Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel, Allegheny County
General Matthew Ridgway served as Supreme Commander of U.N. forces during the Korean War.
General Matthew Ridgway was born in Virginia in 1895 and commissioned as an officer in the United States Army from the West Point Academy in 1917. He commanded the Airborne during Operation Overlord in World War II and was later appointed Army Chief of Staff by President Eisenhower. He retired from the Army in 1955 whereupon he served as a member of the board of trustees at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. General Ridgway died at his home in Fox Chapel in 1993.
Matthew Ridgway was born on March 3, 1895 in Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was the son of Ruth Starbuck Bunker and Colonel Thomas Ridgway, a Field Artillery Officer and Civil War veteran. He was raised and attended school in Virginia where he focused on learning Spanish. He stayed in Virginia until he entered the West Point Academy in 1913. There he managed the football team until he was graduated and commissioned as an officer in 1917. He was ranked 56th out of 139 cadets in his class. He was promoted early in anticipation of deploying to World War I, but he did not make it into battle before the conclusion of the war. He returned to West Point the following year as a Captain and Spanish professor until attending the Infantry Officer's Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In the years leading up to World War II, Captain Ridgway commanded a combat company in the 15th Infantry Division in China where he worked with the Flying Tigers Squadron. The Squadron consisted of former American Army Air Force pilots who resigned from active duty to fly covert missions against the Japanese invasion and occupation of China long before the United States formally entered the war. The Flying Tigers are credited with hundreds of Japanese kills and the destruction of millions of dollars worth of Japanese war equipment. He made the rank of major during this assignment. He was considered to be an expert on foreign affairs and later sat on a commission that negotiated talks between Bolivia and Paraguay. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was next assigned as military adviser to the Governor General of the Philippines in 1930. He attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in 1935 upon his promotion to the rank of Colonel. General George Marshall was impressed with Ridgway and soon after the outbreak of World War II he was sent to the War Plans Division in Washington DC.
Brigadier General Ridgway was promoted to that rank in 1942 and given command of the 82nd Airborne Division, one of the nation's only two parachute divisions. He was the instrumental planner of the Army's first combat airborne drop into Sicily, Italy; an operation in which he always regretted not being able to jump personally. Ridgway was also responsible for planning the airborne jumps on D-Day on June 6, 1944. This time the general made the jump into Europe with his troops where he was wounded in the back and received the Purple Heart. The 82nd fought for 33 days while advancing toward St. Sauveur le Vicomte. In September 1944, Ridgway accomplished two new feats. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award, for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force and he was given command of the 18th Airborne Corps. There he led his troops through the invasion of the Rhineland and Ardennes. On May 2, 1945, his troops joined up with the Red Army at the Baltic Sea. He was promoted to Lieutenant General in the spring of 1945 at the conclusion of the war.
General Ridgway was serving in Washington at the outbreak of the Korean War until, in late December 1950, word came that Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, commander of the 8th Army had been killed in a jeep crash. The 8th Army was in full retreat after the Chinese Communist forces opened a massive counteroffensive a month before, and was fleeing back across 38th Parallel. He was named Walker's successor and quickly made his way to the combat zone in South Korea. He received the Legion of Merit Award for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements during this assignment and left Korea only once for a trip to Washington DC. to receive the Distinguished Service Medal from President Harry S Truman for outstanding leadership at the West Point Academy Commencement Ceremony in 1952. He returned to Korea the next day and served there until the conclusion of the epic battle between General MacArthur and President Truman. The President removed MacArthur as Supreme Commander and appointed Ridgway to the position where he served until the war's end on July 27, 1953, with the armistice between China and North Korea with the United Nations.
General Ridgway was appointed Army Chief of Staff by President Eisenhower upon his return from South Korea; however he was a stubborn man who was fiercely protective of the Army. Although this attribute served him well as a combat commander, it clashed with the politicians and especially the Secretary of Defense, Charles E. Wilson. Seeing there could be no resolution to their disagreement, the Army accepted his request for retirement in June 1955, only months before his originally scheduled retirement. His military career had spanned 37 years and three major theater wars.
Matthew Ridgway was married three times. His first marriage to Caroline Blount ended in divorce. His second marriage to Margaret Wilson also ended in divorce. In 1947, he married Marjory Anthony Long. He remained married to Marjory, whom everyone called "Penny," and they had two daughters: Constance and Shirley. He also had a son, Colin, who died unfortunately at an early age in a camping accident. Ridgway spent his retirement living in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania writing his memoirs entitled Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway and a book critiquing military leadership during the Korean War entitled The Korean War: How We Met the Challenge : How All-Out Asian War Was Averted : Why MacArthur Was Dismissed: Why Today's War Objectives Must Be Limited. He actively voiced his concern over the post-war transformation of the army. In his previously mentioned book, he says:
"I publicly protested the adoption of the volunteer Army, now a demonstrated failure and perhaps a disaster. I publicly deplored the dismantling of Selective Service and the admission of women into our service academies. Every one of those actions is now looming as potentially detrimental to the esprit and effectiveness of our armed forces - a blow at discipline, without which no military unit is worth its keep."
He spent the remainder of his retirement serving on the Board of Trustees of The Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. In 1986, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for civilians displaying especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. He lived with his wife "Penny" in their Fox Chapel home until he died of cardiac arrest in his home on July 26, 1993. He was 98 years old. He is most remembered as a fierce soldier, innovative leader, and loving husband and father.
Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002.
The Korean War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1967.
Edwards, Paul. General Matthew B. Ridgway, An Annotated Bibliography.Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.