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"Dugout Doug"


"Dugout Doug"
By Jerry

Continued from front page

They got soaked just like the rest of the troops, only more so since they landed three times, once for real and twice for photos. My foxhole buddy, Vic Blyzka, an official Signal Corps photographer, snapped a series of pictures as “Mac” and his gang reenacted their stroll through the surf. One of Vic’s shots became world famous. Then, a bit later when the American Press “photogs” landed, General MacArthur graciously acceded to their request, and he and his crew took another walk on the wet side just for the cameras, both still and motion picture. The brass was not very happy, especially Generals Sutherland and Romulo. After all, who but the commander of the Leyte operation could have enough foresight to have an aide carry a change of shoes, socks, and trousers ashore. “Neatness counts,” said “Dugout Doug.”

Later in the day, after we got our message networks going on-shore and to the communications ship, naval gunfire would be pinpointed to specific enemy targets, and new orders would be forthcoming from MacArthur’s staff, as well as requests made from troops ashore.

Now we had time to assess the landing craft used for the invasion. It was a collection, a potpourri, of any small inshore vessels that were available, and that you could possibly think of. There were Higgins boats, small, fast, made of plywood, and lightly armored. One of these boats could just about accommodate a platoon – if a man passed out it is doubtful he could fall to the deck. I saw many LCI’S that could comfortably handle a full infantry company and some heavy weapons. Down the strand, beached with ramps down, were scores of LCT’S, that could handle a tank squadron each or a fully equipped company and their vehicles. But the real “work-horses” were the LST’S, vessels of many thousands of tons displacement that ferried troops into the area. They then dispatched these men to shore via strangely named and odd types of landing craft, such as “buffaloes”, “Ducks”, Coast Guard beach runners, harbor lighters, and even launches borrowed from battleships and cruisers. We use just about any small vessel of shallow draft that could sling troops onto the beaches.

The General Staff protocol on the Leyte landings stated that they were an unmitigated success, with a very low casualty rate and a material loss that was negligible. Admiral Samuel E, Morrison, US Naval Historian who wrote the official story of all US operations at sea during the Second World War had some well pointed remarks about our amphibious strikes during that conflict.

He states unequivocally that at no time, until the very end of hostilities, did the United States and her Allies have sufficient landing craft available to successfully perform all sea-borne invasion plans. These were ambitious and global in nature – the Mediterranean, Fortress Europa, the Aleutians, and the South, Central, and Western Pacific zones, as well as other areas. Even with our great industrial might, this nation could not meet the demand. The shortage of landing craft delayed the Normandy invasion from May until June, eliminated a series of raids on the Balkans, and jeopardized our Marines in the Pacific.

Most of the men serving under General Douglas MacArthur didn’t like him as a man, but they respected him as a soldier. He was absolutely fearless as a leader, bold as a tactician, innovative as a planner, and he eschewed wasteful casualties. Of all major commanders, in all theaters, of all armies, Axis or Allies, Douglas MacArthur’s troops suffered the lowest rates of casualties. He was acknowledged as a foremost logistician, with the uncanny ability to get troops, equipment, arms, and supplies to the point of conflict with minimum delay and with sufficient weight to carry the day. He often quoted Bedford Forrest, “Jest git thar the fustest with the mostest!” And he did just that, after the initial debacle at the war’s outset.

The men under him didn’t care for “Dugout Doug” as an individual because of his “holier than thou” attitude, his imperious manner, and his vast egoism. Part of this poor personal reputation was garnered on Bataan and Corregidor in early 1942, and was at least partly justified – “glory on the backs of others.” You must read the memoirs of General Jonathan “Skinny” Wainright and some others that were left “holding the bag” left to them by General MacArthur.

General Douglas MacArthur was the first great American hero of World War II, partially justly earned, but a reputation greatly manufactured by the American Press and the PR machine in the White House. The American people needed a hero badly to boost morale, and to focus our war effort. We were given a proper hero after all.

Far seeing, innovative, those were his benchmarks. It was MacArthur who devised the ultimate strategy to effectively conduct the campaign for re-conquest in the Pacific Theater, with the aims of shortening the war, and eliminating what he considered unacceptable combat casualties. He called his plan “island hopping”, the bypassing and isolating of unassailable Japanese strong points, to have them “wither on the vine,” and be of little consequence in further action. The General brought his plans to Hawaii for Admirals King and Nimitz to study, review and discuss. Both admirals were once at odds with MacArthur as to our conduct of the war in the Pacific, but now they were practically in total agreement. The US Navy, and its arm, the Marine Corps, immediately put these plans in effect, absorbing almost all of MacArthur’s strategies, perhaps his greatest contribution in winning the war, and the navy was the major instrument. MacArthur eventually was able to use his own strategies in bypassing the greatly fortified Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain Island, effectively removing it from the war. He did this to several other places on our way up to the Philippines. He said, pompously, “I shall return!” and return he did, with six full divisions, and thousands of ships, planes and tanks.

The battle for Leyte would drag on with bloody mop-up operations, but the island was firmly consolidated by late November. Our message center and cryptography center was established on Submarine Base “R” near the town of Tacloban, another example of Army and Navy cooperation.

For some arcane reason, high-ranking officers of both services were never referred to in encrypted messages by their names and ranks. They were all assigned code names, which were changed periodically. For instance, Admiral Halsey was referred to as “Erebus”, and General Kenney as “Beowulf.” Since my work as chief crypto-analyst made me privy to all this, I learned all the juicy details, either directly or by the art of deduction – what juice, too.

MacArthur, for all his brilliance, suffered with regularity from “foot in mouth disease.” His massive ego apparently got in the way of diplomacy and tact. Although I never saw it, there were several references in messages that passed through my hands to a “’blue” letter sent by diplomatic pouch to Washington, DC. This letter was from John Curtain, Australian Prime Minister, to President Roosevelt, to be delivered by the Australian Ambassador. In this letter, Mr. Curtain in very clear language asked Mr. Roosevelt to remove General MacArthur from his command and get him the hell out of Australia. Mr. Curtain enumerated the reasons for such action. Among these was MacArthur’s scathing remarks about the poor fighting ability of the ANZAC troops, his statements about the quality of Australian food Americans had to eat (there was a reference by Mr. Curtain to SPAM), and his demeaning remarks about the crudeness of Australian women folk. And the General voiced his opinion of Australia’s lackadaisical attitude toward the war in general.

Roosevelt called a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his cabinet, the top men at the State Department, and those men of his “brain trust.” Everyone in attendance wanted to fire MacArthur, except General Marshall, Admiral King, and President Roosevelt. Marshall thought that it would lead to a great military disaster to replace MacArthur when we were closing in on Japan. King agreed, and added that it would be impossible to “break in” a new theater commander on such short notice. Roosevelt, who of course, had the final decision as Commander-in-Chief, vetoed the canning of MacArthiur. His reasons were quite simple and specific.

Curtain was assuredly overstating the case, and he would cool down in time. MacArthur was not reassuming command in Australia anyhow. His headquarters would be in the Philippines and then the Ryukus (Okinawa) or Formosa, and so on to the Japanese home islands. Roosevelt liked MacArthur very much at a personal level, and how do you just up and fire a national hero? In a month’s time nobody would remember the incidents or the harsh letter. General Kenney was given command of the Australian – New Guinea zone, and John Curtain was satisfied with the outcome – nothing really changed that wouldn’t have anyhow.

Douglas MacArthur was the perfect choice to become “imperator” of Japan after the surrender. He was the new Shogun, far above the powerless Emperor Hirohito. Such a role fitted “Mac” as though he was born to it. When Chief of Staff General Marshall went to Japan to have a meeting with General MacArthur, he remarked ironically, “Douglas, you don’t have a staff her, you have a court.” And so it went.

Five-star General Douglas MacArthur was afflicted one more time by the dreaded “foot in mouth disease.” He really made a mess of the Korean conflict after doing so much good. Finally, President Harry Truman fired him. That took guts. General MacArthur was welcomed home to parades, huzzahs, and a “day in the sun” before a joint session of congress – “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.....”

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Page Last Updated: 9/1/2002
C 2002 L Munro