Hailing from a military family, Matthew Ridgway spent his entire childhood away at school or on army bases. It was little surprise that he applied for West Point on completing his schooling, gaining entry at the second attempt. He went on to teach Spanish and hence missed active service during the First World War.
The 1920s saw Matthew Ridgway in a series of junior infantry commands spanning most of those areas where the USA had an interest. Thus he served in the Philippines, China and Nicaragua, as well as in mainland USA. His recognition and rise to senior rank, however, was in a staff capacity. Throughout the 1930s, he undertook a number of important administrative roles, culminating in a senior position in the crucial War Plans Division. It was during this period that his talents came to the notice of General George C Marshall, who pushed Ridgway forward.
Consequently Ridgway was promoted to Brigadier General in January 1942 and by June he was promoted again and given an airborne division to train. This was the 82nd, which would become one of the army’s most elite formations. Ridgway led his paratroopers in tough fighting in Sicily and Normandy, jumping with them into battle. In September 1944 he was given command of the entire US Paratroop Corps, just in time for the disastrous Allied airborne assault at Arnheim. Brushing off defeat, his troops were to gain fame during the Battle of the Bulge and would be at the vanguard of the Allied advance into Germany.
After the war Ridgway held theatre-level commands in the Philippines, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean before his appointment to command the 8th Army in Korea. Taking over after General Walker’s death, Ridgway restored the morale and capability of the UN forces, eventually stabilizing the situation and gaining the upper hand over the Chinese.
MacArthur’s dismissal in April 1951 saw Ridgway promoted to full General and commander of all UN forces in Korea. Although Korea may have represented the epitome of Ridgway’s combat career, he went on to serve as Army Chief of Staff under President Eisenhower. This was a difficult period, as Ridgway opposed Eisenhower’s build-up of the navy and air force at the expense of the army.
He retired from public service in 1955 but built a successful second career in corporate management, serving at board level in several large companies. He remained interested in military matters, advising President Johnson against deeper involvement in Vietnam.
Matthew Ridgway was married three times and lived to the age of 98. He died 26 July 1993. One of America’s most highly regarded generals, he is buried in Arlington, Virginia.