Curtis Lemay Biography

Curtis LeMay was one of the greatest generals in the United States Air Force. This biography outlines his childhood, early life, career, major work, awards, personal life, legacy, timeline and trivia.

Quick Facts

Birthday: November 15, 1906

Nationality: American

Famous: Military Leaders American Men

Died At Age: 83

Sun Sign: Scorpio

Born in: Columbus, Ohio,, United States

Famous as: U. S. Air Force General During World War II

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Spouse/Ex-: Helen E. Maitland

father: Erving LeMay

mother: Arizona Dove (Carpenter) LeMay

children: Patricia Jane LeMay Lodge

Died on: October 1, 1990

place of death: March Air Force Base, California,, United States

U.S. State: Ohio

More Facts

education: Ohio State University

awards: - Distinguished Service Cross
- Army Distinguished Service Medal
- Silver Star

- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Air Medal
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Légion d'honneur
- Grand Cordon
- Order of the Rising Sun

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Curtis Emerson LeMay was an outstanding air combat leader during World War II. He developed the bombardment tactics and strategies that left Nazi Germany in shambles. Transferred to the Pacific theater, he took over command of the B-29s and led the air war against Japan and oversaw the dropping of the atomic bombs. After the war, he organized the famous Berlin Air Lift forcing the Communist bloc to realize the futility of the Blockade. He is regarded as the Father of the Strategic Air Command. He reorganized the SAC and enhanced its readiness to strike at a very short notice. He served as a general for seventeen years - longer than any other man in the history of the United States military and eventually became the Air Force Chief of Staff. He was always the best pilot, best navigator and best bombardier in every unit he served or commanded and often demonstrated his courage by personally leading his bombers on dangerous missions. He received every award his country could bestow - other than the Medal of Honor - and was decorated by many other nations. Post –retirement, his foray into politics was not successful as his nuclear war comments and his support of a segregationist candidate did not go down well with the voters.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • LeMay was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve in 1929 and received a regular commission in the United States Army Air Corps the following year.
  • In 1937, navigating a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress under pilot and commander Caleb V. Haynes, he helped locate the battleship Utah in misty conditions off California though provided wrong coordinates by Navy personnel.
  • In 1938, he navigated three B-17s over 610 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to intercept the Italian liner Rex, showcasing the ability of land-based airpower to defend the American coasts.
  • When the U.S entered World War II, he became the commander of the B-17 Flying Fortress unit, the 305th Bomb Group, led it in combat until 1943, and helped develop the combat box formation.
  • In 1943, he became the first commander of the newly-formed 3rd Air Division and in the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission led 146 B-17s to Regensburg, Germany, beyond the range of escorting fighters, despite heavy losses.
  • In 1944, he was transferred to the China-Burma-India Theater and directed Bomber Commands in China and the Pacific and was later placed in charge of all strategic air operations against the Japanese home islands.
  • He directed Operation Starvation, an aerial mining operation against Japanese waterways and ports that disrupted Japanese shipping and food distribution assigning the entire 313th Bombardment Wing, consisting of about 160 airplanes, to the task.
  • He flew a specially modified B-29 from Japan to the U.S. in 1945, setting several new aviation records including the greatest USAAF takeoff weight, and the longest USAAF non-stop flight.
  • After the war, he was transferred to the Pentagon but was sent back to Europe as USAFE (US Air Force-Europe) commander, and in 1948 appointed Chief of Operations for the Berlin Airlift during the Berlin Blockade.
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  • The airlift continued for 11 months—213,000 flights brought in 1.7 million tons of food and fuel to Berlin. Finally the Soviets relented and reopened land corridors to the West.
  • Between1949 and 1957, he was in charge of SAC (Strategic Air Command), and entrusted the task of transforming it into a force capable of conducting a nuclear war should the need arise.
  • He was the Vice Chief of Staff of the USAF from 1957 till 1961, and then made the fifth Chief of Staff of the USAF and continued to believe in the strategic air campaigns.
  • During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he clashed again with President John F. Kennedy and Defense Secretary McNamara, and wanted authorization to bomb nuclear missile sites in Cuba and opposed the naval blockade.
  • LeMay retired in 1965 and became involved in radical right-wing politics and was selected as the vice-presidential candidate of arch-segregationist former Alabama governor George Wallace during his presidential campaign.
  • A string of reckless and alarming statements that he was not afraid of a nuclear war with Soviet Union, made voters wary of nuclear war policy and white supremacy and crushed Wallace’s chances
Major Works
  • LeMay commanded the B-29 bomber operations against Japan, and his massive bombing campaign against more than 60 Japanese cities, in the months preceding the end of war resulted in one million Japanese civilian deaths.
  • He was instrumental in SAC's acquisition of a large fleet of new strategic bombers, establishment of a vast aerial refueling system, development of a strategic ballistic missile force, and enhancing their readiness capability
  • The United States of America recognized and honored Le May with the Distinguished Service Cross, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, awarded for actions during the World War II.
  • He received recognition for his work from thirteen countries, including Britain, France, Belgium, Japan, Brazil, morocco, Ecuador, Uruguay Sweden, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and even the USSR, receiving twenty-two medals and decorations.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Curtis Lemay married Helen Estelle Maitland in Ohio in 1934 and they had a daughter Patricia Jane.
  • He died on October 1, 1990 at March Air Force Base, California. He is buried in the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery at Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • Situated in Air Force Village West, in Riverside, CA, the LeMay Foundation helps widows of all Air Force Retirees, both officers and enlisted, through financial grants of assistance
  • He was the inspiration behind the comedy movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Peter Sellers.
  • The phrase "We should bomb them back into the Stone Age" has been attributed to this U.S. Air Force Gen., the scariest Cold Warrior in American history.

See the events in life of Curtis Lemay in Chronological Order

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Article Title
- Curtis Lemay Biography
- Editors,
Last Updated
- November 01, 2017
Curtis Lemay

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