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From Mother's Pen: Letter #2


In 1908, when he was just five years out of West Point, Douglas MacArthur had a fairly significant career crisis. Following a series of rather exciting assignments -- which included surveying in the Philippines, touring Asia with his parents, and serving as an aide in President Theodore Roosevelt's White House -- MacArthur was assigned to river and harbor duties at the engineering office in frigid Milwaukee. While his lack of enthusiasm might be understandable, it resulted in a poor efficiency report, which threatened his so-far bright Army career. His superior, Major William Judson, wrote that "MacArthur seemed to take but little interest in his course at the school and . . . the character of the work done by him was generally not equal to that of most of the other student officers and barely exceeded the minimum which would have been permitted." MacArthur did not take the criticism well, and a feud with Judson ensued.

Perhaps sensing that his career was in jeopardy, Pinky went to work -- in all likelihood without her son's knowledge -- on finding him a more lucrative career outside of the Army. On April 17, 1909, Pinky wrote to railroad magnate E.H. Harriman; here are excerpts from that letter:
My dear Mr. Harriman,

At Ambassador Griscom's in Tokio [sic] some three years ago, I had the good fortune to be seated next to you at a luncheon. The amiable manner in which you then, listened to my talk, in behalf of a possible future for my son Douglas MacArthur outside the Army, encourages me now, to address you now, in that connection; and more especially as I recall that first class men are always in demand, and that you frequently have occasion to seek them....

[While Douglas] cannot be regarded as an expert in any particular subject . . . his splendid mathamatical [sic] and technical training, together with exceptional stability of habits and flexibility of mind, fit him for any work, especially of an administrative character....

Frankly, I would like to see my son filling a place promising more of a future than the Army does....

The son referred to is 29 years old....
After quietly investigating his background, Harriman's lieutenants approached Douglas to discuss an offer. They were surprised when he declined to leave the Army. They wrote, "It is evidently a case where the mother wants to get her son out of the army, and not where the son is figuring on getting out himself."


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