IRON EAGLE: The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay by Thomas M. Coffey
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IRON EAGLE: The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay

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An essentially sympathetic portrayal of the crusty LeMay, the conquering air commander whose less than winning ways and outspoken hawkishness earned him an ironic sobriquet: ""The Diplomat."" Coffey had the cooperation of LeMay (nearing 80 in Newport Beach, CA) and his family. He also had access to a wealth of other sources, notably oral histories with material not included in LeMay's 1965 autobiography (written by MacKinlay Kanter). Consequently, the author is able to provide telltale perspectives on LeMay's youth when he single-mindedly pursued an aviation career and his good-soldier service in the Army Air Corps before Pearl Harbor. Wisely, Coffey concentrates on furnishing balanced accounts of LeMay's substantive contributions to the defeat of the Axis powers and the creation of an independent Air Force after WW II. When the US went to war in 1941, LeMay was an obscure captain. Barely two decades later, as chief of staff, he piloted his fledgling branch of the armed forces into the Space Age and through the early years of the Vietnam conflict. An authentic hero in the Patton mold, LeMay personally led his well. trained Flying Fortress squadrons across fiercely defended skies to hit targets deep in Germany; he also pioneered the techniques that permitted B-29s to devastate Japanese industrial and population centers with incendiary as well as atomic bombs. After the shooting stopped, LeMay organized the airlift that prevented the Soviets from taking over Berlin. Subsequently, during a nine-year tour of duty, he virtually created the Strategic Air Command. As Coffey makes clear, however, there were dark chapters in the LeMay story. In typically blunt fashion, he feuded with civilian superiors and military colleagues on a number of issues--e.g., manned bombers vs. missiles, the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion, the star-crossed TFX (F-111), the use of American air power in Southeast Asia, et al. LeMay, though, took a bum rap on the score of bombing Vietnam ""back into the Stone Age,"" Coffey reports. Kantor was responsible for the quote, which dogged the retired general during his ill-fated 1968 vice-presidential run on a third-party ticket with Governor George Wallace and long after. Coffey's diligent probing has paid off in a coherent, revealing portrait of an innovative warrior whose accomplishments are perhaps of greater interest than his blunt, uncompromising personality.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Crown