MacArthur Memorial: What’s the Army doing in Norfolk?

How one of the Navy’s biggest haters came to rest in the bosom of the Atlantic fleet.

General MacArthur

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Though indisputably one of the great men of the 20th century and one of its most decorated warriors, Gen. Douglas MacArthur nevertheless had a less than heroic side. He often behaved like an ass. Fired for insubordination in 1951 by President Truman, MacArthur’s farewell speech suggested humility in a man who had never known the meaning: “I now close my military career and just fade away—an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Goodbye.”

The words were spoken by the living embodiment of inter-service rivalry. MacArthur was a West Point Army officer, who, during World War II, regarded the U.S. Navy with nearly as much enmity as he did the Empire of Japan, fearing that the Navy would take credit for winning the war away from him.

So why is the late general entombed in the bosom of the Atlantic Fleet, and not in any ordinary tomb, but a temple-like structure called the MacArthur Memorial? One would be tempted to speculate that McArthur was as determined to stick in the Navy’s craw in death as he had been in life. The official answer is more prosaic.

Stationed overseas for nearly his entire career, MacArthur had ties to no single place in the United States, but his wife Jean Faircloth had family in Norfolk. Three years before his death in 1964, MacArthur bequeathed his papers, war souvenirs, and other personal effects to the city of Norfolk. The city reciprocated by re-purposing its original, 1850 city hall as a memorial, allowing the general, and later his widow, to be entombed within.

Their bodies rest in the center of a rotunda surrounded by nine galleries of MacArthur memorabilia. The memorial is just three city blocks from the riverfront, and well worth a visit, if only to remind us that one of the old warrior’s unblemished achievements was his administration of Japan after the surrender.

The MacArthur Memorial is a unique institution dedicated to preserving the memory of a man who left his imprint on our history, whether you liked him or not. Phone 757-441-2965; www.macarthurmemorial.org