- Historic Sites
Profile Of A Soldier: Matthew B. Ridgway
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
In August, 1945, Rideway started for the Far East, where he was to assume command of all airborne operations in the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. He was over San Francisco Bay when the pilot informed his passengers that news of the Japanese surrender had just been received.
When Ridgway returned from Japan early in 1946, he found that his earlier marriage could no longer survive the long period of separation and that divorce was the only solution. While serving as chairman of the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, he met Mary “Penny” Anthony, secretary to the United States Navy delegate on the board. She was still in her twenties; a correspondent for Collier’s described her as “a strikingly beautiful woman who makes other women reach uneasily for their mirrors.” They were married in December, 1947 son, Matthew B. Ridgway, Jr. (“Matty”), was born in 1949 while Ridgway was commander in chief of the Caribbean command.
“Penny has played an indispensable role in my career,” Ridgway says. “It was not an easy assignment for a young wife, especially at first, before people came to know her. I was a three-star general and the senior officer, or commander, or both, at the posts where I was stationed. This meant that she was the General’s Lady, the ‘First Lady’ on the post. Human nature being what it is, she naturally was subject to the envy of those loyal army wives who felt that their husbands should be in the top position. Penny ignored the petty annoyances. Her common sense, tact, and thoughtfulness for others won over everyone with whom she came in contact.” Other witnesses have agreed, including General Marshall, who said, “She amazes me. Her poise in a job like this is truly remarkable.”
Through five postwar years on his various military and diplomatic assignments Ridgway was horrified to watch the headlong rush of the American people and Congress to cut back their armed forces and dismantle their arms industry—a development, he feels, that General Elsenhower, as army chief of staff, seemed to endorse or at least to accept without noticeable public protest. In October, 1949, he became General J. Lawton Collins’ deputy chief of staff for administration and training, and he took up residence at Quarters Seven at Fort Myer. He personally pushed development of the new 3-5-inch bazooka, the airdrop of heavier weapons and vehicles, and the io5-mm recoilless cannon, a light, highly mobile artillery piece. And he wrestled with curtailed programs and reduced budgets imposed under Secretary of War Louis Johnson’s policy of “trimming off the fat.” His forebodings were realized in June, 1950, when the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel in a massive invasion of South Korea. Throughout the summer he studied the daily reports of poorly equipped, undertrained skeleton army regiments sent to fight in Korea, where they were mauled, decimated, and driven back, first by the North Koreans and then by Chinese troops in overwhelmingly superior numbers. “If we had had properly armed and trained units in 1950,” Ridgway says, “properly deployed, we could have choked off that aggression in a relatively short time with much less loss of life.” Ridgway became, in effect, the Army’s operations officer for Korea, and though he did not know it, he had been tapped by the chiefs of staff to assume command of the Eighth Army in the event of an emergency.
In early August, President Truman sent Averell Harriman to the Far East to meet with General MacArthur and convey to him the President’s policies. Generals Ridgway and Lauris Norstad were directed to accompany Harriman. Ridgway had known MacArthur since the early igao’s, when he was a faculty member and MacArthur was superintendent at West Point. He respected the general’s personal courage, quick mind, and tactical brilliance, his qualities of leadership, and his record as a soldierstatesman in the occupation of Japan. But he was profoundly disturbed by his conduct of operations in the Korean War. “He was trying to command General Walton Walker and the Eighth Army from Tokyo,” Ridgway says,