Contents of the DUTYHONR.TXT file
On May 12th, 1962, General Douglas MacArthur delivered the
commencement address to the graduating class of West Point. The
text of that speech is recounted here in its entirety. Many
thanks to The Washington Times, which reprints this text annually
on Memorial Day.
Matthew J. Slattery May 31, 1993
DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY
No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as
this, coming a profession I have served so long and a people I have
loved so well. It fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But
this award is not intended primarily for a personality, but to
symbolize a great moral code - the code of conduct and chivalry of
those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent.
"Duty," "Honor," "Country" - those three hallowed words reverently
dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be.
They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to
fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for
faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry
of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all
that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a
flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic,
every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some
others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade
them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.
But these are some of the things they build. They build your basic
character. They mold you for your future role as the custodians of
the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you
are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.
They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but
humble and gentle in success; not to substitute word for action;
not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of
difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to
have compassion of those who fall; to master yourself before you
seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that
is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach
into the future, yet never forget the past; to be serious, yet
never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will
remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true
wisdom, the meekness of true strength.They give you a temperate will, a quality of imagination, a vigor
of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a
temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite
for adventure over love of ease.
They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope
of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They you in this
way to be an officer and a gentleman.
And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they
reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory?
Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American
man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields
many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then,
as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures; not
only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of
the most stainless.
His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In
his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that
mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other
man. He has written his own history, and written it in red on his
In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand
campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic
self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have
carved his statue in the hearts of his people.
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the
chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs in memory's eye,
I could see those staggering columns in the First World War,
bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk
to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell pocked
roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with
sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their
objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory
of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith
in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to
Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, sweat,
and tears, as they saw the way and the light. And 20 years after,
on the other side of the globe, against the filth of dirty fox
holes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping
dugouts, those boiling suns of the relentless heat, those
torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter
desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation of
those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropic
disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.
Their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack,
their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory, -
always, victory, always through the bloody have of their last
reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men, reverently
following your password of duty, honor, country.
You now face a new world, a world of change. The thrust into outer
space of the satellite spheres and missiles marks a beginning of
another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more
billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the
Earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the
human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering
We deal now, not with things of this world alone, but with the
illimitable distances and yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe.
We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier. We speak in
strange terms of harnessing the cosmic energy, of making winds and
tides work for us... of the primary target in war, no longer
limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his
civil population; of ultimate conflict between a united human race
and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; such dreams
and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all times.
And through all this welter of change and development, your mission
remains fixed, determined, inviolable. It is to win our wars.
Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to
this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public
projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others
for their accomplishments; but you are the ones who are trained to
Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure
knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory, that if
you lose, the Nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of
your public service must be duty, honor, country.
Others will debate the controversial issues, national and
international, which divide men's minds. But serene, calm, aloof,
you stand as the Nation's war guardians, as its lifeguards from the
raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiators in the
arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended,
guarded and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and
freedom, of right and justice.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes
of government. Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit
financing indulged in too long, be federal paternalism grown too
mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too
corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by
taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our
personal liberties are as firm and complete as they should be.These great national problems are not for your professional
participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands like a
tenfold beacon in the night: duty, honor, country.
You are the lever which binds together the entire fabric of our
national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains
who hold the Nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war
The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a
million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray,
would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words:
duty, honor, country.
This does not mean that you are warmongerers. On the contrary, the
soldier above all people prays for peace, for he must suffer and
bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears
ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers:
"Only the dead have seen the end of war."
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days
of old have vanished - tone and tints. They have gone glimmering
through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of
wonderous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the
smiles of yesterday. I listen then, but with thirsty ear, for the
witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums
beating the long roll.
In my dreams, I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of
musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in
the evening of my memory I come back to West Point. Always there
echoes and re-echoes: duty, honor, country.
Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know
that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of
the corps, and the corps, and the corps.
I bid you farewell.