Korean War (15)

Ridgeway in Korea

Ridgeway in Korea

Lt. General Mathew Bunker Ridgeway was chosen to replace the late Gen. Walton Walker. He arrived in Tokyo in the early evening of 26 December 1950, where he was given his orders to maintain a line of defense as far north in Korea as he could while keeping a hold on Seoul. MacArthur informed him that morale in the 8th Army was poor and he must supply the discipline they needed because of the methods of the CCF attacking at night and in mass. (American intelligence still had not identified General Peng Dehuai as the enemy’s major military influence.) MacArthur knew his wish to unite Korea under Syngman Rhee was not going to happen, but he still expected to hold the south.

Ridgeway had arrived in Tokyo anticipating to discount MacArthur, but by the end of the meeting, he gave his full support. When the 2 generals discussed the possibility of attack, MacArthur answered, “The 8th Army is yours, Matt. Do what you think is best.”


Ridgeway had left the U.S. in such a hurry that he only had his WWII uniforms, civilian gloves and a cotton cap to unpack at his new HQ in Taegu, Korea. He said, I nearly froze there in the few days…” Upon flying to Seoul, he appearance was different; he wore his trademark grenade fastened to the right shoulder strap of his airborne trooper gear, a first-aid kit to the left strap and a .45 pistol at his web belt. This would start his nickname, “Old Iron Tits,” but when he said he wanted to go to the front, the men gave him the title, “Wrong Way Ridgeway.”

He began to move his dispirited men around and shoring up his front lines and retraining of the 8th Army began. This was done to prepare for the Chinese New Year offensive he saw building up, but Washington thought differently. Just as MacArthur was forced to deal with the “Europe First” attitude in WWII, resources were once again being diverted to Eisenhower and NATO in the divided but peaceful Europe. Mao’s message to Peng read, “The so-called 38th parallel is an old impression in people’s minds and will no longer exist after this new campaign…”




On New Year’s morning, Gen. Ridgeway saw ROK soldiers streaming south.  They had abandoned, lost or black marketed all their weapons.  He jumped from his jeep, and with the assistance of American MPs, he managed to stop them and take control.  For the first 5 days of January, FEAF (Far East Air Force) fighter-bombers flew about 500 sorties a day, but were proving ineffective.  Peng’s “Third Phase” offensive seemed unhampered and Ridgeway knew he would be unable to maintain control of Seoul.  A witness to this day described it as, “like floodwater down a mountain.”

U.S. military leaders have a meeting - Ridgeway in center, MacArthur on right

U.S. military leaders have a meeting – Ridgeway in center, MacArthur on right


On 3 January, at the Battle of Wonju, the 674th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion was scattered over a large area and each gun was firing.  Sgt.First Class Maria said, “…there was heavy traffic of all kinds on the road…headed south… In one 20 minute period, my gun fired 80 rounds of high explosives, burning the paint off the tube in the process.”

4 January, Ridgeway wrote in his diary, “…the ice was 4″ or 5″ thick…men in rubber boats fought ice floes away from the pontoons with scenes reminiscent of George Washington crossing the Delaware…Beyond the Han [River] were nearly 100,000 fighting men.”

Gen. Peng refused to believe that MacArthur would remove all troops from Korea.  His CCF ammunition and food was running low, so he planned to pause at the 37th parallel to reorganize and wait for better weather.  When his intel reports came on 8 January that the American retreat had stopped, he feared it was nothing more than a ruse to trap him in the south.

On the 8th, MacArthur advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Chinese potential would render the Korean peninsula untenable.  Ridgeway received a document that indicated major elements of the 8th Army were to retreat to Pusan by 15 April — Ridgeway wrote “Disapproved” across the page.  Washington was looking for negotiations, but the JCS wanted confirmation of the situation; they sent the Army and Air Force Chiefs to observe first-hand.  The generals found the 8th Army to be in good shape and using the CCF lull in operations to organize offensive plans.

13 January, the 187th RCT (Regimental Combat Team), under X Corps, were sent to defend Punju Pass; they were forced to fight their way to the ridges overlooking it.  The enemy, with their reversible jackets were difficult to pick out, but the bombing was proving to be successful and the napalm cleared pathways for the 187th to move.  At 2100 hours, the Chinese started their massive attack, but none would even come close to the guns.  The following morning, the Rakkasans (187th) found enemy bodies everywhere; some in piles 10 deep.


The 56 year old Ridgeway, former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in WWII, was turning the war around.  One way he restored EUSAK (Eighth U.S. Army, Korea) morale was using the old method of insisting on a continuous front and letting the technology do the work; he called this “The Meatgrinder” of American artillery and air power.  The new matérial coming into Korea was hitting the lightly armed enemy hard, who had been accustomed to infiltration tactics rather than head-on confrontations.  Gen. Peng informed Mao that Korea could no longer be conquered by force.



Farewell Salutes –

CPL Thomas Edwards, NYC, Co. A, 8th Cav Reg, 1st Cav Div is fed by PFC Cornelius Bosma, Ontario,CA 8063 MASH I Corps

CPL Thomas Edwards, NYC, Co. A, 8th Cav Reg, 1st Cav Div is fed by PFC Cornelius Bosma, Ontario,CA 8063 MASH I Corps

Caroline Mansur – Prince George County, VA & Ft. Lauderdale, FL; US Navy LT. JG, WWII

William Barnes – Washington, DC; US Army, WWII PTO, Purple Heart

Harry Christian – Bowie, MD; US Navy, WWII PTO, gunners mate

Morgan Shinton – Lansford,PA & Boynton Bch., FL; USMC, S/Sgt, Korea, Good Conduct, Korean Service medals & UN Ribbon

John J. Clasby, Sr. – USMC Captain (pilot) Vietnam, Distinguished Flying Cross, (The actual helicopter flown by Clasby is at the Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport)

Richard M. Dragland – Alberta, Canada & Seattle, WA; US Army, Sgt., Vietnam, passed away while attending the reunion of the 53rd Signal Battalion.

Click on images to enlarge.

Resources: “Rakkasans” & “The Angels” by Gen. EM Flanagan; Korean War on line.com;”MacArthur’s War” by Stanley Weintraub; Korean War.org; history.army.mil


About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 23, 2013, in Korean War, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. I was in elementary school during this time period, but I do remember some of it. Thank you for a fascinating, historical, series.


    • You’re more than welcome. It did tend to grow, didn’t it?! What do you remember from elementary school? I recall having to sit under my desk in a drill for an A-Bomb attack. (Just how much protection did they think those flimsy desks going to be if one DID hit?)


  2. Korean War 14 ? Did I skip it ?


  3. This ISN’T the easiest subject to write about, I’m sure. You would think that “Europe First” would have been a phrase remembered about this war, and why it went the way it did. But I never heard it before. What a wonderful picture of Edwards and Bosma. Do families send you these to share?


    • Some do, I can’t wait to get back to WWII and Camp Polk so I can include what I received from Carl D’Agostino about his dad and unit. ‘Europe First” was the theme in WWII and since Washington assumed it was also be the site of the next uprising, the thought lingered.


  4. Didn’t know until recently that the M41 Walker Bulldog was named for Gen. Walker who was killed in Korea.


  5. gpcox – This is a war that I know so little about. My father and Uncles served in WWII, my brothers in Vietnam and stateside, my 2nd husband was too young for the Korean War and I was just a kid in grammar school. Thank you for teaching me about this little known war.


  6. The only specific “things” of the great Gen. Ridgway I knew was of his recognizance of “combat fatigue” (now PTSD) and just plain fright a soldier would endure for days on end. He recognized it was not a sign of cowardice but of the human makeup. The other amusing thing I had heard of Gen. Ridgway was his reference to a cow during a combat jump. I think he said something to the effect that the presence of a cow below him meant there were no landmines. 🙂 You’ve painted a concise image of this gallant leader – down to his hand grenade and first aid kit – and his importance to turning around Korea. Thanks, gpcox! I’m sure Smitty would follow him wherever he went.


  7. So much to learn from you!


    • It is amazing that none of this was taught in school. I , myself was totally unaware of what I was getting into when I ventured into the research. I’m glad you like it.


  8. Gen. Ridgeway was definitely the right man at the right time, again.


  9. Finally, it seems some order is coming to the war! I love the compassion and poignancy of the last photo.


  10. All I can say is thank you for bringing a face and dimension to this little understood war 🙂


  11. Really learning a lot from your series and liked the way you ended this instalment with how Mao was informed that now Korea couldn’t be taken by force – leaves us wanting more!


  12. Fascinating for me to read as I was too young to remember much of any of this.


  13. Ridgway’s book on Korea should be standard reading…


  14. I find the time period fascinating but perplexing. I remember the terrible thought that if we did not stop communism we would be overrun. It was called if I remember correctly the Domino Effect. After we lost so many countries in Europe, then most of China and many more we decided to make a stand. Korea was one of those stands. The sacrifice is now so forgotten and I am glad you have shown the truth of the brave men who made the stand for democracy.


    • Thanks, awax. I have my theories on why we were there, but I promised myself not to add my two cents unless I can do it in 2 sentences, but these men were sent, did their job and (IMO) way too many did not come home.


      • The problem is propaganda on both sides…

        You have to hate your enemy to be able to kill him.

        Propaganda played a big part in Hitler’s rise to power, Distruss reigned between Russia, France and England in 1939. The non-agression pact between Russia and Germany was the prelude to WWII. WWII was a direct consequence of sanctions imposed on Germany after WWI.

        Hitler used this among many other things to rise to power. Powerful industrialists were behind him. They had to be. How could a little German corporal in WWI be able to do all this all alone with a few of his buddies?

        Was that two sentences GP?


    • Awax, I don’t think the so-called domino effect was mentioned until a few years after Korea. Most Americans supported our action in Korea because it was a direct response to naked military aggression, one country invading another. Remember we went to war against Hitler and the Japanese in WWII not because they were undemocratic or fascist or just plain evil, but because they were military aggressors. The domino effect was the justification for our helping governments that were fighting domestic communist insurrections, not invasions from outside The thought was that if one country went communist its neighbor would fall too.


  15. Wonderful post and an amazing blog! I served with the Canadian military when I was younger, and then taught English in South Korea for a few years, so this post about the Korean War really hit home.

    Keep up the great work and I’ll keep coming back to read more of one of my favorite subjects!


  16. The info on General Ridgeway was a good expansion on what most of us know about him.


  17. My parents say it was much colder back in the day, but I dunno… the winters here in Korea have been really cold these past few years (summers hotter, winters colder). I wonder. hehe…Great post!


  18. You have to have experience winters in Canada to full appreciate what those soldiers on both sides went through.

    Great post GP that I will read a few more times with a good hot cup of coffee.


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