Historical Vignette 089 - The History of the Chief of Engineers’ Gold Castles

MacArthur at West Point

In the spring of 1903, Douglas MacArthur graduated at the top of his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To commemorate the occasion, his proud family presented him with 14-karat gold castle insignia as a graduation gift. MacArthur wore the castles as a young engineer officer and later carried them with him during his career as a commander in World War I, Army Chief of Staff, and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific in World War II.

In March 1945, MacArthur presented the castles to Maj. Gen. Leif Sverdrup, a close friend, who had served as chief engineer on his staff in the Southwest Pacific Area in World War II. General Sverdrup recalled that General MacArthur, who had transferred to the infantry branch in 1917, told him that the castles meant very much to him, but that they “deserved to be worn by a real engineer” and that they should “never end up in a museum somewhere.”

MacArthur's Castle Pins
(Photo by F. T. Eyre)

Thirty years later, on May 2, 1975, Major General Sverdrup attended the engineer dinner at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, marking the Corps’ 200th anniversary. In a quiet corner before the banquet, Sverdrup presented the castles privately to Lieutenant General Gribble, then Chief of Engineers.

Overwhelmed by the unexpected gesture, Gribble later announced to the banquet guests his intention for the future: “I (propose) to hand the castles over to my successor at the conclusion of my tenure as Chief of Engineers, thus initiating an important tradition as well as discharging my trust to him.”

When General Gribble retired on 25 June 1976, he handed the coveted insignia over to his successor, Lt. Gen. John W. Morris. The castles, Gribble said in his departing remarks, epitomized Esprit de Corps—the spirit of the Corps. Since then, all chiefs have received MacArthur’s gold castles upon assuming command and have proudly worn them as unique symbols of the spirit of the Engineer Regiment.

General George W. Casey, Jr., Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and Paula Van Antwerp pin the MacArthur castles on Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp during his assumption of command ceremony 29 May 2007. (Photo by F.T. Eyre)


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July 2004
Revised November 2009