Artifacts and Personal Effects Illuminate the Man and Times
Many people are familiar with the famous photos of Five-Star U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur wading onto the shoreline donning his signature cap and sunglasses in his triumphant return to the Philippines in World War II. Many have also seen pictures of him smoking his corn cob pipe. These and literally millions of other artifacts, personal effects, documents, collections, newsreels, memorabilia and donations are all in Norfolk, Virginia’s MacArthur Memorial. The Memorial also honors the millions of men and women who served under him and in the U.S. armed forces from the Civil War through the Korean War. The three-building complex, highlighted by the towering rotunda, houses the largest collection of the MacArthur legacy in the world. He was the most decorated officer in U.S. military history, and the facility showcases his many medals as well as weaponry, uniforms, battle and war exhibits, maps, and souvenirs. It is the final resting place of the great general and his wife Jean. His mother, Mary Pinkney Hardy, was a Norfolk native and her son considered the city his true home.
MacArthur’s dashing and somewhat imposing image of warrior giant is evident in the memorial’s artifacts observing his service and achievements. Authors, scholars, news media, and genealogists from across the globe come here to study the more than two million documents, 600 films and 30,000 books – including MacArthur’s original 5,000 volume collection. Legendary actor Gregory Peck visited to research for his role in the 1977 film “MacArthur.” There are donated collections and gifts from military associates, heads of state, admirers and friends. Precious vases, statuary, paintings, murals and other tributes are not only from liberated citizens of Asia and the world, but even the vanquished, who both feared and respected the man.
Among the most popular exhibits are his 1950 Chrysler Crown Imperial Limousine, the pens used to sign the Japanese surrender documents, newsreel footage from the surrender on the USS Missouri, a priceless post-surrender photo signed by both MacArthur and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, and a restored encyclopedia of Japan that was presented to the emperor in 1670. There is also a fascinating movie short about the highlights of MacArthur’s life and career. MacArthur is widely perceived as just the commanding iconic American general, but his career began as a soldier fresh out of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1903.
He was soon in hand-to-hand combat against rebels in the Philippines and Mexico, followed later in World War I. His pistol and derringer from those early days are here. Other poignant pieces include the platinum signet ring of Philippines President Manuel Quezon, who shortly before the fall of his nation slipped it onto MacArthur’s finger and said: “When they find your body, I want them to know you fought for my country.” Quezon soon left by submarine for Australia, followed afterwards by MacArthur in a daring and dangerous escape on a PT boat. Other artifacts of note are the American-made Colt pistol and bullet that Imperial Japanese Army General Hideki Tojo used to attempt suicide, and the ropes that bound Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita before he was hanged. Sketches by the acclaimed artist Ben Steele show the suffering of POWs in the Philippines’ Bataan Death March, which Steele survived. On a lighter note is MacArthur’s beloved purple/gray wool bathrobe, highlighted by the letter “A” that he received as a cadet playing on the West Point baseball team. He even wore it in a meeting with President Lyndon Johnson.
The memorial also hosts a variety of rotating special exhibits, including its currently running “Command Presence: MacArthur, Media and Mass Appeal.” The presentation observes his relationship with news organizations, public and political perceptions, and his advent into a pop-culture figure. Past exhibits have included “The Liberation of the Philippines” and “UN Command in Korea.”
Since opening in 1964, more than five million people have visited. Centrally located in downtown Norfolk’s MacArthur Square, the memorial is free and open to the public, with guided tours available. Each of its three buildings provides a unique experience. The primary structure is the rotunda burial site and museum, which has nine galleries holding many of the complex’s treasures, and is the original Norfolk City Hall and Courthouse dating to 1850. In front is a larger-than-life bronze statue of the general by award winning artist Walker Hancock, and is the only duplicate of the original effigy that stands at West Point. Adjacent is the Visitors Center, which features numerous photos and exhibits – including MacArthur’s limousine, the movie theater, stored collections and gift shop.
Despite MacArthur’s famous quote, “Old soldiers never die – they just fade away,” his legacy lives on at the memorial. Military reunions are especially welcome, and the grounds of the Memorial are well-suited to group memorial services.
If you’re interested in bringing your group to Norfolk to see this hidden gem and the many other popular attractions that have brought reunion groups here for decades, visit BookMyReunion.com/Visit-Norfolk/ to get started on your hotel selection process or give us a call today at 757-625-6401.
By Scott B. McCaskey, Creative Writer for Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. and AFR Tours.