October 1, 1990-General Curtis E. LeMay (Ret.) dies at the age of 83 at March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California. The former General became a legend in the United States Air Force after reorganizing the Strategic Air Command and pushing for the development of the B-29 bomber which changed the Allied effort in World War II. Satirically nicknamed “Bombs Away Lemay”, he developed a reputation as an extreme patriot willing to go to whatever length was appropriate in the protection of the United States. And in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. StrangeLove’, the character of Jack D. Ripper is based on of Lemay. Warren Kozak’s account of the life of the late General is the definitive account of LeMay’s life.
Born in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1906, the young LeMay would find his calling in the U.S. Air Force in a career that last through several Presidencies. He was both lionized and feared by the oval office and subordinates. His decision to drop the altitude of the B-29 during the firebomb runs over Tokyo caused Robert McNamara to remark in Errol Morris’ ‘Fog of War’ that if we had lost the war we would have been prosecuted as war criminals. LeMay had also pushed for preemptive strike against the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis and said quite frankly that we should bomb the North Vietnamese back to the stone age during the Vietnam War. When segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace ran for President in 1968, he convinced LeMay to be his running mate and the decision would haunt LeMay for years to come. Interesting Wallace had served under the 20th Air Corp under LeMay in World War II but had never met the General prior to the campaign. LeMay’s decision to back Wallace confused and shocked many as Wallace was known to be a stanch segregationists where as LeMay had advocated for the fair treatment of all soldiers regardless of race. As we now know, Wallace lost and LeMay faded away remaining retired and living a quiet life until his death. Opinion about LeMay will always be divided but the fact remains that the late General, with his flaws, served his nation during World War II and was a patriot of the highest order.