As a young man, I often read about famous military leaders, but I must admit that I had never heard of General Matthew Ridgway until I was much older. Why this is, I really do not know. General Ridgway made a mark in the overall system of how the United States Army is operated.
In an effort to educate more people about this great Army leader, I am writing this post. This is 32 cool facts about General Matthew Ridgway.
“Heroes come when they’re needed; great men step forward when courage seems in short supply.” Ronald Reagan describing General Matthew Ridgway
1: Army Birth
Matthew Ridgway was born into the Army it seems. His Father was an artillery officer by the name of Colonel Thomas Ridgway. His Mother gave birth to him at Fort Monroe, Virginia in 1895, and they moved to many different Army bases during his childhood years.
2: West Point Entrance Failure
After he graduated from High School in 1912, Ridgway wanted to make his Father happy, so he applied to West Point. Matthew did not do well at math, and he failed the 1st entrance exam. He was so set on entering West Point that he started studying math night and day. He passed his next entrance exam and was admitted.
3: 1917 Commission
Ridgway did well at West Point, and even managed the football team. In 1917, Matthew Ridgway was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army.
4: Maestro 2nd Lieutenant Matthew Ridgway
Instead of being deployed to World War I, 2nd Lieutenant Ridgway was assigned to be a Spanish teacher (maestro) at West Point. This depressed the young officer, and he exclaimed, “The soldier who had had no share in this last great victory of good over evil will be ruined.”
5: Fort Benning
6: 1st Command
In 1927, Captain Ridgway was sent to the chaotic Central American country of Nicaragua. His mission there was to supervise free elections that many have said were actually “fixed” by the U.S. Government.
8: Fort Leavenworth
In 1932, Ridgway was promoted to Major, and in 1935, he graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
9: More Education
In 1937, Major Ridgway graduated from the Army War College located at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
10: War Plans
When World War II started in 1939, General George Marshall assigned Major Ridgway to the War Plans Division where he was quickly promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel. He stayed with that division until 1942, and was promoted to Brigadier General upon leaving it.
11: New Command
Shortly after leaving the War Plans Division and being promoted, in August of 1942, Ridgway was given a new command. He was promoted to Major General and Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
12: The 82nd
Major General Ridgway was given a huge mission: develop an infantry unit into an airborne unit. The 82nd had a commendable record during World War I, and they were chosen to be the 1st United States Army Airborne unit, and Ridgway was tasked with making it happen. He converted a group of straight infantry soldiers into a top-notch airborne unit, all before he completed jump school himself.
The Army had decided to send Ridgway and his 82nd Airborne Division into Italy and planned to take Rome, but Ridgway knew this would be suicidal. He talked them clear of that thought pattern, and instead planned an Invasion of Sicily which worked quite well.
14: Operation Overlord
Ridgway also helped plan the 82nd’s Airborne assault on Normandy. As the great leader he was, he also jumped with his men and they fought for 33 days and helped liberate St Sauveur.
15: XVIII Airborne Corps
In late 1944, Ridgway was made Commander of XVIII Airborne Corps which consisted of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. These divisions with Ridgway in charge were highly instrumental in allied victory at the Battle of the Bulge, and after that, all airborne divisions were under XVIII Airborne Corps.
In March of 1945, Ridgway led the XVIII troops in Operation Varsity. They dropped into German territory, and he was wounded by hand grenade fragments embedding in his shoulder. Just 3 months later, Ridgway was promoted to Lieutenant General.
For some time, Ridgway was sent to the Philippines in 1945 under General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur. After that, still in late 1945, he was made Commander of United States forces in the Mediterranean as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander – Mediterranean.
18: United Nations
From 1946 through 1948, Ridgway was made the United States Army representative for the Military Committee of the United Nations.
In 1948, Ridgway made another move to the Caribbean. He was the Commander of United States forces in the Caribbean sector.
The situation in Korea was serious, and Lieutenant General Walton Walker had just been killed in a “freak” jeep accident. Ridgway was chosen as Walker’s replacement, and he was given Command of the 8th U.S. Army.
21: Morale Builder
General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur gave Ridgway full charge of the 8th. It was quite clear that the troops were “morale defeated.” They were only operating on a defensive stance, and that was not very strong either. When Ridgway arrived, he would interview subordinate leaders and if they did not give the right answers, they had to pack their bags. The morale quickly changed, and the 8th U.S. Army turned from a morale defeated defense force to a strong offensive division.
I mentioned the offensive that Ridgway used in Korea. The Chinese were pushing against the Americans, coming into Korea from China and returning. Ridgway used artillery to fire at the Chinese somewhat “breaking” rules of war, but it slowed the Chinese down and pushed them back. The reason it broke the rules of war is because he fired many rounds into China.
23: Full General
In 1951, President Harry Truman relieved MacArthur of Command. When this happened, Ridgway was promoted to full General, and was given Command of all U.N. Forces in Korea.
General Ridgway was nicknamed “Ole Iron Tits.” This was because he wore hand grenades at chest level.
25: General Ridgway’s Pardon Request
In a move that upset many people, General Ridgway requested that all German Officers who were convicted of war crimes be pardoned. He did this because he was over allied forces, and he felt he could not morally order German troops until he had requested pardons for previous Officers of theirs. He also exclaimed that they were being convicted for crimes similar to his firing rounds into China.
In 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower was replaced by General Matthew Ridgway as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. He helped turn NATO into a stronger organization, but he also made many enemies in the process.
27: Chief of Staff
Nearing mandatory retirement age, General Ridgway became Chief of Staff of the United States Army. When President Eisenhower was elected, he consulted Ridgway about the tension in Vietnam. It was Ridgway’s assessment that kept the U.S. out of the conflict at first, and Eisenhower approved a waiver of Army mandatory retirement for General Ridgway to complete his term as Chief of Staff. He was not chosen for a 2nd term because of his vocal output against actions of the administration.
On June 30th, 1955, General Matthew Ridgway retired from the United States Army.
General Ridgway wrote and published books that I suggest you read. His autobiography tells about his Army life from his perception:
Also, his book:
is a must read!
In the summer of 1993, General Ridgway passed away at 98 years old. At his graveside, General Colin Powell spoke these words: “No soldier ever performed his duty better than this man. No soldier ever upheld his honor better than this man. No soldier ever loved his country more than this man did. Every American soldier owes a debt to this great man.”
General Ridgway was given many awards, and I would say the most prestigious is the Congressional Gold Medal. Some of his other awards consist of:
Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters
And a lot more
Ridgway has had his name put on several sites to keep his great leadership in memorandum. 2 of those are:
The entrance to the Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum in Pittsburgh is named Ridgway Court.
The University of Pittsburgh has the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies.
General Matthew Ridgway helped mold the U.S. Army into the strength we have today. His memory can work as a mentor-ship for your Army leadership training. I highly recommend reading General Ridgway’s books, and studying his military expertise.
What are your thoughts about this leader? You can leave your comments or questions below. Also, there are some further reading links below. Thank you.