Ridgway, Matthew Bunker

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Ridgway, Matthew Bunker

(b. 3 March 1895 in Fort Monroe, Virginia; d. 26 July 1993 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), U.S. Army officer who served as commander of the Eighty-second Airborne Division and the Eighteenth Airborne Corps in World War II, commander of United Nations forces in the Korean War, and chief of staff of the United States Army.

Ridgway was the son of an army artillery officer, Thomas Ridgway, a native of Staten Island, New York, and Ruth Starbuck Bunker, of Garden City, Long Island, New York. He had one sister. In 1901, after his father returned from a tour in China, the family moved from Long Island to a series of army postings, including Fort Walla Walla, Washington, and Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

Between 1907 and 1912, young Matt Ridgway attended schools in North Carolina, Virginia, and Boston. He was admitted to West Point on 14 June 1913. He graduated at roughly the middle of his class of 139 in May 1917. After graduation, he was sent to Eagle Pass, Texas, on the Mexican border, where he commanded an infantry company.

Shortly before his West Point graduation, he married the first of three wives, Julia Caroline Blount, with whom he had two daughters. On 16 June 1930, the couple divorced, and Ridgway subsequently lost touch with his daughters. A few days after the divorce was final, the young officer married Margaret (“Peggy”) Wilson Dabney. In 1936 he adopted Peggy’s daughter. Peggy divorced him in June 1947. In December 1947 he married Mary Princess (“Penny”) Anthony, a descendant of Susan B. Anthony, whom Ridgway admired for her love of the outdoors and the strenuous life. Their son was born in 1949. He was hit by a train and killed during a canoe portage at the age of twenty-one.

In September 1918 the army ordered Ridgway to West Point, where he served as a Spanish instructor until 1925. The new academy superintendent, General Douglas Mac-Arthur, appointed him director of athletics. This prominent position helped him earn prime assignments to the Fort Benning infantry school in Georgia, and from there to the Fifteenth Infantry Regiment in Tianjin, China.

After China, Ridgway resumed troop duty with the Ninth Infantry Regiment in San Antonio, Texas, where the brigade commander, Major General Frank R. McCoy, took notice of him and invited him on a high-level military political mission to conduct and supervise elections in Nicaragua. Ridgway’s fluent Spanish made him an obvious choice and he jumped at the chance to go to Central America, even though he had to abandon his plans to try out for the 1928 Olympic pentathlon.

When he returned from Nicaragua, Ridgway took the new, much revised infantry course at Fort Benning, finishing first in his class. He held a variety of staff, school, and politico-military assignments through the 1930s, graduating from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1935, and from the Army War College in 1937. These school assignments placed him in line for generalship if war came. In 1939, he accompanied General George C. Marshall on an important military mission to Brazil, and Marshall soon appointed him the army’s desk officer for Latin America.

Despite some cloak-and-dagger work in Latin America, he loathed the desk job. By the end of January 1942, General Marshall assigned him to be General Omar Bradley’s assistant division commander for the Eighty-second Division, a position that carried with it Ridgway’s first star. Within seven more months he would get command of the famed Eighty-second Division, and with it his second star. In twenty-five months, he had risen from major to major general.

Shortly after Ridgway took command of the Eighty-second, the outfit was converted into an airborne division, requiring Ridgway to train his men in an entirely new technology that the army had never before used in combat. The Eighty-second Airborne fought valiantly under Ridgway’s command in the big airborne operations during the invasions of Sicily and Normandy. On 6 June 1944 (D day) Ridgway became the first Allied major general on French soil—the only one to drop in by parachute. But the air corps tended to scatter troops when they dropped them in both operations, so that the soldiers were insufficiently concentrated to carry out their missions without sustaining heavy casualties.

Ridgway was given command of the Eighteenth Airborne Corps in recognition of his combat victories against significant odds and despite serious technological obstacles during the Normandy campaign. But Ridgway had yet to prove himself at high command—late in 1944 Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower rated him thirty-one out of his thirty-two corps commanders. Eisenhower reevaluated his opinion of Ridgway after the Battle of the Bulge, writing General Marshall early in 1945 that Ridgway was one of the three top corps commanders in the European theater.

Ridgway commanded several more successful operations in the war against Germany, including Operation VARSITY, a drop on the far side of the Rhine River and the envelopment of the Ruhr River, in which his forces took 317,000 German prisoners. At the end of the war he successfully managed the Eighteenth Airborne Corps “dash to the Baltic” from central Germany—a logistical tour de force designed to cut the Red Army off from Denmark. During that operation, he won an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star for venturing out onto a bridge over the Elbe River that was under fire from German 88s, in order to encourage the engineers to finish the bridge in record time (he had been awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in the airborne invasion of Holland in September 1944). He was promoted to lieutenant general on 4 June 1945.

Postwar life offered a rich succession of posts between 1945 and 1950: commander of U.S. forces in the Mediterranean; U.S. Army representative to the United Nations Military Staff Committee; representative to the Inter-American Defense Board; and commander in chief, Caribbean theater. As deputy chief of staff for administration, he became the Pentagon point man on the Korean War.

On 22 December 1950, General Walton H. Walker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army in Korea, was killed in an auto crash. Ridgway rushed from Washington to Korea to assume the command. Many knowledgeable observers believed that superior Chinese forces would soon push the UN forces off the Korean peninsula. Instead, Ridgway reorganized the Eighth Army’s potentially disastrous retreat and advanced north to (more or less) the current border between the Koreas, a feat that was described by the army chief of staff General Maxwell Taylor as “the finest example of military leadership in this century.” Shortly after President Harry S. Truman fired Douglas MacArthur for insubordination as commander in chief, Far East, in April 1951, he gave Ridgway the job. The appointment brought a promotion to full general on 11 May 1951.

Ridgway was less successful in the political military jobs he held in the 1950s, especially in his management of the Korean truce talks. But President Truman, eager to maintain the prestige that General Eisenhower had brought to the command of NATO forces in Europe, appointed General Ridgway to that critical position in 1952.

Eisenhower had lobbied against the appointment because he felt that Ridgway lacked political sensitivity. As president, Eisenhower kicked Ridgway upstairs to the office of army chief of staff (in July 1953) and then declined to reappoint him in 1955 after Ridgway publicly opposed Eisenhower’s “New Look” defense policy, which limited defense expenditures and built up the air force at the expense of the army.

Ridgway’s significant accomplishments as chief of staff include his steadfast defense of the army when it was attacked by the Republican senator Joseph McCarthy and his successful protest against American intervention in Indo china in 1954. He retired from the army as a four-star general and as America’s top soldier in 1955 and worked until 1960 as director of the Mellon Industrial Research Institute in Pittsburgh—one of the predecessors of Carnegie Mellon University.

In the 1960s he became famous for his criticism of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to send combat troops to Vietnam. He was later invited to the White House (in March 1968) as one of the “wise men” who advised Johnson to negotiate a withdrawal. He actively supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, and he traveled with Reagan on his controversial trip to the German Army burial ground at Bitburg in 1985. Ridgway died of cardiac arrest on 26 July 1993 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the age of ninety-eight and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Although he was not strong as a military politician, Ridgway was an excellent commander because he combined impressive personal courage with managerial and logistical skill. He was an excellent chief of staff because of his recognition of the limitations of American power. When the Eisenhower administration made it clear that that military expenditures would be limited, Ridgway understood that such limits on American military power dictated an avoidance of commitments to large-scale ground wars. Ridgway is remembered as a great commander because of the war in Indochina that he tried to prevent, as much as for the battles that he won in Europe and Korea.

Matthew Ridgway authored two books: Soldier (1956) and The Korean War (1967). His extensive collection of papers, photographs and oral histories may be found at the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. George C. Mitchell’s Matthew B. Ridgway: Soldier, Statesman, Scholar, Citizen (1999) is the authorized biography. Other biographies include Jonathan Soffer, General Matthew B. Ridgway: From Progressivem to Re-aganism (1998); Clay Blair, Ridgway’s Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II (1985), and The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953 (1987); and Roy Appleman, Ridgway Duels for Korea (1990). For additional bibliographic information, see Paul M. Edwards, General Matthew B. Ridgway: An Annotated Bibliography (1993). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 27 July 1993).

Jonathan M. Soffer

Ridgway, Matthew B.

views updated May 29 2018

Ridgway, Matthew B. (1895–1993), general, World War II and Korea; Supreme Commander, NATO; presidential adviser.Ridgway graduated from West Point in 1917 and rose through the ranks as an infantry officer. He served in a score of military and diplomatic assignments, graduated from the Command and General Staff School (1935) and the Army War College (1937), and was on staff with George C. Marshall, army chief of staff, in 1941.

During World War II, General Ridgway commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Europe (1943–44), dropping at Sicily, on D‐Day, and at Bastonge. In 1944, he assumed command of the Allied XVIII Airborne Corps. After the war, he served in a variety of command and staff positions, and in 1950 was appointed deputy army chief of staff. In December 1950, he assumed command of Eighth Army during the Korean War when United Nations forces were being attacked by the Communist Chinese. His wearing of hand grenades on his jacket symbolized his determination to resist.

Ridgway moved quickly to provide motivation and halt the Chinese south of Seoul. In “Operation Meatgrinder,” he counterattacked and established line Kansas, the United Nations' main line of defense across Korea. In April 1951, he replaced Gen. Douglas MacArthur as commander of UN forces. Reluctantly accepting the stalemate in Korea, Ridgway decided it would be too costly to take the war into China. Under orders from Washington, he initiated the truce talks which, in 1953, produced the armistice.

Ridgway succeeded Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander, NATO, in May 1952. Later, as chief of staff, U.S. Army (1954–55), he advocated a strong ground army, warning against Eisenhower's emphasis on airpower and nuclear weapons. He was an opponent of America's early involvement in Vietnam (1954) and again in the 1960s. As one of President Lyndon B. Johnson's “Wise Men” in 1968, he advocated U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War.

A highly successful, if often underrated, military officer, Ridgway was a gifted organizer, strategic planner, and political‐military coalition leader.
[See also World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Matthew B. Ridgway , Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway, 1956.
Paul M. Edwards , Comp., General Matthew B. Ridgway: An Annotated Bibliography, 1993.
Jonathan M. Soffer , Matthew B. Ridgway, 1998.

Paul M. Edwards

Matthew Bunker Ridgway

views updated May 29 2018

Matthew Bunker Ridgway

Matthew Bunker Ridgway (1895-1993), American Army officer, served as supreme Allied commander in Korea and immediately thereafter as supreme Allied commander in Europe.

Matthew B. Ridgway was born on March 3, 1895, at Fort Monroe, Va. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1917. Ridgway's early career took him to China, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, where in 1932-1933 he served as technical adviser to the governor general. In 1935 he attended the U.S. Command and General Staff School and in 1937 the Army War College.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Ridgway was in the War Department's War Plans Division. In 1942 he rose to commander of the 82d Infantry Division, which he converted into the 82d Airborne Division. He led the 82d in the invasions of Sicily and Italy and in 1944 parachuted with his troops into Normandy, France. Later that year he took command of the 18th Airborne Corps in Belgium, France, and Germany. In 1945 he became chief of the Luzon Area Command. Ridgway married Mary Anthony in 1947, and the couple had one son.

After the war Ridgway commanded the Mediterranean theater. From 1946 until 1948 he was chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board and from 1948 to 1949 chief of the Caribbean Command. In 1949 he returned to Washington as Army deputy chief of staff. Late in 1950, during the Communist Chinese offensive in South Korea, Ridgway assumed command of the U.S. 8th Army and organized the counteroffensive which drove the Chinese and North Koreans out of South Korea. In 1951 he succeeded Gen. Douglas MacArthur as supreme commander for the Allied Powers in Japan, as commander of United Nations forces in Korea, and as commander of all United States forces in the Far East.

Unlike the other generals who directed the Korean War, Ridgway rejected MacArthur's strategy for victory—an Allied advance to the Yalu River. Instead, he conducted a limited war until President Harry Truman transferred him to Europe to succeed Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as supreme commander of the Allied Powers in Europe in 1952. Ridgway served as chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1953 until he retired in 1955.

Ridgway's many military decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Silver Star. In civilian life, he became a business executive. He served as a member of the board of Colt Industries and as chairman of the board of trustees of the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.

Further Reading

Ridgway's accounts of his career are in his Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway (1956) and The Korean War (1967). His activity in World War II is assessed in John S. D. Eisenhower, The Bitter Woods (1969) and Clay Blair, Ridgway's Paratroopers: The American Airborne in World War II (1985). His role in the Korean War is recounted in Harry J. Middleton, The Compact History of the Korean War (1965); Roy Appleman, Ridgway duels for Korea (1990). Also, Ridgway's own reflections on the Korean war and related events are in The Korean War: How We Met the Challenge (1986). An unsympathetic view of Ridgway is in Isidor F. Stone, The Hidden History of the Korean War (1952; with new appendix, 1969). □

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