Korean War: General Matthew Ridgway

Matthew Ridgway
General Matthew B. Ridgway. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Early Life:

Matthew Bunker Ridgway was born March 3, 1895, at Fort Monroe, VA. 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, MA 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 gained entry the following year.

Serving as the undergraduate manager of the football team while at school, he was classmates with Mark Clark and two years behind Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.  Completing their course of study in 1917, Ridgway's class graduated early due to the US entry into World War I. Later that year, he married Julia Caroline Blount with whom he would have two daughters.

Early Career:

Commissioned a second lieutenant, Ridgway was quickly advanced to first lieutenant and then given the temporary rank of captain due as the US Army expanded due to the war. Sent to Eagle Pass, TX, 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, he 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 in pentathlon for the 1928 US Olympic team, he recognized that the assignment could greatly advance his career.

Accepting, he 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. Holding the rank of major, 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 Begins:

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 US 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. In this post through the summer, Ridgway was again 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 US Army's first airborne division and on August 15 it officially was re-designated the 82nd Airborne Division.

Rigorously training his men, 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. Having played a key role in planning the invasion, 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 issues outside of Ridgway's control.

Italy & D-Day:

In the wake of the Sicily operation, plans were made to have the 82nd Airborne to 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.

Playing a key role, they aided in holding the beachhead and then participated in offensive operations including breaking through the Volturno Line. 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 US 101st Airborne and 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..

Rallying his men, who had been scattered during the drop, Ridgway led the division as it attacked objectives to the west of Utah Beach. Fighting in the difficult bocage (hedgerow) country, the division advanced towards Cherbourg in the weeks after landing. 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. Command of the 82nd passed to Gavin. In this role, he supervised the actions of the 82nd and 101st during their participation in Operation Market-Garden in September 1944. Troops from XVIII Corps later played a key role in turning back the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge that December.

Operation Varsity:

Ridgway's final actions of World War II came in March 1945, when he led airborne forces during Operation Varsity. This saw him oversee the British 6th Airborne and US 17th Airborne Division as they dropped to secure crossings over the Rhine River. While the operation was a success, Ridgway was wounded in the shoulder by German grenade fragments. Quickly recovering, Ridgway continued to command his corps as it pushed into Germany during the final weeks of fighting in Europe. 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 US forces in the Mediterranean.

In the years after World War II, Ridgway moved through several senior peacetime commands.

The 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. Meeting with MacArthur, who was the supreme United Nations commander, Ridgway was given latitude to operate the Eight Army as he saw fit. Arriving in Korea, Ridgway found the Eighth Army in full retreat in the face of a massive Chinese offensive. An aggressive leader, Ridgway immediately began working to restore his men's fighting spirit.

Removing defeatists and the defensive-minded, Ridgway rewarded officers who were aggressive and conducted offensive operations when able. Halting the Chinese at the battles of Chipyong-ni and Wonju in February, Ridgway mounted a counter-offensive the following month and re-took Seoul. In April 1951, after several major disagreements, President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur and replaced him with Ridgway. Promoted to general, he oversaw UN 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.

Later Career:

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 forming the organization's military structure though his frank manner sometimes led to political difficulties. For his success in Korea and Europe, Ridgway was appointed US Army Chief of Staff on August 17, 1953. That year, Eisenhower, now president, asked Ridgway for an assessment of possible US intervention in Vietnam. Strongly against such an action, Ridgway prepared a report which showed that massive numbers of American troops would be needed to achieve victory. This clashed with Eisenhower who wished expand American involvement. The two men also fought over Eisenhower's plan to dramatically reduce the size of the US Army, with Ridgway arguing that it was necessary retain enough strength to counter the growing threat from the Soviet Union.

After numerous battles with Eisenhower, Ridgeway retired on June 30, 1955. Active in retirement, he served on numerous private and corporate boards while continuing to advocate for a strong military and avoiding a large commitment in Vietnam. Remaining engaged in military affairs, Ridgway died on July 26, 1993, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A dynamic leader, his former comrade Omar Bradley once remarked the Ridgway's performance with the Eighth Army in Korea was "the greatest feat of personal leadership in the history of the Army."

Selected Sources