Duty, Honor, Country: Douglas MacArthur

The New American

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When retired General of the Army Douglas A. MacArthur made a farewell visit to his alma mater on May 12, 1962, it was to receive the Sylvanus Thayer Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Military Academy. It was also an occasion for him to share his thoughts on the meaning of the West Point motto.

“Duty, Honor, Country,” he solemnly intoned, invoking the three words that summed up the cadets’ calling. “Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.” It was perhaps the most eloquent downplaying of a speaker’s own rhetorical skills since Lincoln assured the gathering at Gettysburg, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here.” MacArthur proceeded to move both young cadets and battle-tested officers to the brink of tears with his eloquence of diction, poetry of imagination, and brilliance of metaphor.