In a career that spanned four wars and five decades, General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) established himself as an important, if controversial, figure in American history. MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880, in Little Rock Barracks, Arkansas, to General Arthur MacArthur, Jr. (1845-1912), a Civil War hero, and Mary Hardy MacArthur (1852-1935). In 1903, MacArthur graduated first in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
His first tour of duty as a Second Lieutenant was in the Philippine Islands, which MacArthur would come to love. After serving with General John “Black Jack” Pershing (1860-1948) in Mexico in 1916-1917, and with the famous Rainbow Division in France during the World War I (1914-1918), MacArthur returned to the Philippines twice in the 1920s. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) appointed MacArthur Chief of Staff of the Army. Following his retirement in 1935, MacArthur became a field marshal in the Philippine Army, serving until 1941.
Following America’s entry into the World War II (1939-1945) in 1941, the United States Army called MacArthur back into service. In April 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) named MacArthur the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific. MacArthur developed an innovative “island-hopping” strategy, which aimed to maximize Allied victories while minimizing the loss of life. On September 2, 1945, MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. He became the military governor of occupied Japan (1945-1950), facilitating that nation’s transition from imperial monarchy to democracy.
The Korean War (1950-1953) gave MacArthur his greatest triumph and his greatest humiliation. The war began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea, and invaded South Korea. Within a month, the North Koreans had pushed the South Korean Army and supporting American forces to the southernmost tip of the Korean peninsula. Appointed Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations forces at the outbreak of the war, MacArthur engineered the brilliant Inchon Landing, of September 1950. This risky amphibious attack called for traveling though a narrow channel to land on a beach whose tides would only allow ships six hours of the day. The mission’s success, which dramatically reversed the tide of the war, surprised Americans almost as much as it did the enemy.
Although MacArthur was publicly lauded for the bravery and ingenuity he demonstrated throughout his career, his aggressive approach in Korea ultimately led to conflicts with policy makers. MacArthur’s advocacy of an invasion of China as well as the use of atomic weapons against Chinese cities, despite the administration’s opposition to such an action, led to his dismissal by President Harry S. Truman (1888-1972) in 1951. That year, following his return to the United States, MacArthur again retired from the military and settled in New York City, residing at the Waldorf Towers.
In 1952, MacArthur ran for the Republican Presidential nomination, losing to fellow retired general Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969). Thereafter, he served as Chairman of the Board of Sperry Rand Corporation, and as an unofficial advisor to Presidents Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). After his death in 1964, the General lay in state at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue at 66th Street and was buried at Norfolk, Virginia.
MacArthur Park is in the Turtle Bay section of Manhattan. Originally, this area was surrounded by a small wetland cove, whose abundance of turtles gave the community its name. MacArthur Park is located on the F.D.R. Drive between 48th and 49th Streets. Alcoa Plaza Associates constructed the park as part of the United Nations Plaza (1947-53). Following its completion, Alcoa ceded the park to the Board of Estimate. The park opened under Parks jurisdiction on February 28, 1966.
In 1998, MacArthur Park received a $49,000 renovation. Sponsored by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the improvements provided for the installation of safety surfacing, modular playground equipment, and fencing. The park now boasts a flagpole with yardarm, and a variety of amenities, including a comfort station, benches, slides, swings, a spray shower, and numerous chess tables. The animal art portrays, naturally, a large turtle. Numerous trees provide shade for visitors, who enjoy unobstructed views of Queens and the East River.