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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Matthew B. Ridgway, the man who succeeded General MacArthur

American Vignettes looks at General Matthew B. Ridgway, the man who took over command when President Truman fired General of the Army Douglas MacArthur for insubordination. He later took over for General Eisenhower in Europe. Today marks the 120th anniversary of General Ridgway's birth.

Succeed has two meanings. One is the person who replaces another person. The other is the person who has success. General Matthew Bunker Ridgway succeeded General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, and proceeded to succeed in the battlefield.

General Ridgway was one of those overnight success stories 40 years in the making. He was a soldier, statesman and leader, the kind who led the Greatest Generation to victory in World War II -- and a less satisfying but important stalemate in Korea, where Ridgway led the Allied forces out of retreat.

Born at Fort Monroe, Virginia, on March 3, 1895, his father was a colonel in the artillery. General Ridgway wrote "my earliest memories are of guns and Marching men, of rising to the sound of the reveille gun and lying down to sleep at night while the sweet, sad notes of 'Taps' brought the day officially to an end."

At 18, he applied for West Point -- and failed the geometry test. A year later, he tested again and was admitted. In 1917, he graduated, married and began his life as a soldier. He saw stateside duty in World War I, and then came the long period of an underfunded and largely forgotten military. His assignments were exciting, mainly because he knew Spanish. He taught at West Point, served under General Teddy Roosevelt Jr. in the Philippines, oversaw an election in Nicaragua.

Ridgway also graduated from Command and General Staff School, and the Army War College. He caught the eye of Generals George S, Patton and George Marshall. Within a month of the United States entering World War II, Ridgway had his first star. In August 1942, he took over the 82nd Division, which was converting from infantry to airborne. Within a year, the 82nd Airborne was in Sicily,

The New York Times reported:
In North Africa in the spring of 1943, General Ridgway planned the Army's first major night airborne operation, part of the invasion of Sicily. The invasion, which began on July 10, 1943, led to in a rapid conquest of the western half of the island. By the end of the month all resistance had ceased.
That first airborne attack, involving paratroopers dropped from airplanes and troops flown into enemy territory on gliders, made American military history, but it was carried out with severe losses. Both enemy and Allied antiaircraft gunners shot down more than a dozen of the 82d's transport planes. These and other losses resulted from staff failure, mistaken instructions and the newness of such an operation.
As a result, General Ridgway, along with other airborne commanders like Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor and Gen. James M. Gavin, had a difficult time persuading higher command of the ultimate effectiveness of landing soldiers and equipment by parachute and gliders.
But the 82nd Airborne would get another chance. And this time General Ridgway would lead the battle by jumping into Normandy on D-Day, braving enemy fire. He was 49.

"I was lucky," the general later said. "There was no wind and I came down straight, into a nice, soft, grassy field. I recognized in the dim moonlight the bulky outline of a cow. I could have kissed her. The presence of the cow meant the field was not mined."

He was not the only general on the line on D-Day. His old boss, General Teddy Roosevelt Jr., was the oldest and highest ranking American general on the battlefield that day.

Ridgway was put in charge of all five airborne divisions as commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. He led the corps through Operation Market Garden, and also pushed back the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. In battle he brandished a grenade on one side of his chest, a first-aid kit on the other.

After the war, Ridgway was the U.S. Army representative on the military staff committee of the United Nations. This turned out to be pivotal, when the United Nations entered the Korean War in June 1950. It was quickly a mess. Within six months, the UN forces were in retreat from a relentless Chinese army. Then, in December 1950, Lieutenant General Walton Walker, commander of the Eighth Army in Korea, died in a jeep crash.

General Ridgway took over. General MacArthur, who was in charge of the Pacific, told him: "Eighth Army is yours, Matt. Do what you think best."

What General Ridgway thought was best was going on the attack.

Military historian Kennedy Hickman wrote:
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 four-star 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.
The firing of MacArthur was necessary. He wanted to cross into China, which would have taken a war the world really didn't want to fight and widened it into World War III. Ridgway may have avoided a minefield on D-Day when he landed near that cow, but Korea was a minefield that he cleared merely by leading his men forward.

When Eisenhower resigned as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, in May 1952, to run for president, Ridgway succeeded him. Small wonder that Pulitzer Prize winner Murray Kempton wrote of Ridgway's death in 1993 (at 98): "The Old Army is finally dead and departed. The funeral of Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway has to be its last rite. He was 98 and had buried every comrade who had served with him between the two World Wars and had been his command-fellows in the second of them. Ridgway was the Old Army; and it is peculiarly fitting for him to have been behind all his brothers arriving at the grave because he was the best of them."

In 1986, President Reagan awarded General Ridgway the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying, "Heroes come when they are needed; great men step forward when courage seems in short supply. World War II was such a time, and there was Ridgway."

They call Korea the forgotten war, which would make General Ridgway the forgotten hero. America should be ashamed on both counts.

MacArthur and Eisenhower left big shoes to fill. General Matthew Bunker Ridgway fit them quite well.


  1. Don, I disagree with you about MacArthur. We were already in a world war there. The vast majority of the troops on the NorK side were Chinese. In the air our pilots faced the cream of the Russian crop. The U.S.S.R used Korea as a training ground for their pilots, and as a test facility for their engineers. We were flying inferior planes. Our F-80. F-86, and F6F Panthers were not as fast as the MIG15. The MIG also had a higher ceiling which gave them considerable advantage as they could dive to attack. The Soviets claimed to have created 52 aces! Truman and Stalin played poker there. Stalin Bluffed, Truman folded. If Truman had called his bluff, we might have avoided 40 years of cold war, numerous hot wars like Vietnam, Cuba might be a free nation, as would Many others.
    Your comment is akin to that of the lefties who say we are not at war with islam when clearly islam is at war with us.
    As for General Ridgway, he was willing and able to lead our men to Peking, or even Moscow. He was a smart diplomat though and learned to keep his mouth shut from MacArthur's mistakes. Truly the best and the last of the old guard.

  2. That may well be true, Jeremy, but we'd been fighting since December of '41, and the Russians and Chinese were eager to spend their men in battle; the US wasn't.

    The F-86 had a great kill ratio to the Mig-15--pilots and tactics.

    1. Sam, the Chinese had been fighting since 1937 and the Russians since 1939. We were Johnny come lately's to the game. China was in turmoil after their revolution. The communists used the war to unite the people in part, but also did a lot of executions. Same in Russia where some ten million were put to death in the years following the victory in Europe. Neither Roosevelt nor Truman did a good job of selling the war here at home. We are very much still a 3% nation. 97% of the American people would not lift a finger today to defend this land from our enemies, neither the foreign, or the domestic ones. A large part of our military is made of people who are foreign born. Had lunch today with a woman of Turkish birth who served with our forces in Iraq. Her story was an interesting one. Did not knowher this morning. You meet strange people at a hibachi grill some times.
      I agree 100% on the F-86. We have fielded a lot of planes like that, inferior birds with superior men in them. Our tanks have been of the same ilk from WW2 to 1985 when we fielded the Abrams. We defeated the superior Tiger with what amounted to a water pistol. Give an American soldier a chance, and he will show you what guts and glory look like. Same for our Marines, Sailors Airmen and Guardsmen. Kris Kyle was just one giant among many.

  3. Fort Stewart Bob SmithMarch 4, 2015 at 1:01 AM

    One of the benefits of working for Secretary Marsh, while in the Pentagon, was I got to meet so many outstanding Americans. General Ridgway and General Taylor were among them.
    I have met more than my share of politicians, but precious few warriors. I have always felt priveleged to have made their acquaintance.

  4. "The general and President Teddy Roosevelt are the only father and son to both receive the Medal of Honor."

    Untrue. Arthur and Douglas MacArthur also hold that record.