaucracy. But here was MacArthur, whose conscience wouldn't let him rest until he had thanked and complimented me. He took the trouble months afterward, when most men would have said to themselves, if they'd thought about it at all, "Well, it's gone too long, it's too late now."

With the pall of the terrific tongue-lashing I could not forget the letter was in striking contrast. I doubt if any soldier ever was more homesick for service under his favorite leader, the kind who makes you want to follow him. What would I have given to be back at my old desk, even under the mounting yowls of the DOGs!

But it wasn't the desk. It was the man. It was knowing that by him my weaknesses would be understood, my energy inspired and my effort thanked by word or look. On the other hand, with the K. O. under whom I had been serving, I could do no right, no matter how I strove to be loyal. With MacArthur I could do no wrong, as long as I was loyally striving.

But it wasn't in the cards to serve under him again. However, I got another letter, which I give as it came:
[image ALT: A photostat of a letter, the text of which is given in full on this webpage.]

Superintendent's Office
United States Military Academy
West Point, New York

January 30, 1922

My dear Chief:

I am to be relieved as Superintendent on the 30th of June and am pushing westwards to the Philippine Islands. General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sladen is my successor and I fancy it means a reversal of many of the progressive policies which we inaugurated.

Your annual report aroused universal commendation and I have never expressed to you fully enough the keen appreciation for the splendid effort your put forth. In my opinion, it was quite the best paper of this kind I have ever seen.

With affectionate regards,

Faithfully yours,

Major W. A. Ganoe,
Camp Benning, Georgia.

 p158  So he was summarily relieved a year before his normal tour of duty ran out. For years I felt that the DOGs and Old Guard had convinced the powers in Washington that he must be sent away to keep him from "ruining" the Academy. In my search I could find no foundation for such a cause. Then came rumors that some dignitary in the Capital on a visit to West Point fancied he'd been slighted by the Superintendent, and had had him relieved.

Not only did the versions of such action differ, but any slight, rudeness or ungentlemanliness on MacArthur's part seemed inconceivable to me, for I had not once seen or heard of anything which even remotely approached such conduct. Neither could I conceive of any high official being so small as to mete out so large a punishment for so small a slip — if it were a slip.

The only tangible reason was the one given out by the War Department. It kept a roster of foreign service for general officers. When MacArthur's name came to the top of the list, he was transferred to the Philippines, where, oddly enough, he was later to become the adored deliverer of the island people.

To those of us who regretted his sudden, untimely departure, it seemed there was a screw loose somewhere. Only three years before, he had returned from a shooting war on foreign soil, the supreme kind of foreign service. Why could he not have been accorded the normal four years in the States? Why should a piece of paper and a rigid rule take precedence over the modern, progressive development of West Point, then the cradle of all military thinking and ancient? Why had not the greatest good to the greatest number entered the minds of those at the helm?

The summary relief then provoked similar questions, surmises and criticism about the one many years later. In neither case did he question the order, but, like a great soldier, departed with grace. Notice, in his letter to me he did not wince or cry aloud. Other personages might have resisted, complained, whined or sought to have the order rescinded. For him there is no hint of any such reaction. He doesn't even  p159 mention any wrong to himself. He doesn't mention himself, except in a matter-of‑fact way that he is to be relieved. The only expressed emotion is his fear about the principle being lost — the "progressive policies" — not MacArthur.

And then there is the "we" so characteristic of his sharing achievements with subordinates, just another indication of his refusal to arrogate all the credit to himself. And to do so, in my case, shows the extreme limits to which he would go to give written expression of gratitude to anyone who worked under him. For, in reality, I had about as much to do with his enterprising changes as any approving helper. I put in a mite here and there, but all of it wouldn't count up to one‑tenth of one per cent. I'm not trying to do a little play-acting to appear modest. It's as true as the photostat of the letter.

Note the second paragraph, acknowledging again over his signature that it was my Report. Even after thanking me once, he still wouldn't hold back what was in his heart and mind.

As a matter of fact, the Report was no great piece of writing. I have it before me now after reading it again. I am sure any fair reporter could have dug up the material and put it in shape as well. It was only twenty pages of large print, as compared with the previous one of fifty-three in fine print. It had appended excellent architect's sketches, done by the Drawing Department, which displayed the expanded Academy of the future to house and train the increase necessary for the growing country, an advance MacArthur had initiated and specially pleaded for from Congress. I doubt if anyone could, except for one building, distinguish the panoramic sketch from West Point as it is today.

And that one structure which has not been erected was an amphitheater of a stadium looking from the hillside up the Hudson and capable of seating one hundred thousand. The outcry against it at the time from more than the Old Guard was "preposterous." MacArthur shook his head "They'll never learn to build for the future." Today the general plaint from graduates, newsmen, applicants for tickets and cadets is, "Why did they ever build that tiny Michie Stadium?"

 p160  As I look back, I see MacArthur's mistake was in being too far ahead of his time, too articulate and too swift in translating his "policies" into definite action. Too many people were too far behind him, and so bound to the old order they couldn't catch up.

He was snatched away, to have much of what he had built up, torn down, and what he had torn down, built up.​1 As an illustration of these rises and falls, the summer camp, ostensibly to save expense, was restored on its old site, and first-class privileges suffered reduction.

I have talked with officers who, as cadets, went through that restored camp, and they tell me it was one of the most useless and wretched times of their lives.

For some time it looked as though the old order had returned to stay. But five years later, Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Merch B. Stewart became Superintendent, and said, "Everything MacArthur changed is coming back in full force. His principles and practices will be carried on and improved upon as time goes on. He was sound as a dollar."

If General Stewart were living today he would see his prophecy fulfilled far beyond his hope and concept. Everything, from the abolition of the Fort Clinton summer camp, the jealous respect enjoyed by the Cadet Honor Committee, the constant growth and development of intramural athletics, and the human relationships existing between officers and cadets, has come to pass. Today it's MacArthur's West Point, only more so.

The Author's Note:

1 Generals skeptical of plebe treatment visited West Point. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Danford urged them to inspect the workings of Beast Barracks as curious but privileged civilians. He did the same with Congressman Morin of the Military Affairs Committee. All of them came away with approval and delight. The MacArthur-Danford Plebe System of decency with "firmness, kindness and justice" stuck.

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