Sunday, April 11, 2021

Scores On This Historic Day: April 11, 1951, President Harry Truman Fires General Douglas MacArthur

April 11, 1951: President Harry S Truman fires General of the Army Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander of United Nations forces in the Korean War.

MacArthur's offense: Insubordination. Truman had given him orders not to further engage the Chinese forces in Korea. MacArthur had sent a letter to Representatives Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts, the Republican Party's leader in the U.S. House of Representatives -- he had been Speaker in the 1947-48 session, and would be again in that of 1953-54 -- objecting to Truman's orders.

Had Martin not mentioned this letter to the media of the time, MacArthur probably would have gotten away with it. But Truman was incensed, and decided to give MacArthur, a 5-star General and perhaps the most popular living military man in America, a lesson that every American needs to learn: One of the guiding principles of the country is civilian control of the military.

But America did not accept this at first. MacArthur returned home, and was treated as a hero. The City of New York gave him the biggest ticker-tape parade in its history, breaking the record set for Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and lasting until the Mets won the 1969 World Series.

Martin talked his opposite number in the Democratic Party, Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, into letting MacArthur speak before a Joint Session of Congress on April 19. There was nothing Truman could do: He'd already sent Mac into forced retirement. (He shouldn't still have been on active duty, anyway: He was 71 years old.)

He quoted "one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day, which proclaimed, most proudly, that 'old soldiers never die, they just fade away.' And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty, as God gave him the light to see that duty.
Good Bye."
For the record, the line is, "Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away."

MacArthur was more popular than ever, and people began to speculate that he would run for the Republican Party's nomination for President in 1952 -- and that he would win, easily.

He refused to campaign for that nomination, figuring he didn't need to, that a popular groundswell would lead to his nomination. He was wrong: It was the man he had once called "the best clerk I ever had," Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was nominated.

Truman could have run for what would have amounted to a 3rd term (the last President who could have done so), but chose not to. He would have lost badly, as Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, who turned out to be the Democratic nominee, did.

MacArthur lived until 1964. By that point, Truman's reputation, in the dumps when he left office, had recovered. He lived until 1972.

April 11, 1951 was a Wednesday. The Major League Baseball season was a few days away from starting. The NFL was in its off-season. The NHL began the Stanley Cup Finals on that night, and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2, on an overtime goal by Sid Smith.
Sid Smith

As it turned out, the Leafs won the Cup in 5 games, and all 5 went to overtime, including the clincher on April 21 by Bill Barilko, who was soon killed in a plane crash. So he didn't get to enjoy being to hockey what Bobby Thomson became to baseball on October 3 of that year.

April 11 also saw Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Playing at the 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, because the old Madison Square Garden was being used by the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus (at the time, a bigger moneymaker for the MSG Corporation), the New York Knicks beat the Rochester Royals 79-73.
Knick Hall-of-Famer Harry Gallatin

That series was also decided on April 21, in a Game 7 that went to overtime. At the Edgerton Park Arena in Rochester, the Royals won 79-75. This would be the 1st of 3 straight trips to the Finals for the Knicks, but they would lose them all, and not win one until 1970.

At least the Knicks still exist. The Royals moved to Cincinnati in 1957, became the Kansas City Kings in 1972, and the Sacramento Kings in 1985. That 1951 title remains their only trip to the NBA Finals.

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