Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur

By Gates, Jim | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur


Gates, Jim, Air & Space Power Journal


Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur by Geoffrey Perret. Random House, 201 East Fiftieth Street, New York 10022, 19%, 663 pages, $32.50.

After reading and enjoying Geoffrey Perret's previous works-There's a War to Be Won and A Country Made by War-I approached this book with great anticipation but wondered how he would make the switch from narrative history to biography. I had one more reason to read this book. Perret's last book, Winged Victory, was a one-volume history of the Army Air Forces in World War II, and I was curious to see if the author would incorporate airpower into his new work. I was not disappointed. Some readers will consider Old Soldiers a standard biography of a great general. If they look carefully, however, they will find a discussion of airpower hidden within these pages. Airmen should read this book because Perret shows an unknown side of the icon-warrior of the Pacific. General MacArthur was as pro-air as one could get-something MacArthur's other biographers allude to but not as strongly. Perret describes the general's doubts as to the efficacy of airpower, his education at the hands of Gen George C. Kenney, and his final conversion to the true faith during World War II.

Perret describes the key role airpower played in MacArthur's Pacific strategy. Once Kenney proved the effectiveness of airpower in New Guinea, MacArthur structured his ground campaigns around it. Until the invasion of Leyte in October 1944, Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific advanced no further than the range of Fifth Air Force fighters. MacArthur paid heavily for that leap. When Navy carrier air departed, leaving the ground troops vulnerable, the general vowed never to carry out another operation without land-based airpower.

It is not necessarily the fact that Perret relates MacArthur's love of airpower-all of MacArthur's biographers have stressed the importance the general placed on airpower and the close relationship he had with Kenney-but the way he tells it. For instance, note the way D. Clayton James, in volume two of The Years of MacArthur, relates the story of what happened when land-based airpower finally arrived in Leyte on 27 October:

Monsoon rains and frequent Japanese air attacks during the week following the capture of Tacloban airfield made it difficult for the engineers to lay the 2500 feet of steel matting for a runway for the waiting Fifth Air Force fighters on Morotai.... When the first two squadrons of P-38s landed at the field on October 27, MacArthur and Kenney were waiting to greet the pilots as they stepped down from their fighters. (P. …

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