Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lemay- a book report

By: Barrett Tillman

Those of you old enough to have seen the movie, “Dr. Strangelove”, will recall the heavyset General with his jowls hanging down and a stogie in his mouth. This was a caricature of General Curtis E. Lemay. Everyone enjoyed the movie. It was designed to show the sickness that we lived with during the cold war. America and Russia poured our collective wealth into thousands of nuclear warheads and the delivery systems to send them on their way. Should that have occurred hundreds of millions would have died and there was concern that perhaps the world would cease to function as the result with the sun blotted out by the mushroom clouds.
While the movie was outrageous, it was not fair to General Lemay. This was a man who devoted his life in defense of our country. He was born in 1906 and early on developed a love for flying. He went through the lean years before the war and was ready when war broke out. He is credited with designing the box formation used by our B-17’s in Europe to defend against German fighter planes thereby saving countless American lives. He was transferred to the Pacific with the first B-29’s and is credited for making them into the weapon they became. He sent hundreds into low level fire bombing missions over Tokyo and other major cities causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands. He then sent the planes that dropped the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It, of course was not his decision, that decision came from President Truman, but it was he that carried it out. At that point the war was over. I am one of those that believe the war would have continued on with great loss of American lives had the air war not done its job. Brutal, yes, but then all warfare is brutal. The difference between average men and General Lemay was that he did what he had to do to end the war.
He was in command in Europe when Russia shut off all land transport to Berlin. It was he who started the airlift and kept improving it until such time as Russia relented.
He was the man who organized SAC, the Strategic Air Command. Under his leadership it continued to expand and improve throughout the cold war. Because of his leadership a nuclear war did not happen. Russia realized the futility of sending bombers or missiles our way. It would have meant the complete destruction of the Soviet Union.
He went from here to Washington advancing to Chief of Staff of all armed forces doing whatever he could to keep America strong. He retired in 1965 after serving 37 years. The world had changed and he was out of step. He, like General McArthur wanted to use our full potential in Korea and was denied. He wanted once again to use our full potential in Vietnam and was denied. The Bay of Pigs fiasco angered him and it was he that insisted on bombing the Cuban missile installations in Cuba. He was convinced that Russia would back down. Thankfully the embargo was effective and it was ended peacefully.
If you read this book you will be amazed at his accomplishments during his service years and beyond. All Americans should give him the honor and respect he deserved.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
May 14, 2009

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