- Historic Sites
My Search For Douglas MacArthur
An overheard remark sent the author off on a years-long quest to discover the truth about a man whose power to inspire both rage and reverence has only grown after his death
February/March 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 1
What the city of Norfolk offered MacArthur was a square block to himself, featuring four picturesque buildings, one of them a charming pre-Civil War courthouse. He would be interred in a crypt beneath an imposing dome, much like his hero Napoleon, and his papers would be preserved in perpetuity on the same site. There was to be a theater, a museum, an archive, and a gift shop. This ensemble was too much like a presidential library to be a coincidence.
Norfolk’s bid for MacArthur’s body came as a complete surprise, as if destiny was getting into gear again as he turned into the home stretch. Here was a shrine MacArthur could never have resisted. Only great men get an arrangement as fancy as this. Yet there was another side to this story.
MacArthur was unaware of it, but the memorial he was being offered was part of a complex land deal engineered by Mayor Fred Duckworth. A bullying, crooked figure known as the Boss Crump of the Tidewater, Duckworth saw that one way to push the land deal through was to save the block that became known as MacArthur Square. Moreover, the MacArthur memorial would enshrine not only the general’s memory but the mayor’s as well. It seems a safe bet that it was Duckworth who purged potentially embarrassing items from MacArthur’s papers.
In 1972 Duckworth was murdered, shot down on the sidewalk a few blocks from his home. One knowledgeable local told me, “Duckworth had so many enemies the police didn’t know where to begin. So they didn’t.” Duckworth’s killer has never been found.
And there Douglas MacArthur rests, in Norfolk, Virginia, his memory diligently served by a fine, mainly young staff, surrounded by parking lots, boarded-up storefronts, and banks. In the next couple of years, though, the city council plans to build a MacArthur Mall across the street, with a Nordstrom’s store to tempt the middle classes back downtown.
In the end I had to acknowledge to myself that even if Norfolk is a strange choice of resting place, the memorial itself is somehow all of a piece with the man and his career. It is not as well endowed financially as the Marshall Foundation, but Marshall was his boss in World War II and again in Korea. Besides, Marshall outranked him. Although both were five-star commanders, Marshall had seniority, by two days.
The MacArthur Memorial is not as splendid as a presidential library, and never will be. But he was not President, much as he would like to have been. On the other hand, no American combat commander has a memorial remotely as magnificent as MacArthur’s. Insofar as such things can be measured, what MacArthur ended up with is probably just about right.