Paul Caraway led a life that brought him from Arkansas to points across the globe. He had a career as a solider, teacher, and attorney. He was a member of the distinguished political family, saw both parents rise to the U. S. Senate, and served in an army career that brought him to the rank of lieutenant general.
Paul Wyatt Caraway was born in Jonesboro in December 1905, the oldest of three sons. His father, Thaddeus Caraway, was an up-and-coming lawyer and aspiring politician, and his mother, Hattie Wyatt Caraway was a devoted homemaker. Much of his early life centered around his father’s political career.
He was three years old when his father jumped into politics and was elected prosecuting attorney for the Second Judicial District, which covered the northeast corner of the state. He watched his father’s steady rise in Arkansas politics with his mother’s diligent support. Caraway was 11 when his father voted as a congressman in support of World War I and spoke passionately in favor of President Woodrow Wilson’s war policies and postwar foreign policy aims. His father’s patriotism and support of the military doubtlessly influenced his career aims. Caraway, and his younger brother Forrest, eventually earned appointments to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Paul Caraway entered West Point in 1925, graduating in 1929. In 1931, he received the devastating news of his father’s death after a decade in the Senate. His mother was then appointed as U. S. Senator. Afterward, the younger Caraway expanded his education and earned a law license in 1933.
Called “Small Paul” because of his height, he developed a reputation as a workaholic. The army kept him moving from post to post often. He was assigned to the Fifteenth Infantry Regiment in China in 1935 as part of an effort to protect American interests in the area. After two years, he was reassigned back to the United States to become a law professor at West Point for the next four years.
With World War II underway in 1942, he was reassigned to the strategy and operations division at the War Department, helping to devise the military’s plan for winning the war. He sometimes found himself in diplomatic positions, working as a liaison with the British briefly in 1943 and as a military advisor for the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which set the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations after the war. Afterward, he was sent back to China where he worked as deputy chief of staff for plans, operations, and intelligence, coordinating with Chinese forces combating Japan. At the end of World War II in 1945, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for meritorious duty.
In 1947, he returned to the classroom, becoming a professor at the National War College. After two years, he was given command of the 351st Infantry Regiment. He then rose to become chief of the planning division for the army in 1953. In 1995, he was sent back to the Far East to take charge of the Seventh Infantry Division in South Korea.
The final years of his career were spent in Japan. Though Caraway had served in the infantry and served through two bitter wars, he never saw combat himself. In 1956, he became chief of staff for American forces in Japan.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him High Commissioner of the Ryukyu Islands and commanding general of the Ninth Corps, earning promotion to lieutenant general. The Ryukyu Islands, a chain of islands south of Japan that included Okinawa, had been under American occupation since the end of World War II. In his three years in the Rykyus, he often argued with diplomats and locals over returning self-government to the region. Like many in the army, he had grown concerned over the intentions of China after the communist takeover and believed in the important strategic position of the island chain. Caraway also had little faith in the abilities of the local population to govern itself and had stated so publicly. His clumsy comments did not help his position. Nevertheless, he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal in 1964 in honor of his post-war work and planned to leave his post.
Caraway stepped down from his position and retired from the army in August 1964 after 39 years in the service. He returned to Arkansas and set up a private law practice in Heber Springs. Until 1968, he enjoyed a quiet life as an attorney when a new opportunity arose. He accepted a position as a professor at Benjamin Franklin University in Washington, D.C., a college at the time known mostly as a business school. Caraway died in Maryland in December 1985, just ten days before his 80th birthday.