Institute General Ridgway became Army Chief of Staff on Aug. 15, 1953.
Few positions within the Army require such a high level of leadership abilities. This promotion was the culmination of a long and distinguished career that included acts of heroism and leadership that continue to serve as an example for all soldiers.
It was Ridgway who was chosen to lead the transition of the 82nd Infantry Division — nicknamed the “All Americans” — to the 82nd Airborne Division early in World War II.
Ridgway was tasked to transform this division into the Army’s first airborne division. He invited Sgt. Alvin C. York, World War I hero with the “All Americans,” to serve as a mentor to his soldiers. Ridgway used York’s experience to provide lessons on soldiering learned on the battlefield, lessons that would mean life or death in the Mediterranean and European Theaters of Operations.
It was Ridgway who was asked to prepare his men for the most significant battle of the 20th century.
A modern-day Ulysses, Ridgway jumped into Army lore and parachuted into Normandy with his division in June 1944. That is one way to define leadership, like Ulysses, leading from the front, with his hand grenade strapped to his uniform.
Ridgway later remarked on wearing his trademark hand grenade, “some people thought I wore the grenades as a gesture of showmanship. This was not correct. They were purely utilitarian. Many a time, in Europe and in Korea, men in tight spots blasted their way out with grenades.”
The following year, Ridgway built a “bridgehead across the Baltic” preventing the Russians from taking Denmark. Then, in 1950-1951, it was Ridgway who revitalized fighting spirit and combat capabilities of the Eighth Army during the Korean War.
In April of 1951, he received an official radio message that President Truman had relieved General Douglas MacArthur and that Ridgway was to take MacArthur’s place as Supreme Commander for Allied Powers in the Korean War. His leadership held the troops together and drastically altered the course of that war.
He retired as Army chief of Staff in 1955 but remained active over the ensuing decades.
In 1984, during a presentation at the Army War College, Ridgway pronounced “The American Soldier, God he is great, he'll follow leadership if it is there, through hell and high water, and ask no questions, all he wants is leadership.”
He spent his life leading these men into battles and through wars, and he redefined our interpretation of an Army Leader.