November 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 7
Watching television recently, I saw a documentary about Douglas MacArthur. It explained something that had puzzled me for more than fifty years.
Just after the Second World War, I was a young cameraman in the Philippines working for the Army Pictorial Service, a branch of the Signal Corps. One day the assignment desk in Manila directed me to the harbor to photograph some general. The general turned out to be Douglas MacArthur. In those months just after the war, everyone was trying to relax, and five-star generals were no exception. MacArthur had organized a short cruise and party on Manila Bay. At the last minute someone decided that photographs of the excursion were needed.
Out around Corregidor the assignment began to get grim. Never before had I been bothered by seasickness, but a choppy Manila Bay was doing its dirty work. Old Navy salts claimed that watching the horizon for a while would make the queasy feeling go away. Rather than embarrass the general’s guests, I reported to him to explain my problem and how I planned to solve it.
“Son, I think we can do better than that,” he replied. He put his arm around my shoulder and ushered me into the bar. He ordered for both of us. To my twenty-two-year-old palate, the resulting concoction tasted like brandy with a dash of this or that added for good measure. Whatever it was, it did the trick. I finished the assignment with no more trouble.
But over the years, I did wonder at his consideration of my plight. Until I saw that documentary. At one point, it noted that General MacArthur was plagued with the tendency to become air or sea sick, and it was a great embarrassment to him.
Now I knew! That old rascal was in the same shape I was in on that cruise, and I was his excuse to alleviate his condition.
I photographed General MacArthur many times in Manila and in Tokyo over the next year. I always had the feeling I was extended a benevolent generosity not given to other photographers. And that, too, I now understand. We were two souls plagued with the same malady.