Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Assigned to Gen. MacArthur's staff, yet still awaiting orders to move

In this letter, his last written at the U.S. Army camp in Zama, Maj. Gillham reveals that he is to be assigned to Gen. MacArthur's staff.  He does so with amazingly little fanfare or ballyhoo, and slips easily back into mundane questions to Frances about friends and family back home.  I am sure he was long aware that this assignment was a distinct possibility, since he had been trained at the School of Military Goverment in Charlottesville, VA, in 1940 and was taught Japanese language and culture at the University of Chicago in 1944 before being transferred to Fort Ord, CA.  Still, his announcement is startlingly brief, considering how famous MacArthur was at the time and in what great esteem he was held by my grandfather, who didn't hand out praise to army personnel lightly.

Zama, Japan
5 Nov 1945

Dearest Darling,

The last few letters that I have written you were done in a crowded room with much discussion taking place, and they may not have made much sense.  It is now 1300 and nearly everyone is out on pass.  My group couldn't get a pass so we may be going to move soon.  I hope so, for I have about seen enough of this place.

However, I believe I have a good temperament for being shipwrecked on a desert island.  I don't tend to get the "whim-whams" in a place like this, as some do.  I guess it may be because I spent a lot of time alone when I was a child.

I just drank the last of my California water.  That seems like a long time for one canteen of water to last, but I find that when I drink all the liquid they pour at us at meals, I don't want any more water.  I have had practically no indigestion, and very little rheumatism since I left, I am glad to say.

I understand that our mail goes to Manila and that is probably the reason we don't have any yet.  I don't know my section yet, but you may start addressing me as follows:

Maj. W.T. Gillham 0-272207
GHQ-SCAP Adv. Esch.
APO #500
c/o P.M. San Francisco, Calif.

As soon as I know my section I will give you that also, and it will probably speed up delivery a few days.  SCAP stands for "Supreme Command Allied Powers," so it looks like I will wind up on MacArthur's staff.

I hope that you all are getting along all right.  Did you get the stove cleaned?  How is the weather there?  Is the car doing all right?  Has Martha walked yet?  I would love to see her step out.  How are all the neighbors?  How are Nelly and Cousin John?  Have you heard from Ellen?  Did Jack get home?  What do you hear of Mother?  The time-space factor between us is getting too big.  I would love to be with you.  I prefer our double sleeping bag with you in it to the one I am using now.  I need you to keep my feet warm, and to divide a bottle of champagne with me.

Lots of love,



Douglas MacArthur graduated at the top of his class of 93 at West Point in 1903 and went on to become one of only five men to be named General of the Army (i.e., five stars).  He served in World War I and was promoted to Brigadier General just before the Armistice, at age 38;  thus he was often referred to as the "boy general." At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was the Allied commander in the Philippines and was soon forced to retreat to Australia when the Japanese captured Manila.  It was in Australia that he made his famous pledge to the Filipinos, "I shall return," which he did in October, 1944, leading the Allied recapture of the island nation.  In Manila he formulated plans for "Operation Downfall," an air and sea invasion of Japan similar to the one in Normandy.  However, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 made this plan unnecessary, and on September 2, he accepted the surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.

In his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, MacArthur was, in effect, the leader of the Japanese nation from 1945 to 1948.  His decision to exonerate Emperor Hirohito and the royal family of any charges of war crimes was severely criticized in the West yet endeared him immensely to the people of Japan.  With this good will he was able to begin a primitive democratization of Japan, and in 1946 he and his staff drafted a new constitution that is still in use today.

One of MacArthur's initiatives was to have dozens of copies of the film Gone With The Wind flown to Japan and shown in theaters around the country.  The idea was to illustrate to the Japanese how a nation devastated by war and defeat could rebuild itself with what Scarlett O'Hara called gumption.  The film is still very popular in Japan, which explains why over 25% of the visitors at the Margaret Mitchell House are Japanese.

Gen. MacArthur's 130th birthday is next Tuesday.

The iconic image of Gen. MacArthur,
with open collar, sunglasses and corn cob pipe

The meeting between MacArthur and Hirohito, Sept. 27, 1945,
one of the most famous photos in Japanese culture

1 comment:

montycaldwell said...

I love this! By 'this ' I mean the whole blog, 'Letters from Japan' in general as well as today's blog, in particular. You are right, WTG certainly understated his move to MacA's staff. I'm glad you gave us some background on MacA and the work he was doing with the Japanese people.
I look forward to tomorrow's post.