Saturday, May 3, 2014

Our Tenant's Connection to Gen. MacArthur

Pictured above are Louis Clifford Powell (1876-1959) and his wife Dora Jane (Thomas) Powell (1899-1971). In 1956-1957 they lived in the basement of my parents' home at 2201 Jefferson, Great Bend, Kansas. Lou, at age 81, was a retired farmer and Dora worked in the kitchen of the local Elks Club. I remember that because I interacted with them quite a lot. They didn't own a car and they didn't have a telephone, so I often called a cab to come and pick up Dora to take her to work. Lou sat in our kitchen after I came home from school in the 4th and 5th grades and listened to me read the weather report to him each afternoon when the Great Bend Tribune was delivered. I remember Mr. Powell talking about his hometown of Whitewater, KS and also recounting his tales of the MacArthurs, Gen. Arthur and his son Gen. Douglas. Also living in the basement apartment of our home was their son Douglas, who was named after Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In doing a bit of research for this post, I found this article at  

"Emporia, Kansas, Monday, May 14, 1951 THE EMPORIA DAILY GAZETTE 
He Knew the MacArthurs Years Ago 
Emporian Was a Messenger for Gen. Arthur MacArthur

Lou Powell doesn't look like an old army man. His big, heavy figure and ruddy face, accented by thick white hair, is that of a man who has spent his entire life out- of-doors. He was the farmer that he appears to be until his recent retirement several years ago. The last few years, he says, his only farming activity has been confined to the vegetable and flower garden behind his home at 23 East. Though he may hoe and rake and search for weeds, his thoughts are with the soldiers he has known.  

Thomas James Coke Powell
His father was the first—a Union captain who fought at Vicksburg (pictured at left); and was with the reconstruction forces in the South. Powell has his well-polished sword that was alleged to have saved his father's life on several occasions. During the first part of the century the Emporian was in the Civil Service—a Job which acquainted him with American generals whose names made the history books — Generals Otis, Greeley, Bates, Sumner, Funston and Arthur MacArthur, the father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. In the recent war, the Army was brought even closer to him, because his son was in the armed forces. Powell is proud of "his" generals and particularly proud of having worked for Gen. Arthur MacArthur. For four years, from 1902 until 1906 his Civil Service job was as a messenger. Powell had a desk outside of the general's private office and let only callers with urgent business in to see the officer. During this time he lived in the same house in San Francisco with the 'general, his wife and two sons, Arthur and Douglas, and came to know them. Of the older general, the ex-messenger has this to say, "He was the hardest man to get to know." 

Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur (1845-1912)
Arthur MacArthur was a man who had won his stars the hard way— he had enlisted as private in the Civil war and was promoted up through the ranks. Powell describes him as a huge Scotchman who talked only when spoken to and then seldom answered with more than a short yes or no. He was feared by the office staff for his stiffness, but respected for his ability to accomplish whatever he set out to do. The soldiers were always a little in awe of him. General Arthur shunned publicity and avoided making public speeches. At the christening ceremony of the battleship California, Powell recalls that the general was to make a dedicatory speech. A moment before speech time, the thoroughly stage-frightened general turned to the young messenger and asked, "Powell, what in the world am I going to say here?" At social functions, the general seemed to feel out of place; he disliked dancing and small talk.

(Perhaps a separate article): LOUIS POWELL, a former messenger in the Civil Service, worked with the father of Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur for four years in San Francisco, he became acquainted with the family of Gen. Arthur MacArthur shortly after the elder general returned to this country from the Philippines. In contrast to her husband, Mrs. MacArthur was a vivacious person, liked and understood by everyone. She was the happiest when surrounded by a crowd of people. Her family used to say of her that she had "pull" in Washington and for favors one ought to see "Mom." Arthur, the son who was killed in the first world war, was reserved like his father, and General Douglas is like his mother, Powell believes. When Powell worked with the MacArthurs in
Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)
California, Douglas was a commissioned officer right out of West Point. The young lieutenant was liked by everyone and widely acclaimed as good looking. Powell admired the young lieutenant, who was only a few years younger than himself, and shared the belief that some day the world would be proud of him. Douglas was sent to the Philippines on his first assignment while the Emporian was with the MacArthurs. Shortly after 1906, Powell quit Civil Service work and came back to Kansas to live on a farm. As a parting present, the elder general gave his messenger a picture taken of Douglas MacArthur soon after he was commissioned at West Point. Powell gave the picture to his son, Douglas, (named after the general) on his 21st birthday." (Douglas MacArthur Powell 5 Mar 1923--31 May 1994)

I learned a good lesson as a 9 and 10 year old while visiting with "Mr. Powell" in our kitchen each afternoon. I was looking at a feeble, white-haired old man, but he was a gentleman who had an impressive history and was very proud of it. I learned to respect that. 

No comments: