Military Combat/Military Strategist
Curtis LeMay’s gruff demeanor led many to believe that he was mean and detached, but these reports were far from accurate. While LeMay rarely smiled and was often uncommunicative, the general’s behavior was the result of a preoccupation with the important problems affecting him and his men. Those with whom he worked could attest to his altruism, as his continual efforts on behalf of his enlisted forces clearly showed.
- Participated in the B-17 mass flight to South America in 1938.
- Pioneered air routes over the South Atlantic to Africa, and the North Atlantic to England.
- Organized and trained the 305th Bombardment Group, developing formation procedures and bombing tactics.
- Led the Regensburg raid, a B-17 shuttle striking Germany and Africa during World War II.
- Planned the B-29 air raids over Japan during World War II.
- Following World War II he piloted a B-29 in a record flight from Japan to Chicago, Illinois.
- Organized the Berlin Airlift as commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe.
- In 1948 he assumed the command of the new SAC (Strategic Air Command) where he laid plans for the ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile).
- From 1957 to 1961 he was the USAF Vice Chief of Staff and was USAF Chief of Staff from 1961 to 1965.
Before he retired as Chief of Staff of the Air Force in 1965, General Curtis Emerson LeMay had become a symbol of the nation’s air power through his combat experience in World War II and his leadership in building up the Strategic Air Command.
An Ohio native, General LeMay was born in Columbus on November 15th, 1906. After attending, the city’s public schools, he graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in civil engineering. Following graduation, he entered the Armed Services as a flying cadet, completed his pilot training at Kelly Field in Texas and received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserves in 1929. In 1934, he married Helen Maitland of Lakewood, Ohio.
General LeMay’s first tour of duty was with the 27th Pursuit Squadron in Michigan where he served in various assignments in fighter operations before transferring to bomber aircraft in 1937. The next year, the General took part in the first mass flight of B-17 Super Fortresses to South America. This won the 2nd Bomb Group the Mackay Trophy for outstanding aerial achievement. Prior to the entry of the United States into World War II, LeMay helped pioneer air routes over the South Atlantic to Africa and over the North Atlantic to England. By 1942, the then Colonel LeMay had organized and trained the 305th Bombardment Group and led them into combat in the European theater. During the war he developed formation techniques that were later adapted to the B-29 Flying Fortresses over the Pacific.
As the commanding General of the Third Bombardment Division in England, he led the famous Regensberg Raid deep into Germany and Africa. In July of 1944, the General transferred to the Pacific to direct B-29 activities in the China-Burma-India theater, first as the commanding General of the 21st Bomber Command and later as commanding General of the 20th Air Force.
At the end of the war, the General made a dramatic return to the United States, piloting a Super Fortress B-29 on a non-stop record flight from Japan to Chicago. Upon arriving in the States, he was assigned to the Pentagon as the first Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Development.
In October of 1947, General LeMay was selected to command the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, where he organized air operations for the Berlin Airlift. But within a year he was back in the United States to assume command of the newly formed Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska – the future nerve center of a worldwide bomber/missile force. In nine years as the SAC leader, he built an all-jet bomber force from the remnants of World War II. And under his leadership, plans were laid for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
In July 1957, General LeMay was appointed Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, a capacity he served for four years until he was named Chief of Staff. Still rated a command pilot and qualified to fly jet aircraft, the General has won many awards from his government, and those of other nations, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two clusters and the Air Medal with three clusters.
In an essay he wrote looking back at his career, General LeMay said, “I am convinced that one of my chief compensations has consisted of performing important and interesting work in association with highly motivated people who occupy a respected position in our society. “I have always valued highly the opportunity,” he added, “to serve as a professional among professionals in the defense of our country and to observe the evidence of loyalty and teamwork that stands out up and down the line in a top-flight outfit.”
General Curtis LeMay died on October 1st, 1990.
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