Ridley McLean was a Navy Rear Admiral in World War I

November 4, 2019, Susan Harbor, Daily News Journal

Admiral Ridley McLean

The knowledge of a two-star Admiral growing up in Murfreesboro escaped me until recently. This single man originated superior Naval tactician precept and was the mastermind of the Navy we have today.

Rear Admiral Ridley McLean was born an only child to Thornton McLean (1838-1887) and Sarah (‘Sallie’) Caruthers Ridley McLean (1849-1872) on November 10, 1872 in Pulaski. His lineage carries a timeframe of politics, religion and warfare. His grandfather Attorney Finis Ewing McLean (1806-1881) of Logan County, Kentucky served in the Kentucky State House in 1837 within the 3rd District at the age of 30. He also labored as a luminary in the 31st Congress from 1849-1851. Ridley’s paternal uncle Captain Franklin McLean enlisted at 29 years old in Gantt’s 9th Battalion Tennessee, Calvary Company A in 1861 for the Confederate Army. Franklin is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia today. Ridley’s paternal uncle Reverend Edwards Gray McLean (1847-1916) of Kentucky was a prominent Cumberland Presbyterian minister through 1906. Ridley’s great-grandfather Reverend Ephraim McLean (1768-1813) of Logan County, Kentucky was the first ordained minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The McLeans held a history of deep spirituality and leadership in the church.

Ridley’s parents were born in Elkton, Kentucky, yet they resided in Murfreesboro and are buried in Evergreen. Ridley grew up in Murfreesboro and referred to our town as his original ‘home’ during his lifetime. Sarah was only 23 years old when she perished, and Ridley was just 12 days old. He never knew his mother, and both parents never witnessed his powerful success as an Admiral in ‘The Great War.’

Thornton worked in banking as an early vocation in Pulaski. After Sallie’s death, both Thornton and Ridley, as an infant, relocated to California for a decade; yet they returned to Murfreesboro in 1883 when Ridley was 11 years old. At age 15, Ridley was an orphan with the tragic passing of his father in 1887. Thornton loved his son deeply, and Ridley found himself under new circumstances. He then lived with his maternal uncle Army Captain B.L. Ridley and his wife and was contented to have a real home.

Ridley was focused to succeed at a young age and sought lofty goals to accomplish his mission as a Navy seaman. After attending Union University in Murfreesboro, Ridley studied two years at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and was then accepted to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in May 1890. His passage into the Navy was initiated and supported by Congressman James D, Richardson. His graduation in 1894 was an incredible feat with the absence of his parents to see firsthand his newfound attainment.

Ridley served on more battleships within his command than any single human in his lifetime. He also moved around the world in his vocation and never resided within one single habitat for a lengthy timeframe. In 1896, he served on the ships Oregon, Albatross, Adams, Panther, Marietta, and America (ammunition ship) during the Spanish-American War. In 1899, he rose to Lieutenant. His first key role was on the gunboat USS Marietta during General Reyes Rebellion in Nicaragua in February 1900. Later that year, he was aboard the USS Kentucky participating in the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. From 1900-1902, he was amidst action in the Philippine insurrection.

In 1904, Ridley authored the infamous 840-page ‘Bluejacket’s Manual’ for the U.S. Naval Institute. This invaluable text is the ‘bible’ for Navy personnel. In 1903, he penned a chapter entitled ‘Practical Naval Gunnery’ to the Text Book of Ordinance and Gunnery.

By 1906, Ridley was on board the USS Virginia followed by the USS Connecticut that was participating in the Great White Fleet from 1907-1909. The fleet of 16 battleships completed a journey around the globe under the order of President Theodore Roosevelt, who desired the mission to display U.S. naval power to the world. Ridley was now Atlantic Fleet Ordinance Officer followed by new duties as the Executive Officer of the USS Florida. In 1907, Ridley was designated as Lieutenant Commander. He served on the General Board of Navy from 1909-1911 followed by his service as a Navigator of the USS Florida. From 1913-1916, he was a Judge Advocate General for the Navy,

By December 1916, Ridley was ordered as the Commanding Officer of the USS Columbia through May 1917. During this time, Ridley wed Olive Gale (1881-1941) in Washington D.C. Upon their nuptials on November 8, 1916, Ridley was 44 and Olive was 35. Olive’s previous husband was William Curtis Hill of London, England, whom she wed at age 21. Olive was the daughter of Thomas Monroe Gale and a descendant of a deep-rooted lineage of prominent citizens, who settled in Washington D.C. Stanford University has a complete history intact of the Gale family. Olive was active in philanthropic charities in her hometown for many years. Moreover, Olive was an author and illustrator of a beautiful book ‘Flowers of Hawaii’ (1938) that is in active distribution today.

Ridley was a stepfather to Olive’s two children: Beatrice Moore (1905-1979) and Gale McLean (1908-1987). Beatrice was wed to Captain Charles Godwin Moore, who served in World War I and II; and their son Arthur Cotton Moore was one of the most foremost architects in Washington, D.C. In 1923, Ridley bought a Victorian home in northwest Washington D.C. named ‘Tanglebank’ in the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood just off Connecticut Avenue. Today, Ridley, Olive and Beatrice are buried together in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

With the United States entering World War I, Commander McLean was Chief of Staff for Battleship Force 1 in the Atlantic Fleet until 1918. His main mission was as commander of USS New Hampshire escorting Allied convoys. From September 1918 through September 1919, he commanded the USS Nebraska.

In 1919, Ridley was a Commander Captain and served on the staff of the Army War College from 1921-1922 in Washington D.C. From 1922-1924, Ridley commanded the USS Arkansas. Afterward, he was Director of Naval Communications from 1924-1927. He engineered groundbreaking shortwave radio on the USS Seattle in 1925. By 1927, he was an official Commander Rear Admiral, as well as commander of Battle force Submarines utilized as his flagship. He promoted submarine warfare far from home for long periods of time as a manner to win a war. In 1929, he was a Budget Officer for the Navy; and, in the same year, he was awarded a Navy Cross for World War I.

Ridley awoke on November 12, 1933 unknowing this would be the last day of his life on earth. At age 61, he was Commander of Battleship Division 3 and ready for a new day. Yet, while aboard the USS Nevada in San Francisco, he died suddenly from a heart attack. With an active career from 1894-1933, his life was abruptly at an end.

On November 13, 1933, Ridley McLean, a two-star Admiral had a funeral aboard the USS Nevada. Crews from all 50 warships in San Francisco stood at attention during his service. Afterward, the USS Nevada forged through the Golden Gate Bridge as the USS Pennsylvania fired a 13-gun salute. His draped coffin was then headed to Southern California for a second service. His widow Olive lived another 8 years and died in 1941 on the cusp of World War II.

Ridley McLean was a brilliant man, who was self-made with an innate desire to achieve great heights. He grew up in Murfreesboro and attended Union University with big dreams ahead. His father perished in Murfreesboro when Ridley was a teenager. He never knew his natural mother yet sought the best in all circumstances that passed his way in life. The positive influence of an uncle in Murfreesboro was an encouragement. Ridley rose to a position of great respect and admiration and is still studied and revered by the U.S. Navy today. We will always refer to him as our Naval hometown hero.

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