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Profile Of A Soldier: Matthew B. Ridgway
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
Some time ago our contributing editor Robert C. Alberts asked General Matthew B. Ridgway if he would consent to be interviewed for the AMERICAN HERITAGE series “Before the Colors Fade.” The idea of the series is to record the impressions and comments of certain Americans whose careers have been so distinguished as to become a significant part of American history in their own lifetimes. General Ridgway, formerly supreme commander in the Far East and Europe, chief of staff of the United States Army, and before that a famous hero of both World War n and the Korean War, seemed a likely figure for the series; but although he agreed to answer Mr. Alberts’ questions, he asked that the interview not be published as such. He feels, he says, that the questionand-answer format inevitably makes the interviewed person seem too self-centered. As a compromise we have in this instance departed from our usual policy of not running regular articles about still-living individuals. The following profile of General Ridgway is based on a number of conversations, plus a study by Mr. Alberts of the general’s published work, of other articles written about him over the years, and of letters, documents, and scrapbooks he has made available. —The Editors
General Matthew B. Ridgway marked his eightieth birthday on March 3, 1975. He has a remarkable physique, vitality, and range of interests and activities for a man who has turned fourscore. His health is excellent except for recurrent spasms from a sacroiliac injury he sustained (and concealed) when, as a cadet at West Point, he was thrown from a horse. He is active as a director of a nonprofit foundation, of the Carnegie Hero Commission, and of Colt Industries, Inc., whose stock, he points out, has remained steady and only 5 per cent of whose business is in sales of arms to the government. He carries on an extensive correspondence with old army friends (e.g., Generals Omar Bradley, J. Lawton Collins, James Gavin), associates in government (George Ball, Robert Lovett, Cyrus R. Vance, Clark Clifford, Averell Harriman), and historians (Forrest C. Pogue, the late Cornelius Ryan). He writes an occasional article ( Foreign Affairs , the New York Times Op-Ed page, the military journals). He declines all speaking engagements except an occasional appearance at the War Colleges, where he responds to questions. He and his wife live in Fox Chapel, a wooded suburb of Pittsburgh, where he was for five years chairman and chief executive officer of the country’s oldest industrial-research organization.
Despite a gentle and considerate manner not always found in four-star generals, Ridgway flushes with indignation when he speaks on three subjects. One is General Sir Douglas Haig’s pointless sacrifice of tens of thousands of British troops in the Passchendaele offensive in the summer and early fall of 1917. Another is General Eisenhower’s conduct in 1952 when he appeared without protest on a campaign platform with Senator Joseph McCarthy, who in a three-hour Senate speech had attacked General George C. Marshall with what Ridgway calls “scurrilous and indefensible remarks whose evil effects persist to this day.” The third is the studied rudeness to which he was sometimes subjected when, as army chief of staff, he dealt with Secretary of Defense Charles E. “Engine Charlie” Wilson.
Matthew Bunker Ridgway was born in 1895 at Fort Monroe, Virginia, the son of a regular army artillery colonel who had served with an international contingent in the Boxer Rebellion. He was graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1917, two of his classmates being Mark Wayne Clark and Joseph Lawton Collins. He was assigned to the infantry (“It never occurred to me to choose any other service”) and served his first tour of duty as a company commander at Camp Eagle Pass, Texas, on the Mexican border. Then followed two decades of typical up-the-ladder peacetime service, with its frequent shifting from place to place, its rotation among staff work, field command, schools, and diplomatic-military assignments, and its long waits for promotion (seventeen years to reach the permanent grade of major). After six years as an instructor at West Point, during which he taught Spanish and was in charge of athletics, he had fifteen assignments in seventeen years: Fort Benning; a troop command in North China with Marshall; troop service at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio; Nicaragua; Bolivia; Fort Benning again; Nicaragua again; troop duty again in the Panama Canal Zone; the Philippines as military adviser to Governor Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.; the Command and General Staff School at Leavenworth (two years); Sixth Corps Area and Second Army headquarters in Chicago; the Army War College in Washington (one year); the Presidio in San Francisco; Brazil with Marshall; the War Plans Division back in Washington. Americans customarily kick their military around between wars; it is part of the American system. In 1941-45 that system produced a remarkable body of army commanders, some of them now almost legendary figures, and they outfought, outthought, and outgeneraled the best career professionals put in the field by enemies in Europe and Asia.