General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an amazing man who lived a life doing things most people don’t even dream of. He was one of the most popular generals in the world after WWII. He rebuilt Japan. He fought the Korean War—until he was fired by President Truman.
On 12 May 1962 he personally touched my life. I was a cadet at West Point when he addressed us at our noon meal. Officially, he was there to accept the Sylvanus Thayer Award, given to only the most outstanding of citizens. What he did was say good-bye as he formally stepped out of public life. I still have (somewhere) a tape of that speech. It touched all of our lives—and still does. It catches the very values, culture, and core of West Point—values I have lived by, or tried to live by, my entire life. Here are some key parts of the speech to the Corps of Cadets.
Duty … Honor … Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution.
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished tone and tint; they have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.
Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.