Matthew Ridgway and Bill Moorman – Jump Buddies during World War II

Bill Moorman was a close associate and confidant of Matthew Ridgway throughout WWII and the rest of their careers.

  • Ridgway and Moorman attended the USMA together.
  • Moorman was the Division Signal Officer at the start of World War II and was later promoted to the Division G-4 on D-Day, 7 June 1944, when the original G-4 was a casuality during the night of the invasion.
  • Moorman served as the Division G-4 and later the 18th Airborne Corps G-4 under Ridgway for the remainder of the war.
  • Ridgway and Moorman led the way as the first jumpers of the newly formed 82nd Airborne Division.
  • Bill Moorman was instrumental in advising Ridgway on many occasions in the early years of forming the 82nd Airborne Division.

He was there with Ridgway when he jumped into Fort Benning to evaluate the newly formed and trained 504th Infantry Regiment. It was during this visit to Fort Benning that Ridgway decided that he and his staff would lead the way and was going to be the first paratroopers in the 82nd to jump. Staying at Benning only a few days, Ridgway would go on to request that the 504th regiment be the first airborne unit to join the Division. Moorman was also a West Point classmate of the 504th’s COL Reuben Tucker. So this was an easy choice for Ridgway and his staff to select the 504th as one of their first units. Bear in mind Tucker was not the Regimental commander when the unit was being evaluated and selected. He was the XO. Shortly after the evaluation, the original Regimental Commander was relieved and Tucker replaced him.

A few months later, Ridgway, Moorman, and select Division staff members again jumped into Benning to review and consider the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment for selection and assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division as well. Gavin was in charge of the 505th and at the time, he was the youngest Regimental Commander in the Army. The 505’s time in the Benning frying pan training area is part of their Regimental history. Gavin talks extensively about this in his book, On to Berlin. The 504th and 505th had just completed Airborne training as a regiment and Ridgway was very fortunate to be allowed to visit, interview, and evaluate these regiments before selecting them for the 82nd.  Imagine an entire Regiment going through jump school at the same time. I’m sure it was easy to start identifying your leaders the first day and keep an eye on them throughout the rest of the training.

Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division preparing for D-Day.

When Army Chief of Staff Marshall decided he was going to have two Airborne Divisions he asked Ridgway and Bill Lee (101st Airborne Division Commander) to get together and decide which staff officers, airborne cadre, Infantry Regiments, and Glider Regiments would go to the 82nd and which would go to the 101st. Moorman and Doc Eaton were side-by-side with Ridgway when he made these decisions with Bill Lee. On some of these decisions, they actually flipped a coin to determine who got the first choice of units or staff officers. Ridgway decided he was going to keep his G-3 (Eaton) and his Signal Officer (Moorman).  Some of the decisions made were, the 325th would go to the 82nd, the 326th, 327th Infantry Regiments would go to the 101st.

Serving together

Ridgway and Moorman were the first jumpers in the newly formed 82nd Airborne Division. During the Benning jump, Ridgway was the number one jumper after the wind dummy (LTC Doc Eaton, his G-3) exited the aircraft, and Moorman was jumper number four. In his book, Ridgway’s Paratroopers, he described Moorman as “soft-spoken, urbane, intellectually inclined. He was nearly unflappable and was blessed with not only a good ration of common sense but also a wry sense of humor”.

Dropzones, D-Day
Dropzones, D-Day to June 12th

During combat operations in WWII, neither Ridgway or Moorman jumped into Gela (South Sicily), Salerno, or Altavilla during the Italy campaigns. Ridgway decided he didn’t want to risk his staff on these crucial first combat jumps. Later during the war he would reverse this decision and insist that his staff go in either jumping into combat or via glider. As the Division was conducting their final planning for D-Day, Ridgway was determined he was going to jump into D Day. This would be his final qualifying, fifth jump, as a paratrooper. What a helluva final qualifying jumper! Jumping into combat, on D- Day, into a hot Drop Zone, and dodging German bullets. This is the stuff of legends. His alternative was to go in via Glider. His G-3, LTC Doc Eaton, talked him out of going in by glider and convinced him it was more dangerous than jumping. When Ridgway made the jump into D-Day, Bill Moorman was right behind him in the “Ridgway stick”. A stick made up of the Division Commander, his bodyguards, Division Staff, aides, his commo man, and his driver.

Moorman’s accomplishments and background

Bill Moorman was a pioneer in the Signal community in many ways. He was the first Signal officers to make a parachute jump and the first Division Signal Officer to jump into combat.

He started World War II as the 82nd Airborne Division, Division Signal Officer, and ended the war as the 18th Airborne Corps G-4.

Here is a little more background on Bill Moorman I found during my research. His son writes, “Bill graduated from high school in 1930 and went to West Point. This was the beginning of the Depression, and his father’s retired officer’s pay and the budget were not enough for college tuition, so the military academy was his best option. He graduated in 1934 as a second lieutenant in the infantry, where he spent four years. He transferred to the Signal Corps, went to the Signal School, and intended to transfer to the artillery after four years. But the attack on Pearl Harbor put us on a war footing, and the Army was not transferring anybody. So, Bill Moorman became the signal officer for what would become one of the legendary combat units of the war, the 82d Airborne Division, commanded by one of the most highly regarded field combat commanders of the 20th century, General Matthew Ridgway.

He was the Division Signal Officer for the 82nd Airborne Division in their campaigns in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He did not make a combat jump until the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. After landing, the Division G-4 was shot in the eye, and he (Ridgway) picked my Dad (Bill Moorman) to replace him. He remained one of Ridgway’s staff officers and a confidant for the next ten years, through the end of the war, in the Korean War and later when Ridgway was the Army Chief of Staff.

Airborne All The Way (Credits: Dan Nance)

He served for another ten years after Ridgway retired in 1955, including two long tours in France. His final position was as Commanding General of Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he retired as a Major General in 1965. When I turned 30 in 1979, I asked my father what his life was like when he turned 30, in February 1942, three months after Pearl Harbor. He told me, He was preparing for a war with no sense of where he would be going. His marriage was falling apart; his wife had just left their two children with his mother, who had just lost her third child, Robert, to a long illness. He spoke of this time of his life as intellectually arid and said, “Death, tragedy, divorce, desertion, human frailty are all part of the ultimate absurdity of life and fall indiscriminately on the just and on the unjust. One learns to live with them. But life is like a garden. It must be fertilized, watered, weeded, planted, hoed and cultivated.”

Words of wisdom from the Greatest Generation.

Bill Moorman had a long and distinguished career in war and peacetime. His impact on the 82nd Airborne Division and Signal Corps history has largely gone unnoticed and undocumented. However, his accomplishments and deeds on the battlefield should be part of our celebrations and remembrance. We need more leaders like Bill Moorman in the US Army Signal Corps and 82nd Airborne Division. Airborne! All the way.