Unsolved Mysteries and Scary Stuff: Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Son Disappears

The son of an American hero faded into obscurity…

Douglas MacArthur: His Son Disappears

I have to admit that the title of this piece is a bit of a misnomer as General Douglas MacArthur’s son Arthur did indeed “disappear” shortly after his father’s death, but it was a self imposed exile and not something sinister. The exact reason why is still rooted in conjecture and I will share what is known so you, the reader can compile your own opinion.

To properly tell the tale of Arthur, we must look back in his genealogy to understand the whole picture of what would make a person willingly vanish for over 50 years. Arthur was named after his grandfather, Arthur MacArthur Jr. who participated in the Civil War of the 1860’s and came out of it as a highly respected Colonel. Arthur Jr. then participated in the Indian wars – including the campaign against Geronimo. In 1898, he once again took up the cause of war for his country, as he became a Major General in the Philippine/American war. This conflict lasted several years and MacArthur led many successful ventures against the opposition including authorizing a mission that led to the capture Philippine President Emilo Aguinaldo. The US victory earned America the “right” to claim the Islands as part of its territories officially after they had been originally ceded to the US by Spain, a move that created unrest from the standing Philippine government.

President William McKinley declared Arthur to be the Military Governor of the Philippines but MacArthur had issues with Civilian Governor William Taft and to eliminate the problems, Arthur was named a commander in the Department of the Pacific and promoted to Lt. General. Over the next several years MacArthur traveled to Manchuria to oversee the Russo-Japan War and eventually he became a military diplomat in the US Embassy in Tokyo. He would return to his position as Pacific Commander before being forced to retire because he had reached the mandatory age. Less than 3 years later he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 67.

Arthur Jr. bore a son in 1880 named Douglas, whose destiny would shadow his father’s in remarkable ways. After becoming the valedictorian at the West Texas Military Academy, he went on to graduate at the top of his class at West Point. Douglas participated in military maneuvers in Veracruz before serving in World War 1 where he achieved the rank of Brigadier General while leading men along the Western Front.

By 1930 he had risen all the way to Chief of Staff of the United States. It was at this time that he was involved in the first of many infamous events that would plague him in the eyes of historians forever. A sea of protestors (upwards of 43,000 World War 1 veterans and their families) came to Washington D.C. and set up camp and demanded that the government pay them promised compensation bonuses for their service. The government wanted the men to wait another 15 years to cash out the promised monies (with added compound interest) but it was the time of the Great Depression and many were out of work and struggling to survive.

After several months without a resolution General MacArthur ordered an infantry of soldiers, along with 6 tanks commanded by Maj. George Patton to confront the protestors. The veterans at first cheered, thinking they had support coming from current enlistees. They were shocked when Patton gave the order to charge the encampment. Tear gas and bayonets were used to rouse the protestors and the veterans fled, at which point US President Herbert Hoover ordered the attack halted. General MacArthur had other ideas and ordered a second wave of assault. At the end of the chaos, 55 vets were left injured and 135 more were arrested. A baby died from ingesting tear gas and a woman suffered a miscarriage during the ordeal.

MacArthur retired from the Army in 1937 to take up the position of advisor for the Philippines military. He was married that same year to a woman 18 years his junior, and she bore him a son (Arthur IV) a year later.

In July of 1941, Japanese and American tensions were high and President Franklin Roosevelt convinced Gen. MacArthur to resume active duty as commander of the U.S. Army forces in the Far East. 5 months later, the infamous attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor occurred. Despite this, MacArthur did not alert his men stationed in the Philippines to enter their battle stations and a Japanese attack wiped out many of the already limited defenses available. Japan then began an infantry invasion and MacArthur’s mix of limitedly trained men and actual garrisons proved to be no match for the Japanese who drove the Filipino and American forces into retreat.

By Christmas Eve orders were given for all units to abandon positions and make headway for Bataan. 80,000 men and 25,000 civilians successfully ended up in the peninsula as ordered. MacArthur and other diplomats escaped to Corregidor leaving the fighting men to their fate.
A battle raged on Baatan for four months, with the Japanese continuously bringing in more troops and supplies and the Allied forces cut off. Gen. MacArthur’s stand here was used by American public relations as a sign of Allied resistance in the face of Japanese imperialism. Worsening matters for the troops was that President FDR ordered supplies and focus to be on the Allies’ battles in Europe and Africa, with the Pacific theater a secondary concern for now.

MacArthur’s stay on Corregidor ended in early March when FDR ordered the general to attempt an escape to avoid becoming captured and the US losing face as well as its most experienced General. Douglas intended to suffer with his men but ultimately he, his family and his staff escaped via PT boat and made a harrowing trip to Australia. Meanwhile the men MacArthur was suppose to lead ended up as prisoners of war and died by the thousands through forced labor, jungle disease, and malnourishment (if they were “lucky” enough to avoid outright execution). The “battling bastards of Bataan” came to largely spite MacArthur for abandoning them and he was derided as “Dugout Doug”. General MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor for his escape.

MacArthur declared he would return to liberate the men he left behind and two years and many bloody campaigns later he did just that. MacArthur’s island hopping counter offensive saw heavy causalities on both sides as the frantic Japanese defenders cut through as many Allied troops as possible before meeting capitulation and annihilation.

Ultimately, MacArthur, despite being Supreme Commander in the Pacific, was not informed about the development of the atomic bomb until the last moment. The General had been planning the final phase of the Pacific War – the invasion of Japan’s home island and openly stated later that he felt the atomic bomb should not have been used. He felt that the US should have just allowed Japan Emperor Hirohito to remain in control in exchange for the laying down of arms. The Russians also declared war on Japan after the first atomic bomb fell and they gobbled up territory and routed Japan forces for weeks after victory had been assured. Thus combined with a second atomic bomb attack all but assured that Gen. MacArthur would soon become a peacetime General again. The Japanese formally surrendered a few weeks later. MacArthur oversaw the occupation of Japan and helped maneuver Japan towards the modernized society that it still enjoys to this day.

He was called to serve once again under 5 years later when communist forces in North Korea and China (backed by Russian influence) inflamed conflict in South Korea. MacArthur was entrusted to thrust invading forces back to the northern part of the Korean peninsula and restore normalcy to the region. The Allied forces suffered greatly early in the conflict but MacArthur made his last great military maneuver and orchestrated a mass troop landing at Inchon – a move that cut off the communists and led to them being driven back into North Korea. Allied forces then turned the tables on the aggressors and purged into North Korea – taking the fight to their homeland. The Chinese became alarmed by the enemy troops making headway toward their country and started to supply greater amounts of troops and support to the North Koreans. MacArthur chose to ignore increasing reports of a Chinese battlefield presence. He felt he was an expert of the “Asiatic mind” and Chinese intervention did not fit with his conception of reality. The result was more entrapment and losses for the allied fighting forces. The conflict devolved into a long stalemate.

MacArthur began to publicly issue dissenting views on strategy compared to what President Harry Truman had authorized. MacArthur also circumvented orders from above on battlefield decisions as well and after much deliberation, President Truman felt compelled to remove MacArthur from his post. It was a controversial decision and some Republican politicians felt it was grounds for a Presidential impeachment. The General would return to the United States for the first time in many years with his wife and son in tow.

“Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

A parade awaited his arrival and 500,000 people were estimated to have attended. MacArthur took his popularity and service record as a sign that perhaps he should run for President himself. He fared poorly in the some test polls however and bowed out in a whimper. He did deliver the keynote address to the 1952 Republican convention however and watched as his former underling wartime General Dwight Eisenhower captured the Presidency. Ike, JFK and Lyndon Johnson would all seek MacArthur’s counsel on military matters until the General’s death in 1964. He died an American hero and legend in his own time, despite the grievances in his leadership over the years that I laid out earlier.

All that being said, Douglas’ son Arthur IV had a lot of expectations laid on him. He was never offered a normal childhood, his formative years being spent on a military encampment in a jungle-covered island. He was not yet 4 when the Japanese invaded the land he called home and he spent several months in a war zone. He then joined his father and mother on a 10-day journey in rough ocean waters as they successfully attempted to avoid capture and escape to Australia where his papa Douglas was to assume command.

One can imagine his life stabilized to some degree at that point, but he was still privately taught school lessons and musical instruments instead of being in any sort of normal public schooling. He reportedly rarely saw other children his own age and was kept sheltered. The music lessons paid off as Arthur was performing and composing piano pieces by the time he turned 8 years old. By that point, his life was based in a Tokyo embassy – a place he called home for 6 years until his father’s dismissal from command. It wasn’t until the age of 13 that he actual came to America for the first time. His father wanted him to follow his footsteps and join the military but Arthur ended up at Columbia University and studied music, the arts, theater and literature.

He was in his mid 20’s when his father passed on and around that time Arthur decided that in order to avoid judgment and comparisons, he should erase his father’s legacy and change his name. He disappeared into obscurity for the next 60 years – that led to rumors to what happened to him that were as simple as “he became a concert pianist” to as derogatory as “he was a closeted homosexual”. Arthur remained in contact with his mother and others who were involved with his father’s memorial and estate but he truly faded away from the general public’s eye. His mother died in 2002 at the age of 101. That brought about another round of questions as to his whereabouts and the most anyone could seem to nail down was he lived in New York City.

He unwillingly returned to the public eye earlier this year when in March New York newspapers started to write stories on four recluses who had been refusing to sell their apartments to a real estate mogul hungry to demolish their homes.


The moguls were shocked to see that one of the tenants was living under an assumed name and was actually Arthur MacArthur IV. Arthur was paid $650,000 for his apartment. Even with the knowledge of his whereabouts, little to nothing has yet been revealed as to why Arthur chose to remove himself from the public eye:

  • Was he socially stunted from a secluded childhood?
  • Perhaps post traumatic stress disorder from his life in a war zone?
  • Maybe the homosexual rumors were true and he chose to protect his familial legacy by not being an asterisk at a time where his sexual preference would not be accepted?

Whatever the case, we can only hope Arthur is enjoying peace and fulfillment, even if he chose to live a far simpler life than his bombastic father and war hero grandfather sought. Given his father’s solid wealth base and his own recent windfall from real estate, its likely Arthur (now in his mid 70s) will never willingly come forward to tell his story as he should be financially set and clearly shuns the limelight. He will remain an intriguing footnote to history nonetheless.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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