On this date in 1950, during the dark early days of the Korean War, a WW II hero assumed an important Army command in Korea.
Three days before, on Dec. 23, Lt. Gen. Walton Walker, commander of the U.S. 8th Army, had been killed in a Jeep accident in Seoul. Half a world away, in Washington, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, who had worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur two decades before, was handpicked by MacArthur to replace Walker.
So off to Tokyo hurried Ridgway to have his initial meeting with MacArthur, the UN senior commander in the Far East. They met on this date in 1950, the date Ridgway assumed command of the largest UN fighting force in Korea.
Before the fighting ended in 1953 Ridgway would assume another command, but that's a story for the future.
Ridgway graduated from West Point in 1917 and was commissioned an infantry officer. He did not serve in France during WW I, was a member of the CGSC class of 1935, a class distinguished by having four future four-star generals in it, all now in the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame.
He had had a distinguished number of assignments during WW II in the European Theater, in a new type of unit known as the airborne.
He commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily and at Normandy, and commanded the XVII Airborne Corps during Operation Market Garden. MacArthur was keenly aware of Ridgway's battlefield reputation and it came as no surprise to anyone that he was the one picked to replace "Bulldog" Walker.
Before the war ended he replaced MacArthur as supreme commander, then replaced Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as NATO supreme commander in Europe, and capped his career as the 19th Army chief of staff, retiring in 1955.
In 1985 he made his only return trip to Fort Leavenworth I'm aware of, to give a one-hour seminar to CGSC students in the School of Advanced Military Studies. Since he had never seen his photo in the hall of fame, I was asked to show him through Bell Hall, ending at the hall of fame.
I had never met a famous WW II general and was most pleased to be his guide. His photo was under Gen. George Patton's, and near MacArthur's. It was his photo as Army chief of staff, in the green class A uniform.
He turned to the CGSC deputy commandant, a brigadier general, and said "General, if I send a replacement photo, would you put it up instead of this one?"
The deputy commandant, who ended his career as superintendant of West Point and a three-star, said of course he would. A few days later while walking down the hall of fame hallway I saw a workman taking down a frame.
Page 2 of 2 - I watched as he replaced the picture with one of Gen. Ridgway taken in Korea, wearing combat gear, complete with steel helmet and a hand grenade on his chest. Today it remains the only one of more than 100 photographs in the hall of fame showing the inductee wearing combat gear.
A real soldier's soldier he was. On a lark I mailed him some propaganda surrender leaflets from the Korean War that had his facsimile signature, and requested that he sign them, which he did, and sent them back in my return envelope within a week.
He died in 1993 at age 98. I treasure having heard his talk to the students, and certainly treasure the leaflets he was kind enough to sign.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.