As a second lieutenant he was posted to the Philippines. Here he experienced his baptism of fire.
He led a detachment into a jungle, which he knew to be dangerous, to obtain timber for piling, and was ambushed by two guerrillas. A bullet tore through the crown of his campaign hat. Drawing his .38 pistol, he shot both ambushers.
Over the next several years MacArthur filled numerous posts. Most superiors gave him excellent ratings —but many were vexed by his independent spirit. And it must be added that his mother’s demands on his time, especially after his father’s death in 1912, often interfered with his duties. Still, promotions came. By 1915 he was a major.
The First World War had begun and soon America faced the problem of mobilizing. There was also the question of how best to utilize the National Guard, a group of military units organized on state lines. MacArthur urged bringing them in first, and the decision was made to do so. However, this meant sending the youths of one state into battle “en masse.” Parents in the state might protest that their boys were being marked for early sacrifice. MacArthur suggested forming a single division out of units from several states. It was agreed.
Then, in the words of Secretary of War Newton Baker, “Major MacArthur, who was standing alongside, said, Tine, that will stretch over the whole country like a rainbow.’” Thus the Rainbow Division —officially the 42nd—got its name. MacArthur, promoted to colonel, became the commanding brigadier-general’s chief of staff.
The poilus and Tommies who crawled over their parapets, and waited for their officers’ zero-hour whistles, would face as many as ten aprons of barbed wire with barbs as thick as a man’s thumb, backed by the teeming Bache. A few trenches would be taken at shocking cost—one gain of loo mutilated yards cost 25,00o men.
MacArthur’s first chance with the Rainbow came on February 26, 1918. French troops were planning a night raid on the German lines. He could hardly be said to have dressed for the occasion. He had removed the wire grummet from his barracks cap to give it a more rakish appearance. He wore that instead of a steel helmet, and the rest of his outfit was outlandish : a four-footlong muffler knitted by his mother, a polo-neck sweater, riding breeches, and cavalry boots with a mirror finish. His only weapon was a riding crop. Remembering his father, MacArthur had said about his unorthodox attire, “It’s the orders you disobey that make you famous.”
MacArthur later wrote, “Enemy artillery lay down a barrage, but the raid went on. The fight was savage and merciless.”
As you’ve probably gathered by now, we positively thrive on it party returned with a large bag of prisoners, one of them being prodded by MacArthur with the riding crop.
“Sure, You Can Shoot Me”
ON THE night of March 9, leading a raid, MacArthur mounted a scaling-ladder and “went over the top as fast as I could and scrambled forward. The blast was like a furnace. For a dozen terrible seconds I felt they were not following me. But then I knew how wrong I was to have doubted for even an instant. In a moment they were around me, ahead of me, a roaring avalanche of glittering steel and cursing men. We carried the enemy position.”
The MacArthur legend was growing. He was credited with a sixth sense which gave him a charmed life. This was nonsense, of course. His refusal to carry a gas mask was irresponsible (he rigorously disciplined subordinates who followed his example), and on March 11 he was gassed. American correspondents reported that he had been “severely wounded.” His mother read of it and sent a frantic cable to General Pershing. The general replied that the colonel was convalescing.
Pershing would be hearing from her again. For some time she had been wondering why her 38-year-old son was only a colonel.
Late in June 1918, he was promoted to brigadier-general. Continuing to risk his life at the head of his men, he eventually won for his service in the First World War seven Silver Stars, two Distinguished Service Crosses and the Distinguished Service Medal, plus 19 honours from Allied nations.
Difficult though it may be for Second World War Pacific veterans to credit, MacArthur’s soldiers of 1918 idolized him. He was closer to their age than other senior officers, shared their discomforts and their danger and adored them in return.
In the early 1920S his chauffeur was driving him along the west bank of the Hudson when a man with a torch stepped into the road and waved them to a stop. Producing a pistol, he demanded the brigadier’s wallet. “You’ll have to whip me to get it,” MacArthur said. The thug threatened to kill him. MacArthur replied, “Sure, you can shoot me, but if you do they’ll run you down and you’ll fry in the electric chair. Put down that gun, and I’ll come out and fight you. My name is MacArthur, and—”
The man lowered his gun. He said, “My God, why didn’t you tell me? I was in the Rainbow. General, I’m sorry. I apologize.”
MacArthur told his driver to proceed, and made no attempt to notify the police.