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For over thirty-nine years after my close association with him at West Point, I was not to converse with him again. Since we were mostly on opposite sides of the world, I had to content myself with reading and hearing about him from afar.
The meeting in July of 1960 came about as a mixture of accident, inducement and surprise.
This is what happened. Danford and I had carried on a friendly correspondence in our latter years, but we seemed not to have been in the same place at the same time. So when I suddenly went to New York, I phoned him.
Promptly, he invited me to lunch with him at the Yale Club, of which he is an honorary member. No words could describe the electricity of that meeting after we had been separated for thirty-nine years. The intimate fellowship, which had grown and tightened after we had fought under MacArthur against the reactionary forces within and without, let off spark after spark as we came face to face. We went over the comic and tragic happenings back at the Academy hours after we had had dessert. Throughout he kept begging me to go call on MacArthur.
I shrank at the idea, saying, "I've always been timid about bursting in on the great. I didn't once go in to see Eisenhower during the war years in Europe, although he'd been one of my pupils when I was an instructor at West Point."
Said Danford, "That doesn't make any difference. It's your duty. It will do him good."
I said, "I don't see how little me could do such an international celebrity any good. With all that's happened since, he might not even remember me." I thought of the high positions he had held, the cataclysmic operations he had conducted and the general talk about his high-mightiness in his palace in Japan.
While I demurred, Danford went to the phone and called p162 MacArthur's Aide. He was told the General was out of town. Danford asked, "Is this the conventional 'not in,' or is he really out of town?" He was really out of town.
Danford gave a long sigh. "Bill," he said, "you've got to promise me you'll try to see him before you go back to Florida."
Again my stomach turned over at the idea of worming my way into the castle of a king. But Danford persisted, saying, since he was flying abroad shortly and couldn't get the appointment himself, I must get it myself. So, reluctantly, I gave my word I would.
A week later the request went in over the phone to the Aide. I was informed I'd be notified of the possibility. The businesslike tone made me feel it was a brush‑off. My tension let down and I began to breathe freely. But much to my surprise, I received a phone message at the home where I was staying in New Jersey, stating that I had an appointment on a certain day and hour in the Waldorf-Astoria Towers. It was said followed later by another call, explaining in detail how I would reach the General's suite.
As I approached the skyscraper surrounded by other eerie giants and pushed past the doorman, who looked me over critically, my feeling of making a silly intrusion increased. It was not eased when I had to pass my examination at the desk. It fell to a low when the uniformed elevator girl eyed me as if I were an errant interloper, and asked me in steely tones, "Have you an appointment?"
That it took a little convincing about having been cleared at the office, didn't make me feel any bigger or bolder.
On my ring at the entrance to the suite, an Oriental butler received me and ushered me into an immense salon decorated with black and gold paintings and priceless vases and urns, evidently the gifts of the Japanese. He told me the General would be in shortly.
Alone in the vast splendor, I had the feeling I had barged into a palace, the palace of a dignitary who had had to act as Emperor of Japan. How could MacArthur be anything but p163 utterly changed after occupying such an exalted station? How could he help being domineering, disdainful and uninterested in persons on my plain level? Wouldn't the small upheavals of the past at West Point be eclipsed by the world-shaking events since, in which he'd had to take the lead?
Well, I was here, and I'd have to make the best of it. I had fallen into a sense of resignation and insignificance, when I heard active footsteps unsuited to a man over eighty. Although they weren't so sprightly as the ones of long ago, they were firm and measured, with anything but an aged cadence.
"Well, Bill," he said in those warm, low tones of long ago, "it's fine to see you again." He grasped my hand in a firm grip and touched me lightly on the shoulder. "Come, let's have a good old talk." It was as if he'd been waiting for me for almost forty years.
At once the shackles of timidity and inferiority fell from me, and I couldn't help but glow.
He led me to a capacious couch as informally and easily as if we were just old friends without rank or station. I sat at one end as he pulled a chair close to me. I was at once back huddling with him in the large office of Superintendent of West Point, with a conviction that I had not been separated from him for well over a generation. We were beginning just where we had left off.
His appearance fortified these sensations. He didn't look too much older. There were no aged lines and deep wrinkles. He stood and sat erect with no pouch. Although his eyes seemed more tired, they had the same open-mindedness and intensity, especially when he listened to my answers to his questions about where I'd been, what I'd done and what had become of some of the people who'd been with us at the Academy.
Then he launched into a recital of salient events throughout the Pacific and Korea. I had a sensation it was doing him good to unleash these pent‑up truths. I wish I might tell them here, but must not because he asked me to keep them to myself. p164 Suffice it to say, his revelations would reverse much adverse speculation about critical happenings.
I asked him about his health, if he had any ill effects after his operation. He said he felt as well as before.
When I asked him what he thought of my treatment of him in my History of the United States Army, he said, "I think you flattered me."a
When I came back with, "General, they were facts, not opinions," he smiled graciously and was silent.
In his confidences about the Far East, I was particularly watchful for any tone of grievance or blame pointed at any particular person, but I could detect no shade of ire or acrimony. As he rolled off fact after fact, he was as impersonal and unemotional as when he had held forth to Danford and me about athletics, the curriculum or the traditions of the Corps. His voice put emphasis on certain points but not rancor. He did not whine about his relief from Japan any more than about the one from West Point.
I said something about the tact and respect he had shown to senior members of the Academic Board.
He said, "Bill, you cannot know how I felt when I entered that room, where I had to preside over so many who had been either professors or instructors of mine when I was a cadet."
I recalled to him the incident when he had pounded the table as one of the older professors was interrupting and heckling him, and how someone had written up the affair, claiming MacArthur had bawled out the offender. I said, "General, I was sitting right across the table from you. After your emphatic statement, you were in complete command of yourself and went right on as before without a quaver in your voice. I never saw you lose your temper at a person, much less bawl him out."
He thrust out his chin in his characteristic way, put his hand under it, and gazed into space for some time. "Bill," he said in those measured words which were always the result of deep thought, "I simply can't remember ever having bawled out anyone."
p165 Throughout the whole conversation, I was increasingly impressed with his manner and the principles he expounded, the identical ones of so many years before. He had the same fluency, with no groping for a word or no eloquent interventions of "ums" and "ughs." His brain was still functioning sharply as of old. His manner of using it, however, gave me the impression (and this is purely my opinion) that he was bearing a deep hurt, in his characteristically proud and sportsmanlike way.
As I gazed at his strong, benign face at parting, I sensed through his smile of blessing, a sort of forced emancipation and sublimation as if he were saying, "They can't humiliate me any more."
There surged through me a nettling anguish over what I felt to be cruelties to a noble man — a genius who had slaved and bared his body, mind and soul against an enemy from his Medal-of‑Honor feat in Mexico before World War I to his conspicuous achievement in his pincer movement in Korea, despite freezing cold water poured on by the Pentagon.
"They can't humiliate me any more" kept buzzing in my system all the way back to my friends in New Jersey. Intermittently flashed before me again that kindly, proud face behind which I was sure lay a settled, grinding ache. I asked myself why he should have been made to endure deprivation, harassment and humiliation, when, despite apparently insurmountable obstacles, he fought over thousands of miles of ocean individual wars from Guadalcanal to Honshu and gained victory after victory.
During my latter years, before the Waldorf meeting, whenever I told the episodes of my time with him at West Point, I was met with skepticism. Said some, "He may have been that way at West Point, but that doesn't mean he's that way at present. Lots of men change, get big heads and get dictatorial, especially when they're placed in top positions." These critics would continue by repeating petty gossip about him.
Now that I've seen him at this late date, found his conduct, character and principles unchanged, and have put them alongside the reports of those who served close to him in the Pacific — reports identical with Danford's and my summations — I am convinced he is the same MacArthur in spirit and actions as when we worked so salubriously with him at the Academy, the same man who never made you feel you were succumbing to authority. During my entire conversation with him, not the slightest act, gesture or tone of voice held a trace of lordliness or arrogance. He was the same MacArthur who had constantly talked on the level with Danford and me way back there at West Point. He still did not make you feel little by impressing you he was big. If he had developed all those devilish traits detractors blessed him with, how could he have completely demolished any show of them with me? Of one thing I'm assured. It would be foreign to him to be either a prestidigitator or dissembler. Even his worst critics have not accused him of those characteristics.
These descriptions are not encomiums carved out by a Boswell or Pygmalion, but are factual reports of what actually happened. They run the gamut of close observation and study from his youth to his ripe age.
Then I reflected on the ill‑will which follows the great. I remember those sweet gentlemen, Gates, Armstrong and company composing the Conway Cabal, who sniped at Washington from cover, and the swarms of little men in big positions who carped at Lincoln with foul invectives and vulgar cartoons. Calumny all through our history seems to have varied directly with nobility; but providentially, the backbiters don't last.
As the average person in the street who Conway was, and he'll probably say, "What team did he play on?"
As yet it has not been generally accepted that MacArthur, in keeping with the habit of history, has been martyred — shot in the heart by a wire!
a The passages meant are pp497‑509 for MacArthur's rôle as Chief of Staff of the Army, and pp527‑529 for his part in the evacuation of the Philippines (MacArthur's famous Return is not covered in the book, which was published in 1942). The entire book is onsite.
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Page updated: 22 Jun 16