The Flag of My Father (How chaplains handled MacArthur)

Although Hudson is not from New Mexico, we believe this is a story our readers may enjoy…editor

By Hudson Phillips

The flag was black with a white cross, marred only by a hole in the fabric just large enough to fuel imagination. Over the years the tear in the flag seemed to grow larger as the fabric became thinner. I must confess, that my brother, sister and I pressed it wider from time to time. As a military family, we each felt a desire to draw meaning from the slightest connection with a lengthy wartime separation.

My father had ordered the small flag to be placed in the back of his military jeep. As Division Chaplain of the 11th Airborne, he endured months of battle in New Guinea, the liberation of the Philippines and the occupation of Japan. He closeted many memories, as most veterans do, and the hole in the flag was evidence.

I think about this on those special days when our country looks back to honor the courage, duty and sacrifice of our veterans. This brief account is to credit not only my dad but all military chaplains.

World War II chaplains, marched through jungles and braved the kamikaze attacks against their ships even though their role was officially defined as a noncombatant. In most cases they were subjected to the same risks, jumped out of the same planes, endured the same discomforts. It is in war where bravery is revered the most, and usually combat is where it is measured.

One of the untold stories of courage occurred at the time of the American occupation of Japan. When my father returned to his family in spring of 1946 his first words were not about the war but of a meeting that he and other chaplains had with General Douglas MacArthur. At the age of 12, I had hoped to hear tales of combat and narrow escapes. Instead, I was led out of the kitchen and shielded from words and issues that he would share only with my mother. I remember that the subject matter upset him, as if he felt he was in some sort of serious trouble. Friction with superior officers is a cause for alarm to any member of a military family because it has direct bearing on where the family lives and how they are treated; and, even the smallest child feels the tension. I did not then realize how proud I would later be of what my father and his fellow chaplains had done.

William Manchester chose as the title of his biography, “American Caesar,” to describe the kind of eminence MacArthur reflected. MacArthur had absolute powers of governance over the affairs of the defeated nation. Only MacArthur could greet Emperor Hirohito in an open shirt (as he was to later appear with President Harry Truman when they met over the subject of Korea.) He served as surrogate emperor and moral guide as well. If there was any moral authority beyond that which the General had usurped for himself, the chaplains would have to identify, define and grapple with him over it.

Throughout the war, the Japanese authorities provided prostitutes for the use of their military personnel by subsidizing 150,000 “Comfort Women” in Tokyo and other major cities. With the full knowledge of the General and sanctioned by American authority, this network had been passed along by the Japanese to the Americans. (“GI s Frequented Japan’s Comfort Women,” Eric Talmadge, The Associate Press, April 25, 2007.) My father would have been well aware of this.

In August 1945, the first wave of 11th Airborne troops (my father’s former unit) arrived in Atsugi airport, just south of Tokyo. By nightfall, the troops found the first brothel.

“I rushed there with two or three Recreation and Amusement executives, and was surprised to see 500 or 600 soldiers standing in line on the street,” Seiichi Kaburagi, the chief of public relations for the RAA, wrote in a 1972 memoir.

“American MPs were barely able to keep the troops under control.”

In response to this problem chaplains formed the Army Navy Chaplain’s Association, to include all of the chaplains in Japan. My father,  then the 11th corps and ranking chaplain, was chosen as the spokesperson to carry out the Association’s one order of business: to address MacArthur over the issue of the comfort stations and get them put off limits for moral, social and health reasons.

Dad told the story this way:

“The ‘old man’ loaded his large pipe, which made a terrible sucking sound as he lit it. He got up and stood in front of a window, looking out for the longest time. He took several puffs…”

My father, a pipe smoker, would have been fascinated by this tactic of stalling in order to think a thing through. I could imagine MacArthur running through the questions: Morale at what price? What effect did this have on the readiness of the troops? How would this look to the American public, in particular, the voting public. The General had much to mull over.

Failure to act on the request of the delegation from the newly-formed Chaplain’s association represented a potential public relations disaster. It is easy to see that MacArthur had been given little choice. What the Supreme Commander to the Allied Powers actually thought about the matter, or of the group of chaplains, is not known (William Manchester has no listing of: comfort women, prostitution, chaplains or sexually transmitted diseases in the index of his biography of MacArthur).

Military protocol required each chaplain to act under the direction of his commanding officer. Going over the heads of their commanding officers to address the issue could be taken as an attempt to anger MacArthur and embarrass the officers. Many of the chaplains could have been reprimanded and sent home.

No heads rolled! MacArthur assented to the chaplains’ request, promising that the brothels would be permanently off limits and the women relocated to their respective countries and communities.. Future violations of this policy would be subject to military discipline. In conclusion, the General handed each chaplain an autographed photo of himself as well as a pen. The photo is still in my possession, though the ink has faded.

Talmadge and other writers who have related these events characterized the chaplains’ involvement as scattered “complaints,” as if these criticisms were the scolding of isolated moralists. However, the chaplains’ concerns were much broader. Over one quarter of American servicemen stationed in Japan during the early American Occupation would return home with a sexually transmitted disease as the reminder of their service experience.

Priests, rabbis and ministers in uniform risked their military rank and their ecclesiastical endorsement to stand before, what to them was equivalent of the biblical King Herod and do what no Admiral or General would risk. Military history should record this episode as a moment of courage and a credit to the chaplain’s corps.

The Army Navy Chaplain’s Association disbanded shortly after the meeting, its single task completed.

© All rights reserved  Author notes    This is a salute to my father and other chaplains who were involved

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