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Korean War: General Matthew Ridgway

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Korean War: General Matthew Ridgway

General Matthew B. Ridgway

Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

Matthew Ridgway - 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 graduated in 1917.

Matthew Ridgway - Early Career:

Commissioned a second lieutenant, Ridgway was quickly advanced to first lieutenant and then given the temporary rank of captain due to American participation in World War I. Sent to Eagle Pass, TX, he briefly commanded an infantry company before being sent back to West Point in 1918 to teach Spanish. At the time, Ridgway was upset with the assignment as he believed combat service during the war would be critical to future advancement. In the years after the war, Ridgway moved through routine peacetime assignments and was selected for the Infantry School in 1924.

Matthew Ridgway - 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 chosen to take part in a mission to Nicaragua due to his skills in Spanish. While there, 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. 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.

Matthew Ridgway - World War II:

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. 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 again promoted that August and given command of the 82nd Infantry Division after Major General Omar Bradley was sent to the 28th Infantry Division

Now a major general, Ridgway oversaw the 82nd's transition into the US Army's first airborne division. Rigorously training his men, Ridgway 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. The first major airborne operation in US history, his men took heavy losses.

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. 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 to land in Normandy on the night of June 6, 1944. Jumping with the division, Ridgway exerted direct control over his men.

Rallying, the division attacked objectives to the west of Utah Beach and in the weeks after landing advanced towards Cherbourg. 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. 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.

Ridgway's final actions of World War II came in March 1945, when he jumped with the 17th Airborne during Operation Varsity. While the operation was a success, Ridgway was wounded in the shoulder by German grenade fragments. Quickly recovering, he was promoted to lieutenant general in June 1945 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.

Matthew Ridgway - 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.

Matthew Ridgway - Later Career

In May 1952, Ridgway left Korea to succeed General Dwight D. 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

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  7. General Matthew Ridgway - WWII and Korean War

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