“Ah, so that is what brought you to Washington, Mr. President?” The balding, crisply uniformed Lieutenant General laughs out loud following a simple joke that caps a lovely dinner in the sunroom of his white colonial home in Falls Church, Virginia. A humid, Washington June evening with the sun’s rays still shining through the glass-enclosed side of the home offers natural light in a slowly descending summer night.
This is about as far as I can get away from the bloody occupation of the Philippines.
“Well, actually General, there is another matter I would like to discuss with you as well.”
I love the surprise statement that tips my host back on his heels.
“What would that be, Mr. President?” The friendly, but calculating figure with a slightly high-pitched voice rejoins.
“The people of the Philippines would like to thank you for your work as part of General MacArthur’s staff in preparing our country’s defense against this horrendous war.”
“Sir. . . ” the General starts, but stops suddenly, struck with a thought that blocks more words from exiting his mouth.
As I reach into my right coat pocket, I declare, “We would like you to be honored along with the others on General MacArthur’s staff, with this small token of thanks from the people of the Philippines.” Slowly, I pull a check in the amount of $50,000 out of my coat, letting it flutter to a standstill in front of General Eisenhower.
“Oh, Mr. President. . . “The General is again lost for words.
Light projecting through the windows catches the white paper of the check, silhouetting my left shoulder in its reflective glow.
“Mr. President, I cannot, in good conscience or according to Army Regulations, accept this money. I truly apologize for any impression I may have given that I could.”
I quickly lower the check, placing it down gently upon the table between us.
Why is this Boy Scout not taking this gift?
“General, I can assure you that President Roosevelt and Secretary Stimson have approved of this.”
Silence reigns in the room. No one moves.
“Mr. President, you and the people of the Philippines are more than generous. That being said, as a member of the Armed Services of The United States, I CANNOT TAKE THIS MONEY!”
MacArthur jumped at his check. This guy can’t actually believe he’s being honorable, can he?
“I fully understand, General,” I say, as I remove the check from the table. “This has been a lovely meal. Let us have a toast to victory over Japan!”
“Yes, Mr. President, . . .to victory over Japan!” General Eisenhower repeats, in a lower voice than he’s used all evening.
We both down the remnants of red wine left in our glasses just as a dessert of individual fruit tarts is brought to the table by a crisply white-suited negro.
On January 3, 1942, one month into World War II for the United States and the Philippines, President Quezon of the Philippines personally gave General Douglas MacArthur $500,000 (in 1942 dollars which would be valued at $ 7,574,580.65 in 2015) out of the Philippines treasury (three staff officers of MacArthur’s – Sutherland, Richard Marshall, and Huff received a total of $140,000, which would be over $2 million in 2015 dollars). At the time, MacArthur was receiving an $18,000 salary and $15,000 in allowances from the Philippine Commonwealth in addition to a penthouse suite at the Manila Hotel and his pension as a U.S. Major General. The transfer was made with the assurance that the President of the United States and the Secretary of War had been informed. President Roosevelt was in a difficult position with MacArthur, and at the time was doing whatever he could to please him, so despite regulations, approved the gift.
On June 20, 1942, Quezon offered Lieutenant General Eisenhower a similar honorarium. Eisenhower politely but firmly declined it. Eisenhower was offered the gift because he had been a member of General MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines until 1939, and in June of 1942 he had just been named commander of U.S. Army operations in Europe, his stepping stone to becoming Supreme Allied Commander Europe and eventually the President of the United States. General Eisenhower never took the money and reported the offer to his superiors.
Larrabe, Eric: Commander In Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War, Simon and Schuster, 1987, P. 315