- Historic Sites
Profile Of A Soldier: Matthew B. Ridgway
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
Ridgway ordered commanders to set their men off the roads and onto the high ground (“They were roadbound”) and to increase their patrolling. He asked that exhausted field commanders be returned to the United States without prejudice and be replaced with fresh officers. He moved up the army forward-command post. After listening to the gripes of the men in the field he ordered the kitchens to move closer to the front lines and to provide large amounts of hot food, with hot meat served at least seven times out of every ten days. He had helicopters carry in writing paper, envelopes that did not stick together, warm clothing, and great bundles of gloves (“I knew from personal experience how easy it is to leave a glove behind or to drop it to fire a weapon and then not see it again”). He stopped the indoctrination talks on the noble aims and righteous cause of the United Nations and replaced them with sterner stuff (“I treated them as disciplined, trained men who would take professional pride in their toughness and skill as fighters and who wanted to win”).
He flew everywhere in a light liaison plane or a helicopter and day after day appeared in forward positions, always in an open jeep. A Turkish commander told a New York Times correspondent: “Ridgway is here almost every day. He makes our morale boost.” He was everywhere recognizable for his dress: pile cap with the bill tied back, blue and white Airborne patch on his shoulder, jump boots, and a parachutist’s web harness. To the harness were taped the parachutist’s first-aid kit and a live hand grenade. He has insisted for twenty-five years, sincerely but without much success, that in carrying the grenade he had no intention of emulating the showmanship of Patton with his pearl-handled pistols, MacArthur with his battered braided hat and underslung corncob pipe, Montgomery with his beret, Wingate with his beard and pith helmet. “I wore it solely for self-preservation,” he says. “It might have been very useful if my plane had gone down in enemy territory.” Whatever the intent, he achieved instant identification and a reputation for audacity, and his men gave him the ultimate compliment of an admiring nickname, “Old Iron Tit.”
The Communists began their assault on schedule on New Year’s Eve. The Eighth Army gave up Seoul for the second time in the war. Still fighting and in close contact with the enemy, it withdrew some seventy-five miles and then stood firm. On January 25, 1951, one month after his arrival in the Far East, Ridgway ordered a general counterattack with two army corps, about 365,000 men. By February 9 his troops were back to the H an River, driving before them a force about three times their size. James Michener, writing a profile on Ridgway for Life magazine early in 1952, said: “Within a few electrifying weeks Matt Ridgway had all his officers working on plans for attack, in a change of spirit and purpose so swift that none would have believed it possible. … In Korea the man has become enveloped in a great legend—a legend vastly complimentary and almost wholly true.”
The enemy twice renewed its attack, using massed forces for the first time in the war, suffered heavy losses, and was halted. Ridgway organized a February offensive. The Eighth Army retook Seoul, drove across the 38th parallel with relatively low losses, and halted. General Collins wrote in his book on the Korean War: ”… no longer was there much talk of evacuation. General Ridgway … was responsible for this dramatic change.” The military historian S. L. A. Marshall calls it “the most dramatic American command achievement of this century.” Ridgway gave the credit to his men. “The American flag never flew over a prouder, tougher, more spirited and more competent fighting force,” he said in 1967.
On March 24 General MacArthur precipitated a showdown between himself and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with whom he had been feuding, and between himself and President Truman. On April 11 Truman relieved him of his command and appointed Ridgway his successor. Ridgway heard the news in a hail and snow storm on the line in Korea. He flew to Tokyo the next day. General Collins has recorded that one of Ridgway’s first acts as supreme commander in the Far East was to have his chief of staff catalogue all orders, directives, and restrictions received by MacArthur since the start of the war.
Ridgway now carried on four jobs from his office in the Dai Ichi Building. He was deputy for the seventeen members of the United Nations furnishing troops for the continuing war in Korea. He was commander of all the United States forces in the Far East. He represented the eleven Allied Powers of World War n as military governor of Japan. And he was director of United Nations negotiations for a truce in Korea.
In June, 1951, the Chinese dropped their talk about the “inevitability” of Communist victory and let it be known that they were disposed to begin negotiations for a truce; discreet inquiries in Moscow confirmed that the offer was genuine. Ridgway (now wearing a fourth star), on authorization from Washington, broadcast an invitation to the Communists to meet with U.M. delegates, and a few days later the first meeting of two years of painful, crisis-filled negotiations began at Kaesong (briefly) and then continued at Panmunjom.