Matthew Ridgway: The Soldier Who Saved South Korea
Happy birthday to General Matthew Bunker Ridgway, born on March 3, 1895 at Fort Monroe, Virginia.
The son of an Army colonel and a 1917 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Ridgway went on to distinguish himself as one of the greatest soldiers in American history. During the Second World War, he planned and executed the Army’s first major airborne assault during the invasion of Sicily, personally led the 82nd Airborne Division into Normandy on D-Day, and guided the 18th Airborne Corps as it battled across the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. “General Ridgway has firmly established himself in history as a great battle leader,” reflected George C. Marshall, who served as Army chief of staff during World War II. “Heroes come when they are needed,” states Ridgway’s Presidential Medal of Freedom award. “Great men step forward when courage seems in short supply. WWII was such a time, and there was Ridgway.”
Ridgway (Left) and Major General James M. Gavin during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Highly decorated for his courage and steady leadership under fire during the Second World War, Ridgway continued to skillfully serve in the Korean War and was at his very best when he was truly needed most. After Communist China entered the war on North Korea’s behalf in late 1950, American and United Nations forces were driven back across the 38th Parallel, the line separating North and South Korea. With U.S. and U.N. troops on the verge of annihilation and the fate of the war hanging in the balance, Ridgway was called upon to take command of the shattered U.S. Eighth Army. Arriving on the scene near the end of December, he quickly brought order out of chaos, rallying his demoralized forces and launching a vicious counteroffensive that drove the enemy back across the 38th Parallel, saving South Korea from ruin.
Less than 100 days after setting foot in Korea, Ridgway had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. General Omar Bradley offered the ultimate praise for his fellow World War II veteran’s accomplishment: “It is not often in wartime that a single battlefield commander can make a decisive difference. But in Korea, Ridgway would prove to be the exception. His brilliant, driving, uncompromising leadership would turn the tide of battle like no other general’s in our military history.” Although the war ultimately settled into a stalemate along the 38th Parallel and ended in an armistice, South Korea survived, allowing many future generations to live and thrive under democracy. Without Matthew Ridgway, that would not have been possible.
General Ridgway in December 1952. (Photo Credit: Goodreads.com)
As he paced the battlefields of World War II and Korea, Ridgway always had a live hand grenade and a medical kit strapped to his chest at all times. Always prepared to fight and to lead his men forward, he was a soldier through and through. As General Colin Powell put it when he gave his eulogy for Ridgway, “No soldier ever performed his duty better than this man. No soldier ever upheld his honor better than this man. No soldier loved his country more than this man did. Every American Soldier owes a debt to this Great Man.”
Arlington National Cemetery: Matthew Bunker Ridgway.
Encyclopædia Britannica: Matthew Bunker Ridgway.
PBS: Matthew B. Ridgway.
The Art of Command: Military Leadership from George Washington to Colin Powell by Harry S. Laver.
The George C. Marshall Foundation: General Matthew B. Ridgway - Personal Reminiscences by Michael D. Swanson, M.D.
The Hall of Valor Project: Matthew Bunker Ridgway.
The Wall Street Journal: The Forgotten Maverick General Who Saved South Korea.