National Geographic : 1992 Mar
HE SUNSETS ACROSS MANILA BAY are among the gaudiest on earth, and there is no better place to view them than from the top floor of the old Manila Hotel, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur lived in colonial splendor during the years before America entered World War II. The great semicircular harbor is crowded with anchored ships, just as it was then, and the island of Corregidor and the mountainous silhouette of the Bataan Peninsula still rise above the horizon; as the minutes tick by and a gentle breeze stirs the palm trees along the waterfront, the blue sky slowly loses its bril liance, the scattered clouds shift from white to pink and violet and rose, and the sun turns blood-red, then flashes gold before falling into the South China Sea. The general is said to have enjoyed the sunset from his pent house terrace here nearly every evening. But by the time the sun disappeared on December 8, 1941, it seemed as if his once bright career had plummeted too and might never rise again. Yet, somehow, he recovered from a disaster that was at least partly of his own making to transform the scene of his most humiliating setback into the backdrop for his most spectacular success. No soldier in our history has been more extravagantly admired-or more savagely reviled-than Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur. And no man embodied more genuine contradictions. He was at once magnanimous and petty, devoted to his men and unwilling to share glory with them, fearless in battle but so fear ful of his own mother that he was forced for a time to lead two lives, and unable ever to think himself fully worthy of the soldier father whose deeds his own had long since dwarfed. He achieved some of his greatest triumphs-as well as his worst defeat-by ignoring or defying the civilian superiors whose orders he had sworn to carry out. He lived almost half his professional life overseas, and it is astonishing how few physical traces he left behind in that peripa tetic career; we remember best the carefully cultivated symbols of his public personality-his battered cap with the gold braid reporters called "scrambled eggs," the corncob pipe he rarely smoked except when photographers were likely to be present, his ornate, old-fashioned prose and the throbbing baritone in which he delivered it. The private man behind the ever present sun glasses largely remains a mystery. "My first recollection," Douglas MacArthur liked to say, "is that of a bugle call." Since he sometimes offered alternative first recollections, that may not literally have been true, but he was surrounded by soldiery from birth. He was born January 26, 1880, at Fort Dodge, Arkansas, the third son of Capt. Arthur MacArthur, Jr., and his wife, Mary, known as Pinky, a Virginia cotton merchant's strong-minded daughter. Arthur MacArthur, Jr., had been an authentic Union hero; he won the Medal of Honor for helping lead his men in the headlong charge that took the Rebel guns at Missionary Ridge-and never got over the Historian, journalist, and screenwriter GEOFFREY C. WARD'S most recent book is American Originals:The Private Worlds of Some Singu lar Men and Women. This is his first article for NATIONAL GEOGRAPH Ic. With this story Boston-based photographer CARY WOLINSKY marks his 20th year of contributing to the magazine.