Curtis Emerson LeMay (November 15, 1906 – October 1, 1990) was a general in the United States Air Force. LeMay is credited with designing and implementing an effective, but also controversial, systematic strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1965.
LeMay joined the United States Army Air Corps while studying civil engineering at Ohio State University. He had risen to the rank of major by the time of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor. He commanded the 305th Operations Group from October 1942 until September 1943, and the 3rd Air Division in the European theatre of World War II until August 1944, when he was transferred to the China Burma India Theater. He was then placed in command of strategic bombing operations against Japan, planning and executing a massive fire bombing campaign against Japanese cities and Operation Starvation, a crippling minelaying campaign in Japan’s internal waterways.
After the war, he was assigned to command USAF Europe and coordinated the Berlin airlift. He served as commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1948 to 1957, where he presided over the transition to an all-jet aircraft force that focused on the deployment of nuclear weapons. As Chief of Staff of the Air Force, he called for the bombing of Cuban missile sites during the Cuban Missile Crisis and sought a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, LeMay agreed to serve as pro-segregation Democratic Governor George Wallace’s running mate in the 1968 United States presidential election. The ticket won 13.5% of the popular vote, a strong tally for a third party campaign, but the Wallace campaign came to see LeMay as a liability. After the election, LeMay retired to his Newport Beach, California, home and died in 1990.