EASTON — A Wittman man recently reflected on his service in the U.S. Marine Corps in the years immediately following World War II. Jim Ridgeway was emphatic that his story is not one of a hero, but he answered his country’s call and served honorably.
Ridgeway, who will turn 93 in February, was born on Tilghman Island and moved with his family to Niagara Falls, New York, in grade school when his father took a new job there. His attended high school during the early 1940s, and naturally World War II was in the forefront.
“For all the boys, the only discussion was what branch of service you were going in,” Ridgeway said of his classmates.
He volunteered for an accelerated course in which young men could graduate six months early in order to enter the service sooner, but the shooting war ended just as he was about to begin. “It was an interesting time,” Ridgeway said. “Patriotism was a thing, nobody ever disrespected the flag.”
After he graduated in 1946, Ridgeway went to see the Navy recruiter in Niagara Falls, but a Marine recruiter intercepted him en route.
“Before I knew it, he had me in his station wagon, took me to get a physical in Buffalo, and then took me to the train station and put me on a train,” Ridgeway said. “I called my mom and said I wouldn’t be home for 13 months.”
More and more recruits climbed aboard the train on the journey south, and it was full by the time they arrived at night in Parris Island, South Carolina. “They really laid it on,” Ridgeway said of the drill instructors.
“Everybody has stories about Parris Island,” Ridgeway said of the collective experience of misery that recruits are subjected to upon enlistment. The memories of the tough training bring him “a lot of laughs — now,” but they didn’t seem funny then.
After boot camp, the Corps sent Ridgeway to anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) school, where he learned to man .50 caliber machine guns; 20 mm, 40mm, and 90mm guns; and hand-me-down Army searchlights. “I remember the first time I heard a 90mm go off, I jumped six feet in the air. It was so loud,” Ridgeway reminisced.
He spend his enlistment stationed at Onslow Beach and Courthouse Bay in Camp Lejeuene, North Carolina. During his training, the AAA crews would fire at drones towed behind other planes off-shore over the ocean.
After his Marine service, Ridgeway studied ceramic engineering at Alfred University in New York, the start of his career in engineering, designing ceramic linings in industrial refractories that handle materials like molten steel and glass. During his career, he worked predominately in Pennsylvania, some in Illinois and Kentucky.
Upon his retirement, he and his wife moved to Wittman. His wife Dorothy, known as Minnie due to her Mohawk heritage, passed away last January at age 90, after 69 years of what he described as a “perfect marriage.”
Beyond driving a two-and-a-half ton truck, operating a searchlight and firing powerful anti-aircraft weapons, the Marines taught Ridgeway other lessons too: “Keep your mouth shut and go with the flow — most of the time anyway,” Ridgeway said.
A hunter in his youth, Ridgeway said he very much enjoyed his time on the rifle range. “Every Marine is a rifleman,” he said, echoing an enduring Marine mantra.
Ridgeway insisted that he did not deserve special credit, and instead he referred to a local friend who had served as a Marine on Iwo Jima.
He shared the story of Kenney Jarrell of Secretary, who fought as a Marine infantryman in the costly and brutal battle that famously featured the raising of the U.S. flag on the top of Mt. Suribachi.
Jarrell was decorated for valor after exposing himself to fire multiple times in order to help his comrades find the location of a hidden enemy. Jarrell was shot in the chest by a Japanese sniper, and was triaged and taken to a hospital ship full of severely injured Marines. Jarrell recovered, returned to Dorchester County, and became friends with Ridgeway.
“I don’t want any credit for doing anything,” Ridgeway said, “I got more from the Marines than they got from me. I loved the Marines.”
When asked if he thought that, when his country needed his service, he had done what he was called to do, Ridgeway laughed and said, “I did what I was told to do!”