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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Curtis LeMay]

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  • Amos J Wright
    LeMay was on the ticket as V-P for George Wallace s 1968 presidential run..ajwright@uab.edu ... From: biod-request@anb.org [mailto:biod-request@anb.org] Sent:
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 6, 2005
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      LeMay was on the ticket as V-P for George Wallace's 1968 presidential

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      From: biod-request@... [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, April 06, 2005 1:50 AM
      To: ANB bioday mailing list
      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

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      American National Biography Online
      [ illustration ]
      Curtis E. LeMay.
      Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90918).

      LeMay, Curtis Emerson (15 Nov. 1906-1 Oct. 1990), airman, was
      born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Erving LeMay, an ironworker,
      and Arizona Carpenter. Desiring a military career yet unable
      to gain appointment to West Point, he enrolled in Reserve Officers
      Training Corps (ROTC) while attending Ohio State University.
      LeMay left school without graduating to accept a commission as
      second lieutenant in the field artillery reserve on 14 June 1928.
      Inspired by Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic Ocean
      the previous year, LeMay volunteered for training at the Army
      Air Corps School at March Field, California, and received his
      wings on 12 October 1929. He subsequently toured with the Twenty-seventh
      Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan, and by 1934 had
      completed his degree in civil engineering at Ohio State. LeMay
      married Helen E. Maitland in 1934; they had one daughter.

      LeMay rose to first lieutenant in March 1935 and gained a reputation
      as a first-rate pilot and navigator. His career reached a turning
      point in 1937, when he transferred to the Forty-ninth Bombardment
      Squadron, Second Bomb Group, at Langley Field, Virginia, becoming
      one of the first qualified pilot/navigators of the new B-17 heavy
      bomber. In this capacity LeMay skillfully conducted the overwater
      interception of the USS Utah (1937) and the Italian liner Rex
      (1938), clearly demonstrating air power's utility to American
      defense. During this period he also commanded a squadron of B-17s
      on a goodwill tour of Latin America to underscore air power's
      potential for hemispheric defense. He gained promotion to captain
      in January 1940 and returned to Langley commanding the Forty-first
      Reconnaissance Squadron, and the following year he received command
      of the Seventh Squadron, Thirty-fourth Bomb Group. Promoted to
      major in 1941, LeMay next flew several experimental, long-range
      ferry missions to England and North Africa in another demonstration
      of strategic air power. He consequently received a Distinguished Flying

      The advent of World War II propelled LeMay dramatically in rank
      and responsibility. His exploits quickly established him as a
      leading exponent of aerial warfare. A lieutenant colonel as of
      January 1942, he was assigned to the 305th Bombardment Group
      in Muroc, California. LeMay advanced to colonel that March and
      accompanied his men to England as part of General Ira C. Eaker's
      Eighth Air Force. His innovative and daring tactics, such as
      restricting evasive maneuvers on approach to a target, resulted
      in significant improvements in accuracy. On 17 August 1943 LeMay
      personally conducted the first shuttle raid from England to Regensburg,
      Germany, before landing in North Africa. Audacious leadership
      culminated in his promotion to brigadier general in September
      1943 and to major general in March 1944. At thirty-seven, he
      was the youngest three-star general since Ulysses S. Grant. LeMay
      continued on as commander of the Third Bombardment Division until
      August 1944, when he was ordered to the China-Burma-India theater
      (CBI) as head of Twentieth Bomber Command.

      In China LeMay encountered the B-29 Superfortress, a technologically
      advanced aircraft still experiencing developmental problems.
      Overcoming tremendous logistical and operational challenges,
      he debugged the massive bomber and directed the first air raids
      against the Japanese mainland. LeMay concluded that the extreme
      ranges involved, coupled with a necessarily light bomb load,
      rendered these efforts negligible. When General Haywood S. Hansell
      of Twenty-first Bomber Command, operating from the much closer
      Marianas Islands, also failed to produce results, LeMay became
      his successor. Dissatisfied with high-altitude daylight bombing,
      he ordered his B-29s stripped of armament, laden with incendiaries,
      and sent in low at night. The results were devastating. The 9
      March 1945 raid torched sixteen square miles of Tokyo, killing
      an estimated 100,000 people. In rapid succession, LeMay's bombers
      gutted several Japanese cities, gravely crippling their ability
      to resist. He briefly assumed control of the newly created Twentieth
      Air Force in August 1945 before transferring to the staff of
      General Carl A. Spaatz, head of U.S. Strategic Air Forces. There
      he helped orchestrate the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
      that ended the war. He thereafter returned to the United States
      on a record-breaking nonstop flight from Tokyo to Chicago.

      Between 1945 and 1947 LeMay functioned as deputy chief of staff
      for air force research and development in Washington, D.C., and
      helped introduce the first jet bombers into the American arsenal.
      When the U.S. Air Force became a separate entity in 1947, he
      received temporary promotion to lieutenant general and command
      of all air forces in Europe. The rapidly unfolding Cold War afforded
      LeMay new opportunities for distinction. Between June 1948 and
      May 1949 he organized Operation Vittles to counter the Soviet
      ground blockade of Berlin. He personally remarked at one point
      to Secretary of State George C. Marshall that the blockade should
      have been run by force, but LeMay's aircraft nonetheless successfully
      delivered 2 million tons of supplies in 300,000 flights, thereby
      thwarting Soviet intentions. Before the airlift concluded, however,
      he was recalled stateside to replace General George C. Kenney
      as head of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). In that position
      LeMay was one of the prime movers of American nuclear policy
      and a powerful influence in the debate over national defense.

      LeMay's task of turning SAC into the world's finest strategic
      bomber force was daunting. In 1948 it consisted of only 610 obsolete
      aircraft, a handful of atomic weapons, and poorly trained, demoralized
      personnel. However, he proved himself a genius at procuring both
      modern, complicated weapons systems, like the all-jet B-47 Stratojet,
      and top-rate flight and ground crews to man them. Discipline
      was tightened, training became relentless, and SAC crews were
      deployed on a constant, around-the-clock basis. Furthermore,
      LeMay instituted his unique Management Control System (MCS),
      whereby subordinates would detect potential breakdowns in SAC
      and correct them before they occurred. By 1954 LeMay had succeeded
      in a dramatic fashion. Within six years he commanded a fleet
      of 1,000 jet bombers carrying sufficient megatonnage to annihilate
      the Soviet Union within days of a conflict. For the remainder
      of the Cold War, the United States possessed a strategic air
      force second to none that functioned as both a deterrent to hostilities
      and a guarantor of national security.

      In April 1957 LeMay departed SAC to serve as air force vice
      chief of staff under General Thomas White. In June 1961 President
      John F. Kennedy elevated LeMay to full chief. Unfortunately,
      his tenure was an unhappy one on account of differing perceptions
      with Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. LeMay, as purveyor
      of the "bomber cult" in the scheme of national defense, held
      manned aircraft at a premium and opposed any new technologies
      threatening that eminence. McNamara, by contrast, argued for
      lavish expenditures on highly sophisticated and expensive missile
      systems to enhance nuclear deterrence. LeMay also denounced Joint
      Chiefs of Staff general Maxwell Taylor's concept of "flexible
      response" toward communism and instead advocated a confrontational
      policy of rollback. LeMay's dissatisfaction crested with President
      Lyndon B. Johnson's policy of gradual escalation during the Vietnam
      War, and he resigned on 1 February 1965, concluding thirty-seven
      years of military service. LeMay served as an executive with
      an electronics firm, but in 1968, still concerned with Vietnam,
      he ran as vice president on the ticket with segregationist governor
      George C. Wallace of Alabama. LeMay's call to bomb North Vietnam
      "back into the Stone Age" was repudiated at the polls. However,
      his general view on the application of air power against North
      Vietnam was vindicated when Operation Linebacker II, a concentrated
      air assault upon Hanoi, brought the Communists back to the negotiating
      table in December 1972. LeMay died at March Air Force Base, Riverside,

      LeMay was a tough-minded and effective proponent of American
      air power. His seemingly gruff and blunt exterior belied first-rate
      analytical and administrative abilities. The Strategic Air Command
      and the high efficiency standards it set were his greatest efficacies.
      Conversely, LeMay's inflexible strategic disposition and imperious
      style alienated civilian superiors and undoubtedly cost him the
      chair on the Joint Chiefs. Nonetheless, vision, innovation, and
      dogged determination to succeed were hallmarks of LeMay's leadership
      and mark him as the twentieth century's foremost aviation strategist.


      Collections of LeMay's papers are at the Manuscripts Division,
      Library of Congress; the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian
      Institution; the Air Force Academy Library, Colorado Springs;
      and the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force
      Base, Montgomery, Ala. Oral histories are at the Office of Air
      Force History, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.; the
      Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Austin, Tex.; and the libraries of
      Princeton and Columbia Universities. LeMay's own writings include
      Superfortress (1988); Mission with LeMay (1965), with MacKinlay
      Kantor; and America Is in Danger (1968), with Dale O. Smith.
      A printed interview is in Richard H. Kohn and Joseph P. Haraham,
      eds., Strategic Air Warfare (1988). The best biographical treatment
      is Thomas M. Coffey, Iron Eagle: The Turbulent Life and Times
      of General Curtis LeMay (1986). Analysis of his military contributions
      is in Robert F. Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine (2 vols.,
      1989); Walton S. Moody, Building a Strategic Air Force (1996);
      and Carroll Zimmerman, Insider at SAC (1988). Other facets of
      his career are addressed in Harry R. Borowski, "Capability and
      the Development of the Strategic Air Command, 1946-1950" (Ph.D.
      diss., Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, 1976); William S.
      Borgiasz, "Struggle for Predominance: Evolution and Consolidation
      of Nuclear Forces in the Strategic Air Command" (Ph.D. diss.,
      American Univ., 1991); and James M. Doyle, "The XXI Bomber Command:
      Primary Factor in the Defeat of Japan" (Ph.D. diss., St. Louis
      Univ., 1964). Less flattering assessments are in Richard Rhodes,
      Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (1995), and Michael
      S. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power (1987).

      John C. Fredriksen

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      John C. Fredriksen. "LeMay, Curtis Emerson";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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