September 10, 1981
Mr. Secretary, [Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger], Mrs. MacArthur, the guests here on the platform, and you ladies and gentlemen, and you of the Armed Forces:
We honor today the memory of Douglas MacArthur and the legend that was his life. It was a legend that began on cavalry outposts in the Old West, where the son of a Civil War hero and Medal of Honor winner first heard the sound of drums and shout of cadence. He would hear those sounds again when he was graduated from West Point with one of the highest academic averages in history and with the Academy's greatest honor, First Captain of the Corps, Douglas MacArthur.
As a young officer on a secret and highly dangerous intelligence mission in Mexico, he would win his first recommendation for a Congressional Medal of Honor. Wounded twice in France during World War I, he would be decorated repeatedly for his gallantry under fire and become one of the youngest and most popular generals in American history. As a superintendent of the Military Academy he would bring much needed reform to the West Point curriculum, upgrading scholastic standards while emphasizing the importance of sports. Words he spoke then are even now inscribed at West Point in stone, "Upon the fields of friendly strife are the seeds that upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory."
In the early thirties, as the youngest Army Chief of Staff in history, he warned the Congress of the need for military readiness and a modern army featuring strong armored and air forces. While bearing the brunt of the Japanese attack in 1942, he would win the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic defense of the Philippines. And when ordered by President Roosevelt to leave the Islands, he would thrill the Free World with his defiant pledge, "I shall return."
During his brilliant military campaigns in the South Pacific, his island-hopping, hit-'em-where-they-ain't strategy won quick victories with limited resources, victories that saved thousands of American lives, electrified his countrymen, and confounded the enemy. As a post-war ruler of Japan, he showed himself a wise and compassionate statesman who won forever the affection of the Japanese people, even as he brought about one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of self-government. Then in Korea, in the face of brutal aggression, he accomplished one of the most brilliant maneuvers in military history, the Inchon Landing. And in 1951, before a Joint Session of Congress, he would give one of the most memorable speeches in American history, a speech in which he warned, and we must always remember, "In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory."
It is true this brilliant career sometimes aroused envy in lesser men. But the General sought to leave intrigue to headquarters staff and politicians. He was always a front-line general, a leader of fighting men. Once at a remote airfield in New Guinea, an officer spotted him near the frontlines and rushed up to him. In a worried voice he pointed to a spot of jungle 50 yards away and said, "Excuse me, sir, but we killed a sniper in there only a few minutes ago." The General answered, "Fine, son, that's the best thing to do with them." [Laughter]
Even at the age of 82, he was giving the same inspiring example to young soldiers. The class of 1962 at West Point will never forget the words they heard from him one May afternoon, words that he began with a bit of humor. He said, "As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, `Where you headed for, General?' And when I replied `West Point,' he remarked `Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?'"[Laughter]
But then came that unforgettable speech, a speech in which he reminded those young soldiers that duty, honor, country were three hallowed words that reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, and what you will be. "They are your rallying points," he said, "to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be so little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn."
He spoke of his pride in the Long Gray Line that has never failed us. He told the cadets that his last waking thoughts would be of the corps and the corps and the corps. He was extraordinarily proud of his country's uniform. He said of it once, "I suppose in a way this has become a part of my soul. It is a symbol of my life. Whatever I've done that really matters, I've done wearing it. When the time comes, it will be in these that I journey forth. What greater honor could come to an American and a soldier?"
Well, today, a new generation of young officers are asked to defend our nation, just as a new generation of young Americans -- to whom World War II, Korea, and even Vietnam are not even within memory -- seek to define their own ideals and search for their own answers to ageless questions. Surely, as the tide of time recedes from his era, this new generation will see in Douglas MacArthur an unflinching idealist, an eloquent warrior, a visionary soldier, a gentle conqueror, an authentic American hero.
The General had some words for you young men. He said once that, "Being young meant a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, and an appetite for adventure over love of ease." He added that, "Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals."
As long as America affords her brave a place of honor, as long as we as a people seek to keep alive the ideals of selflessness and freedom, as long as we look to the wise and the just for inspiration, our thoughts will turn to the General and the General and the General.
Note: The President spoke at 2:23 p.m. at the Pentagon.
The new MacArthur Corridor contains an exhibit area which consists of 4 display cases and 10 story panels. The display cases are dedicated to the Civil War, Corregidor, the return to the Philippines, and West Point. The story panels generally correspond to the 10 parts of the General's book, Reminiscences.