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Profile Of A Soldier: Matthew B. Ridgway
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
Mrs. Ridgway and Matty joined him in Tokyo in May, 1951, after a separation of five months—a time she describes as the unhappiest of her life. Ridgway, frequently absent on trips to Korea, relied heavily on his wife to fulfill social obligations that were a part of his work, and he declared near the end of his stay in the Far East: “If I have had any success with the Japanese, it is due to my wife.” She represented him at the funeral of the dowager empress, and she accompanied him to a precedent-breaking luncheon in the Japanese Imperial Palace as guests of Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako. It was the first visit of a supreme commander to the Imperial Palace.
Ridgway returned to the United States in May, 1952, on his way to a new assignment in Europe. A private talk with Commander in Chief Harry Truman began a whirlwind week. He, Mrs. Ridgway, and three-year-old Matty then rode on the President’s private train to attend a 15oth anniversary ceremony at West Point, where Ridgway received a second oak leaf cluster for his Distinguished Service Medal, pinned on his tunic by President Truman for “magnificent personal leadership” in the Korean War. Back in Washington he testified at length on the Far East behind closed doors before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He went to Fort McNair for a special review and reception. He addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress and a joint session of Washington’s three top press clubs. And for his new job he bought a tailor-made full-dress military-diplomatic uniform. The swallowtail black suit had epaulets, gold braid around the sleeves, and gold braid down the seams of the trousers.
The new job was that of supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, succeeding General Eisenhower. There were problems. The time had come for the NATO commander to divest himself of political activities and get about the business of procuring weapons and organizing a military force. And, as one columnist put it, Eisenhower had distributed the pledges at a giant bond rally; now it was up to Ridgway to collect on them—in a declining market.
The Ridgways lived in Villa St. Pierre near Paris, in the town of Marne-la-coquette. The general was away much of the time on visits to one or another of the fourteen NATO nations; when she did not accompany him, Mrs. Ridgway visited art galleries, attended the opera, painted landscapes (one of her hobbies), and organized American army wives in Paris for duty in military hospitals in and around the city. During the thirteen-month stay in Europe young Matty, by all accounts and appearances a delightful child, was one of the world’s most photographed persons: standing at salute beside his father, mowing down honor guards with his toy gun, entering or leaving airplanes with his doting parents. When the Ridgways were presented to the British royal family at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth asked Mrs. Ridgway: “How is little Matty? I’ve seen so many pictures of him that I feel as if I know him.”
Ridgway had twelve battle-worthy divisions when he took over the NATO command in June, 1952. At the end of his tour of duty he had some eighty divisions, active and reserve, in varying stages of strength and readiness—still far fewer than he felt were necessary to protect western Europe on a four-thousand-mile frontier against a possible enemy that had a hundred and twenty-five divisions, exclusive of satellite forces. On leaving Europe, Ridgway was expected to write farewell letters to appropriate personages in each NATO country, to be sent in diplomatic pouches or delivered by proxy by his aides. Instead he made a round of personal courtesy calls in each of the fourteen capitals.
He returned to the United States to become army chief of staff and on October 1, 1953, moved into that mecca of ambitious army officers, Quarters One at Fort Myer. The neighbors soon became accustomed to two sights: the general walking the two-odd miles to and from the Pentagon and the general standing on the front porch each evening with Matty, both saluting the lowering of the flag at retreat. He and Mrs. Ridgway asked General and Mrs. Marshall to accept a key to their old home and to use a second-floor suite whenever they wished to spend time in Washington; they did stay there several times.
Ridgway had now reached the highest post in his profession, but his two-year term was to be one of frustration and anguish of spirit. This was the period when Senator Joseph McCarthy was running rampant and Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens was being brutalized by attacks on himself and some of his officers. Of those attacks Theodore H. White wrote on March 30, 1954: