After General Walton “Johnnie” Walker, the commander of the US 8th Army in Korea, died in a jeep accident in December 1950, he was replaced by General Matthew Ridgway.
General Ridgway was a seasoned veteran of WWII where he commanded the 82nd Airborne Division through campaigns in Sicily, Italy and Normandy.
Known for his uncanny memory of faces and ability to relate to his men, Ridgway often stopped to praise soldiers in the lower ranks for their performance. At the same time, Ridgway was ruthless in relieving any officer who did not meet his high standards for battlefield performance.
Ridgway was also known to enjoy taunting the enemy by bold behaviors such as standing in the middle of a road to urinate amidst heavy German artillery fire to display contempt for their accuracy.
To exemplify his battle readiness in the field, Ridgway always wore a hand grenade and first aid kit attached to his paratrooper’s shoulder harness.
When Ridgway took over command of the 8th Army that was retreating before the Chinese onslaught, morale was dismal and “bugout fever” was endemic. Ridgway immediately began to restore the 8th Army’s will to fight.
He cabled the Pentagon asking for permission to replace almost every division commander and artillery commander in the Korean theater. After considerable political consternation in Washington. Ridgway eventually was able to send ineffective officers home as part of a “rotation policy.”
Ridgway demanded warmer clothing for his troops, stationery to write letters home, and hot meals complete with steak and chicken.
On New Year’s Eve, the Chinese and North Koreans smashed through the center of Ridgway’s battle line with an all-out assault.
By January 2, 1951 Ridgway realized the 8th Army would have to abandon Seoul and move to defensive positions south of the Han River. On the wall of his abandoned headquarters he left this message: To the commanding general of Communist Chinese forces with compliments from the commander of the 8th Army.
South of the Han, the 8th Army settled into their newly-constructed elaborate defenses and waited for the Chinese attack.