Korean War: General Matthew Ridgway

Matthew Ridgway

Public Domain

Matthew Ridgway (March 3, 1895–July 26, 1993) was a U.S. Army commander who led the United Nations troops in Korea in 1951. He later served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, where he advised against American intervention in Vietnam. Ridgway retired in 1955 and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

Fast Facts: Matthew Ridgway

  • Known For: Ridgway was a U.S. military officer who commanded United Nations troops during the Korean War.
  • Born: March 3, 1895 in Fort Monroe, Virginia
  • Parents: Thomas and Ruth Ridgway
  • Died: July 26, 1993 in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania
  • Education: United States Military Academy
  • Spouse(s): Julia Caroline (m. 1917–1930), Margaret Wilson Dabney (m. 1930–1947), Mary Princess Anthony Long (m. 1947-1993)
  • Children: Matthew Jr.

Early Life

Matthew Bunker Ridgway was born on March 3, 1895, at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The son of Colonel Thomas Ridgway and Ruth Bunker Ridgway, he was reared on Army posts across the United States and took pride in being an "army brat." Graduating from English High School in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1912, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps and applied for acceptance to West Point. Deficient in mathematics, he failed in his first attempt, but after extensive study of the subject he gained entry the following year.

Ridgway was classmates with Mark Clark and two years behind Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. Their class graduated early due to the U.S. entry into World War I. Later that year, Ridgway married Julia Caroline Blount, with whom he would have two daughters, Constance and Shirley. The couple would divorce in 1930.

Early Career

Commissioned a second lieutenant, Ridgway was quickly advanced to first lieutenant and then given the temporary rank of captain as the U.S. Army expanded due to the war. Sent to Eagle Pass, Texas, he briefly commanded an infantry company in the 3rd Infantry Regiment before being sent back to West Point in 1918 to teach Spanish and manage the athletic program. At the time, Ridgway was upset with the assignment as he believed combat service during the war would be critical to future advancement and that "the soldier who had had no share in this last great victory of good over evil would be ruined." In the years after the war, Ridgway moved through routine peacetime assignments and was selected for the Infantry School in 1924.

Rising Through the Ranks

Completing the course of instruction, Ridgway was dispatched to Tientsin, China, to command a company of the 15th Infantry Regiment. In 1927, he was asked by Major General Frank Ross McCoy to take part in a mission to Nicaragua due to his skills in Spanish. Though Ridgway had hoped to qualify for the 1928 U.S. Olympic pentathlon team, he recognized that the assignment could greatly advance his career.

Ridgway traveled south, where he aided in supervising free elections. Three years later, he was assigned as the military advisor to the Governor-General of the Philippines, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. His success in this post led to his appointment to the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth. This was followed by two years at the Army War College.

World War II

After graduating in 1937, Ridgway saw service as the deputy chief of staff for the Second Army and later the assistant chief of staff of the Fourth Army. His performance in these roles caught the eye of General George Marshall, who had him transferred to the War Plans Division in September 1939. The following year, Ridgway received a promotion to lieutenant colonel.

With the U.S. entry into World War II in December 1941, Ridgway was fast-tracked to higher command. Promoted to brigadier general in January 1942, he was made assistant division commander of the 82nd Infantry Division. Ridgway was later promoted and given command of the division after Bradley, now a major general, was sent to the 28th Infantry Division.

Airborne

Now a major general, Ridgway oversaw the 82nd's transition into the U.S. Army's first airborne division and on August 15 was officially re-designated the 82nd Airborne Division. Ridgway pioneered airborne training techniques and was credited with turning the unit into a highly effective combat division. Though initially resented by his men for being a "leg" (non-airborne qualified), he ultimately gained his paratrooper wings.

Ordered to North Africa, the 82nd Airborne began training for the invasion of Sicily. Ridgway led the division into battle in July 1943. Spearheaded by Colonel James M. Gavin's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 82nd sustained heavy losses largely due to problems outside of Ridgway's control such as widespread issues with friendly fire.

Matthew Ridgway, Sicily, July 1943
Major General Matthew B. Ridgway (center), Commanding General, 82nd Airborne Division, and staff, overlooking the battlefield near Ribera, Sicily, 25 July 1943. USMHI

Italy

In the wake of the Sicily operation, plans were made to have the 82nd Airborne play a role in the invasion of Italy. Subsequent operations led to the cancellation of two airborne assaults and instead Ridgway's troops dropped into the Salerno beachhead as reinforcements. They helped hold the beachhead and then participated in offensive operations, including breaking through the Volturno Line.

D-Day

In November 1943, Ridgway and the 82nd departed the Mediterranean and were sent to Britain to prepare for D-Day. After several months of training, the 82nd was one of three Allied airborne divisions—along with the U.S. 101st Airborne and the British 6th Airborne—to land in Normandy on the night of June 6, 1944. Jumping with the division, Ridgway exerted direct control over his men and led the division as it attacked objectives to the west of Utah Beach. The division advanced toward Cherbourg in the weeks after landing.

Market-Garden

Following the campaign in Normandy, Ridgway was appointed to lead the new XVIII Airborne Corps which consisted of the 17th, 82nd, and 101st Airborne Divisions. He supervised the actions of the 82nd and 101st during their participation in Operation Market-Garden in September 1944. This saw American airborne forces capture key bridges in the Netherlands. Troops from XVIII Corps later played a key role in turning back the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge that December.

In June 1945, he was promoted to lieutenant general and dispatched to the Pacific to serve under General Douglas MacArthur. Arriving as the war with Japan was ending, he briefly oversaw Allied forces on Luzon before returning west to command U.S. forces in the Mediterranean. In the years after World War II, Ridgway moved through several senior peacetime commands.

Korean War

Appointed Deputy Chief of Staff in 1949, Ridgway was in this position when the Korean War began in June 1950. Knowledgeable about operations in Korea, he was ordered there in December 1950 to replace the recently killed General Walton Walker as commander of the battered Eighth Army. After meeting with MacArthur, who was the supreme United Nations commander, Ridgway was given latitude to operate the Eighth Army as he saw fit. In Korea, Ridgway found the Eighth Army in full retreat in the face of a massive Chinese offensive.

Matthew B. Ridgway
Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, circa. 1951. Public Domain

An aggressive leader, Ridgway immediately began working to restore his men's fighting spirit. He rewarded officers who were aggressive and conducted offensive operations when able. In April 1951, after several major disagreements, President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur and replaced him with Ridgway, who oversaw U.N. forces and served as military governor of Japan. Over the next year, Ridgway slowly pushed back the North Koreans and Chinese with the goal of re-taking all of the Republic of Korea's territory. He also oversaw the restoration of Japan's sovereignty and independence on April 28, 1952.

Chief of Staff

In May 1952, Ridgway left Korea to succeed Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, for the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). During his tenure, he made significant progress in improving the organization's military structure, though his frank manner sometimes led to political difficulties. For his success in Korea and Europe, Ridgway was appointed U.S. Army Chief of Staff on August 17, 1953.

That year, Eisenhower, now president, asked Ridgway for an assessment of possible U.S. intervention in Vietnam. Strongly opposed to such an action, Ridgway prepared a report that showed that massive numbers of American troops would be needed to achieve victory. This clashed with Eisenhower, who wished to expand American involvement. The two men also fought over Eisenhower's plan to dramatically reduce the size of the U.S. Army, with Ridgway arguing that it was necessary to retain enough strength to counter the growing threat from the Soviet Union.

Death

After numerous battles with Eisenhower, Ridgway retired on June 30, 1955. He went on to serve on numerous private and corporate boards while continuing to advocate for a strong military and minimal involvement in Vietnam. Ridgway died on July 26, 1993, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A dynamic leader, his former comrade Omar Bradley once remarked that Ridgway's performance with the Eighth Army in Korea was "the greatest feat of personal leadership in the history of the Army."

Legacy

Ridgway was highly decorated for his military achievements. In addition to the Congressional Gold Medal, he received a Purple Heart, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Army Distinguished Service Medal. Ridgway remains a U.S. military icon and is widely admired by servicemembers.

Sources

  • Bachrach, Deborah. "The Korean War." Lucent Books, 1991.
  • Ridgway, Matthew. "Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway." Harper & Brothers, 1956.