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The day Truman fired MacArthur

EUGENE — There are moments in history that we are all privy to — moments so ingrained that most of us of a certain age still remember exactly where we were when they happened.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy comes to mind; or when men first walked on the moon; or when the planes hit the Twin Towers.

And even though President Harry Truman's firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur 65 years ago, on April 11, 1951, might not register in everyone's memory, Ty Lovelace will never forget it, the Register-Guard reported.

After all, he was there.

There as in right around the corner.

Lovelace, who turned 88 on April 12, said he was in the five-star general's residence, at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, eating lunch in the kitchen.

MacArthur was eating in the dining room, with his wife, Jean, and their only child, 13-year-old Arthur, when a courier came in with some correspondence, Lovelace recalled.

It was an order from President Harry Truman.

"And I heard the general say (to his wife), 'Well, we're finally going home,' " Lovelace recalled in early April, sitting in his apartment at the Crescent Park Senior Living residence in northeast Eugene.

"We're what?" Lovelace remembered Jean MacArthur saying.

Lovelace, who grew up in Westfir and Eugene, graduated from Eugene High School in 1946, where he was an all-state basketball player for the Axemen's state championship team that year. He joined the Army in 1948, after a brief stint playing pro basketball in Astoria and Portland in the pre-NBA days.

After basic training at Fort Ord, California, Lovelace shipped out to Osaka, Japan, in 1949 during the post-World War II Allied Occupation led by the legendary MacArthur.

Lovelace was later visited by three members of MacArthur's Honor Guard. They were there to recruit him.

Men in MacArthur's Honor Guard, of which almost 2,000 served between 1945 and 1951, had to be between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2, the latter being Lovelace's height when he served.

"Criteria for these men were exceptionally high — candidates must have had a good record as a combat soldier, bearing, neatness, thoroughness, character and loyalty," says the website generalmacarthurshonorguard.com, which lists in alphabetical order all the men who served in the Honor Guard.

"A strange guy"

Men were handpicked beginning in May 1945 for the Honor Guard, during the closing months of World War II and throughout the Allied Occupation of Japan, according to macarthurmemorial.org, a website dedicated to the late general's memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.

They were enlisted to guard the general's residence and headquarters and serve him and his family.

Lovelace served in the Honor Guard from September 1949 to January 1952, with the exception of eight months in late 1950 and early 1951 when he fought in the Korean War with the Army's 1st Raider Company.

He met his wife, Connie, of New York City, a civilian employee at Gen. MacArthur's headquarters in downtown Tokyo, and the two married in August 1951 before returning to Eugene for good in 1952, where they raised four children. She died in 2013 at age 86.

Lovelace remembers "movie nights" with MacArthur, when the men were invited to sit behind him as he watched Westerns and puffed on big cigars, his trademark corncob pipe never seen when not on the battlefield, Lovelace said.

He remembers the big black Cadillac that ferried MacArthur from his compound six miles to his headquarters, and he remembers hitting a button in the bushes that alerted all police stations along the route to clear traffic for the general.

"He was a strange guy," Lovelace said. "He never talked to any of the GIs.

"I knew the wife better," he said of Jean MacArthur. She would bring the men lemonade on hot days and they accompanied her on shopping trips.

"I could hear everything"

When he left for the Korean War, Lovelace was a private in the Army, but returned a master sergeant, he said.

He had been back only about 10 days when, on April 11, 1951, he served as the Honor Guard's "sergeant of the guard."

The 24-hour duty included checking on the men at all eight guard posts at MacArthur's compound and, as a courtesy from the general, being present during lunch, Lovelace said.

That didn't mean being at the table with MacArthur, but rather in the kitchen with the cooks, Lovelace said.

"I could hear everything they were saying," Lovelace said of MacArthur's conversation at the dining table with his wife and son.

He doesn't remember anyone else being present but concedes it has been a long time.

Maj. Gen. Courtney Whitney, a senior aide to MacArthur, recalled it this way in his book, "MacArthur, His Rendezvous with History," according to The New York Times' obituary that ran April 6, 1964, a day after MacArthur's death at age 84 in Washington, D.C.

"MacArthur's face froze. Not a flicker of emotion crossed it. For a moment, while his luncheon guests puzzled on what was happening, he was stonily silent. Then he looked up at his wife, who still stood with her hand on his shoulder. In a gentle voice, audible to all present, he said: 'Jeannie, we're going home at last.'"

It's unclear from that passage whether Whitney was present at the table that day, or was retelling the story secondhand.

As for Lovelace:

"I've told that story a thousand times, and I don't remember anyone else being there. I remember it because it was the day before my (23rd) birthday."

In trouble with Truman

MacArthur had been on overseas duty for more than 15 years, since 1935, through the buildup to World War II, his command of the Allied forces in the Pacific during the war, Japan's surrender in 1945 and now the Occupation.

On April 11, 1951, he was 71 years old.

"Everybody was very shocked," Lovelace said. "We had no idea he was in that kind of trouble with Truman. It was just one of those things. I was young, and I just didn't know what had happened."

The Times' story on April 11, 1951, said this:

"The President said he had relieved General MacArthur 'with deep regret' because he had concluded that the Far Eastern commander 'is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties.'

"General MacArthur, in a message to House Minority Leader Joseph W. Martin Jr. Of Massachusetts, made public by Mr. Martin last Thursday, had publicly challenged the President's foreign policy, urging that the United States concentrate on Asia instead of Europe and use Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Formosa-based troops to open a second front on the mainland of China."

Truman replaced MacArthur with Gen. Mathew Ridgway, whom Lovelace served until his discharge from the Army the following year.

On April 16, 1951, the MacArthurs flew out of Tokyo to San Francisco — returning to a hero's welcome and ticker-tape parades throughout the United States — as his Honor Guard stood at salute one last time.

"That's when it kicked in that he was really gone," Lovelace said.

Ty Lovelace holds his 1951 military portrait at his home in Eugene. Lovelace, who turns 88 on April 12, served in Gen. Douglas MacArthurís Honor Guard Company. (Brian Davies/The Register-Guard via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Ty Lovelace holds a document with Gen. Douglas MacArthurís signature. (Brian Davies/The Register-Guard via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT