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First Name: Ridgely

Last Name: Gaither

Birthplace: Baltimore, MD, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 23 February 1903

Date of Death: 26 October 1992

Rank: Lieutenant General

Years Served: 1924-1962
Ridgely Gaither, Jr.

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Ridgely Gaither, Jr.
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army

Ridgely Gaither, Jr. was born on 23 February 1903, in Baltimore, MD, into the family that is the namesake of Gaithersburg, MD.

Ridgely was a graduate of Boys' Latin School, the oldest independent, nonsectarian college preparatory school for boys in Maryland. In 1924, he graduated from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD, one of the oldest U.S. colleges, chartered in 1784.

Military Career

Upon graduation from St. John's, he received a commission in the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. This seemed a fitting choice for a man whose family had included Army officers dating all the way back to the American Revolutionary War.

As is common with a young officer in his early years in the Army, Gaither served in positions of increasing responsibility and rank, in assignments located in the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii (both were then territories). He also served in China, and was stationed there when the Japanese invaded in 1937.

During the years before America entered World War II, Gaither graduated from the Infantry Officer Course in 1933 and, in 1939, from the Command and General Staff College.

World War II

Gaither was an early proponent of airborne forces and their use in offensive military operations. In 1943-44, after receiving a promotion to brigadier general, he became the second commander of the Army Parachute School at Fort Benning, GA. Gaither took his parachutist training along with the men under his command and qualified as a paratrooper.

While at the parachute school, Gaither was very instrumental in the formation of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, a segregated unit which was the U.S. Army's first African-American paratrooper unit. He also played a substantial role in that company's becoming the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. The story is related in the book "Black American's in Defense of Our Nation."

In 1945, Gaither went to Europe to take part in fighting against Nazi Germany, and that included a combat parachute jump with the 17th Airborne Division. He jumped east of the Rhine River and almost landed on top of a German anti-aircraft battery. The Americans took the position, and Gaither said later that one group of Germans might have been taken prisoner sooner - if he hadn't shot down their white flag of surrender. It was so dirty he couldn't immediately recognize it. He also said that he risked being fired upon while trying to retrieve a bag he dropped during the landing; it contained his dental plate.

Later in 1945, Gaither was assigned as Assistant Division Commander of the 86th Infantry Division in the Philippines, where he served until the end of the war and shortly thereafter.

Between the Wars

From 1946 until July 1949, Gaither served as Assistant Division Commander of the 88th Infantry Division with duty on the border between Italy and Yugoslavia. He also served as a member of the Allied Commission that established the border, and as Military Governor of Trieste. During this period, he also served as president of a War Crimes Court in Florence, Italy.

As a Brigadier General, Gaither was Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division from 19 July to 31 October 1949.

From November 1949 until after the start of the Korean War, Gaither served in the Operations Division of the Office of the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.

Korean War

Gaither was Commanding General of the 11th Airborne Division in Korea from February 1952 to April 1953. Major General Gaither became Commander of the 40th Infantry Division in 1953, fighting in the Punchbowl and Heartbreak Ridge sectors in Korea.

The Post-War Period

For a brief period in 1955, Gaither was assigned as Commanding General of the XVIII Airborne Corps.

From 9 August until 31 December 1955, Gaither served in Washington, DC, as Assistant Chiefs of Staff, G-2, Intelligence, and as Assistant Chiefs of Staff for Intelligence, from 3 January to 30 July 1956. [The word 'Chiefs' in each of the titles is used correctly and, although the titles are similar, they are separate positions within the Chiefs of Staff.]

After his promotion to Lieutenant General in 1956, Gaither became Deputy Commander of the Continental Army Command where his assigned duty was as Commander of Army Reserve Forces and National Guard units. He served in this position during 1956-1958.

In 1958, Gaither became Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army Caribbean Command, and remained in that post until 1960.

General Gaither's final Army assignment was as Commanding General of the Second U.S. Army. He assumed that position in 1960 and remained until his retirement from active duty in 1962.

Medals and Awards

Army Distinguished Service Medal (2 Awards)
Silver Star Medal (2 Awards)
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal

In Retirement

In 1966, General Gaither became the Police Commissioner in Annapolis, MD, where he served until 1973. Ridgely Gaither was the nephew of General Charles D. Gaither, who had served as Baltimore Police Commissioner.

Gaither was also a former president of the Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland; a former commander of the Annapolis Chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars; a Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Club of Annapolis; and a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant General Ridgely Gaither, Jr., died of congestive heart failure on 26 October 1992, at the Fairfield Nursing Center in Annapolis. He was 89. His first wife, the former Dorothy Bassford, died in 1969 and his second wife, the former Anne Harcourt, died in 1988. Ridgely and Dorothy were survived by their only child, a daughter, Elizabeth Ridgely Gaither, born 19 May 1928.

In 1948, Elizabeth met and married Colonel William VanDyke Ochs Jr., in Trieste, Italy. Elizabeth died on 12 May 2010 and is also interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Honoree ID: 3326   Created by: MHOH




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