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Lieutenant General Ridgely Gaither's U.S./Colt M1908 Semi-Automatic General Officer's Pistol
This pistol (SN 135827) was presented to Lieutenant General Ridgely Gaither, U. S. Army. General Gaither took part in Operation Varsity in March 1945, when the U.S. 17th Airborne Division assaulted German positions along the Rhine. General Gaither's troopers landed near an enemy 20mm gun in positions held by Nazi paratroopers. Armed with this pistol and a G.I.-issue .45 auto, Gaither and his men successfully supressed the German fire, making this one of the few General Officer pistols to see use in combat.
Lieutenant General Ridgely Gaither was born on February 23, 1903 in Baltimore, Maryland. After completing his studies at St. John's College in nearby Annapolis, he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in the U.S. Army in 1924. His first assignment took him to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, where he served with the 11th Infantry, and , shortly after reporting for duty, Lieutenant Gaither married Dorthy Bassford on July 17, 1924. After a two-year tour at Fort Benjamin Harrison, he received orders to report to the 7th Infantry at Chilkoot Barracks, Alaska, where he remained until October 1929.
After returning to the United States, he was assigned to the 1st Infantry, Fort Francis E. Warren, Wyoming. Between September 1932 and May 1933, he was enrolled in the Company Officer's Course at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. He then served with the 13th Infantry on Civilian Conservation Corps duty at Windsor State Forest, Camp Savoy, and Fort Devens, Massachusetts until March 1935. Upon completion of this assignment, he reported to Tientsin, China for duty with the 15th Infantry as Adjutant, Company Commander, and Regimental Supply Officer. Captain Gaither was serving at Tientsin when war broke out between China and Japan in July 1937.
Upon his return to the United States, he served with the 12th Infantry at Fort Washington, Maryland. In 1939, he completed the Regular Course at the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after which he was assigned to Washington and service with the Training Office of the Chief of Infantry. In March 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Gaither transferred to the Ground G-3 (Operations and Training) Section, at Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, Washington. Promoted to colonel in January 1943, he became Chief of the Special Training Division of the Ground G-3 Section. Colonel Gaither was involved in the establishment of airborne troops within the Army prior to the Second World War, and in July 1943, he returned to Fort Benning as Commandant of the Parachute School. While serving in this position, he was promoted to Brigadier General in December 1943.
In 1945, General Gaither was assigned to the staff of the First Allied Airborne Army in Europe. He participated in Operation Varsity and jumped into combat with the 17th Airborne Division during the airborne assault on the Rhine River in March of that year. When the war ended in Europe, General Gaither became Assistant Division Commander of the 86th Infantry ("Blackhawk") Division, then en-route to the Philippines. After the Japanese surrender and a brief stay at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, he returned to Europe as Assistant Division Commander of the 88th Infantry ("Blue Devil") Division, which had occupied positions along the Italian-Yugoslav border.
During this assignment, General Gaither also served as a member of the Big Four International Boundary Commission, which established a new border between these two nations. He also served as president of the war crimes court in Florence. The 88th Infantry Division was disbanded after the ratification of the treaty of peace with Italy, and in October 1947, General Gaither became Deputy Commander and later Commander of the U.S. Forces and Director-General of the Allied Military Government British-United States Zone, Free Territory of Trieste. He also completed the Regular Course at the National War College, Fort Leslie J. McNair, Washington, DC, in 1947.
In June 1949, became Assistant Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne ("All-American") Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As war broke out in Korea one year later, he assumed the responsibilities of Chief of the Operations Division in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff in Washington. General Gaither took command of the 11th Airborne ("The Angels") Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in January 1952, and was promoted to Major General in March of that year. His next assignment brought a return to combat, as he became the Commanding General of the 40th Infantry Division in Korea in April 1953. While serving as the unit's commander, his troops saw action in the Heartbreak Ridge and Punchbowl sectors. He remained in command of the division after the Armistice, and in June 1954, he became Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence with the Far East Command, Japan. In May 1955, General Gaither was named Commanding General of the XVII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.
After serving in this capacity for three months, he became Army Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 (Intelligence) in Washington. Near the completion of his one-year tour, he was promoted to Lieutenant General. In August 1956, he reported to Fort Monroe, Virginia as Deputy Commanding General for Reserve Forces, Continental Army Command. In March 1958, he became Commander in Chief of the Caribbean Command at Quarry Heights, Canal Zone, where he served until July 1960. General Gaither returned to the United States one month later to take up his assignment as Commanding General of the Second U.S. Army at Fort Meade, Maryland.
General Gaither retired in 1962 after 38 years of service. During his career, he served as a General Officer in five infantry divisions, and was Commanding General in two of these. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star, as well as the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Korean Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, and several foreign awards.
After his retirement, he served as Annapolis, Maryland Commissioner of Police from 1966 until 1973. He also was president of the Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, Commander of the Military Order of World Wars, and a member of the Rotary Club of Annapolis and the Army-Navy Club of Washington. General Gaither died on October 26, 1992.