Kennedy Sr. & LeMay: My Dad was DCS, Personnel for the Tactical Air Command when TAC and SAC were in a near death struggle. LeMay had pretty well established SAC, and O.P. Weyland was struggling to implement the lessons learned in Korea for ground attack. My father was within a year of having to retire for not having been promoted. He had been a permanent full colonel for thirteen years. When the promotion board met, Weyland (pronounced Wyeland) went to DC and asked if there was any reason why Bill Kennedy couldn't or shouldn't be promoted. The somewhat awkward reply was that he had been insubordinate. They were referring to a meeting in which LeMay claimed that SAC could carry out Truman's orders and bomb Moscow. My father reacted "Sir, you're a godamned liar." OP laughed at that and suggested they get LeMay on the phone to confirm that this was insubordination. They did and LeMay said that in no way was Bill Kennedy insubordinate, he (LeMay) was lieing through his teeth, knew it, and simply got caught. The promotion board, and several more before it, had heard the story but wasn't aware that the remark was true and that LeMay wasn't brooding about it. Dad's first star went on three months later.
There were several affinities between my Dad and LeMay that developed after they were classmates in the flying school. LeMay led the Regensburg attack, the raid on which my father was shot down and captured. While my father was getting German lessons LeMay went to the Pacific to command the heavy bombers. He wore a shiny new star. After WW-II he was instrumental getting my father assigned to targeting the very small special weapons arsenal. That was when the "Sir, you're a godamned liar!" comment was made. All admitted at the time and confirmed since that the comment was dead accurate. Those men had to face the CinC (Truman) and explain why they couldn't carry out the only order he had personally given them. Getting back was never a concern, it simply wasn't possible. The brand new USAF had to accept the fact they couldn't get _to_ Moscow through the bristling Soviet defenses. To their credit they took a page from Napoleon and Hitler's history and made other plans for their resources. I'm not sure my father ever forgave LeMay for getting him that Pentagon assignment and I'm not sure LeMay ever forgave him for wriggling out of it as quickly as he did to take over a related post at Sandia Base.
Their paths crossed on and off in the following years. LeMay was instrumental getting Bill Kennedy his first combat command. It was a really crummy B-26 outfit in France. The men lived, literally, in tents and ankle deep mud when it rained. These were the early days of NATO, before it actually had anything, his mission was to protect the southwestern flank with close in ground support. That wasn't LeMay's baliwick but since the aircraft were bombers and TAC didn't really exist yet (Weyland was in Tokyo working for McArthur) he was cognizant. One of my funnest recollections of him was ~1954.
He had arrived for an inspection tour and there was enough hostile communist activity in that part of France so that there was real danger of an assassination attempt. The staff car picked us up at home, I often rode to and from the base to have something to do, and proceeded to the hotel where LeMay was staying. My Dad had a loaded .45, round in the chamber, in a sweat sock on his right hand. LeMay announced that the base was to be put on full combat alert and the order was issued and authenticated with the staff car radio. We arrived at the main gate and were required to produce our ID cards. We all did except for the general who simply sat there chewing his cigar and scowling. The Air Police sergeant sentry respectfully requested ID several times and stated that we were going nowhere until he saw it, LeMay was a stone. The sentry undid the flap on his sidearm and stuck his helmeted head in the driver's window (LeMay was in the back on the passenger side behind me). "Corporal, you're going to have to refresh my memory." He leaned his left elbow on the window sill and moved his right hand to the butt of his .45. "Do I shoot the general first and then you or do I shoot you first and then the general?" There was an animated struggle with his overcoat and LeMay produced his wallet and ID card, the sergeant gave a snappy salute and motioned us through. My Dad unloaded his piece and put it away. The gate sentry was promoted on the spot by general order.
Very few of the senior USAF officers were aware of the close personal relationship those two men shared, so it was easy to believe the (true) horror story about "godamned liar" not realizing no offense was intended or taken. My purpose in recounting that was not to entertain, even though it's an interesting story (at least to his son). There is a myriad of things that keep otherwise effective officers from attaining flag rank, not the least of which is the finite number of flag billets.
Some of the Patton lore (he's one
of my heroes) came from O.P. Weyland who was his air officer from shortly
after he got to France until Germany was defeated. It was Gen. Weylands
XVIII Tactical AF planes that are depicted in the movie in the relief of
Bastogne. The LeMay lore is, however, first hand.
I decided that I would write the 1/c term paper on Regensburg/Schweinfurt. My dad was shot down attacking Regensburg, the raid LeMay led. When I started my research the historical information was too scant to be called spotty. There was a postage stamp sized New York Times article saying that the Eighth Air Force had attacked Regensburg (Messerschmidt plant) and Schweinfurt (ball bearings) today. There was a "fictional" piece written by Bernie Ley (he flew the raid as a journalist and made it back) that I later learned wasn't fiction at all but had to be called such because all of the official records were still classified fourteen years later. Gen Ira C Eaker had written a profiles in courage piece for Marine Corps Gazette that spelled out the kinds of horrors endured by his men doing the unescorted deep penetration raids into Germany. Eaker (pronounce Aykr) took the spear for the heavy losses of men and aircraft and was relieved by Gen Jimmy Doolittle (yeah, same one that flew off Hornet in a B-25) as the extent of the losses became known.
In a rare moment my Dad decided he'd let me interview him about the raid, what led up to it, how it went, what went wrong. He never would talk about it before and didn't since, but I had expressed my frustration with being unable to discover any definite or authoritative historical data. Mostly he put me on to people and places where I might learn more, i.e. where to drill. The USAF Historian at Maxwell AFB in Alabama was an old chum of his and Mid'n Kennedy tugged at the tail of his blouse first. I was politely informed in a handwritten note, not on USAF stationery, that he did have all the records but they were still classified SECRET. He suggested soliciting help from Gen Karl "Tooey" Spaatz (pronounce Spots), Eaker's CO and Eaker. Both men were retired in the DC area, I wrote each of them. I got most gracious replies from them as though they knew who Bill Kennedy was since I introduced myself as Jr. Heck, maybe they knew him, but he didn't think so. They certainly knew LeMay, who by our senior year was Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Each suggested that I enlist assistance from LeMay because they couldn't disclose anything specific even if they were familiar with the minutiae (they weren't).
OK, so I wrote LeMay. I had no reason to believe he'd make the Kennedy connection, so it was a simple plea from a midshipman to an officer senior enough to sweep aside the impediments to research. I was stunned when he not only remembered me as the "kid in the car the day I damned near got shot by one of my own APs" but also agreed to start rattling some closet doors for the data I sought. It was a handwritten note too, but on stationery with four stars on a blue flag! Forgive me if you know, an AP is the USAF equivalent of an MP or SP. About ten days after I got the warm and informal note from him I got a formal note on USAF stationery telling me that he was unable to get the Regensburg-Schweinfurt material declassified. He had succeeded in getting it downgraded to FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY, but I'd have to appear at the USAF Historian Washington office in uniform with ID to use it. He had ordered it shipped from Maxwell to Bolling, it was at Bolling by the time I got his letter.
I requested and got an EH&G Friday class waiver so I could go over to DC and work the material. I coupled that with the only weekend leave to which I was entitled and wore out several sergeants who had to safeguard me and the very sensitive nineteen year old material. I had stats on how many crews were briefed, how many launched successfully, how many aborted, how many made the Dutch coast, how many dropped bombs, how many rounds of ammunition were fired and of what caliber, I was a blind dog in a meathouse. I also collected names of men who flew the raid. Quick side vector so that a later sentence makes sense: tactics had the B-17s fly in a wedge, low lead and trail. This let them apply maximum firepower of the .50s and 20mm (tail only) guns to Luftwaffe interceptors intruding into the formations. It worked as well as could be expected, not as well as was wanted. Trail was often completely wiped out, low was too, lead usually survived.
Among the data I was able to mine from the USAF Historian archive was the name and address of the low trail tail gunner in the low trail aircraft in the low trail squadron of the whole freakin' show. He was one of four survivors of a crew of ten. He reported that there was a bottle of rum in the personal effects of one of them and it escaped interceptor gunfire and AAA shrapnel. He also reported that there were four rounds of ammunition left on the plane, all .38 caliber, one round each in each survivor's revolver. That's a shudder.
I am in awe of men who fired their survival vest weapons at enemy aircraft. I got a 4.2[sic] on my paper, I'll be forever in the debt of Curtis E. LeMay for enabling me to write it. Brief epilog: You can't find my term paper in the USNA library. You can find yours, mine has vanished. I made a copy, my sister has it. I don't know what happened to the original and neither does the USNA librarian. Conspiracy theory? I think not, but I defy you to find any published authoritative data on Regensburg-Schweinfurt.
The 126th Bomb Wing (M) [medium] had been inspected and deemed combat ready by just about anyone who read the Time magazine article that highlighted the perfectly wretched living conditions. The article was accurate, my Dad saw to that, but the Air Force regretted having granted access to the Time reporter and photographer. I doubt the embarrassment affected his career, but it did give him a little more visibility than he wanted. It had also become clear that the bandaid measure of having the 126th for close air support in southwestern Europe was moot. The Soviets, if they attacked at all, would proceed from Poland and Germany where they had better logistics.
France was badly bogged in a war in Indochina. Eisenhower was still on duty in Paris as CinC SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe) and the French were tugging at his cuffs and coat tails for some help. Gen Marshall was still very much in control of the situation in Europe and Eisenhower knew better than to intrude. Marshall (correctly) wanted no part of the French problem in Indochina, but Eisenhower needed to do something or further aggravate FrancoAmerican tensions (I already mentioned the communist dominance where we were, a US schoolbus got hosed down with machine gunfire). My Dad was summoned to SHAPE headquarters and I asked to tag along.
We arrived a little early, I was left outside the great white door with the staff car driver (A2/c Sears from the gate story). About fifteen minutes after we arrived the door opened and Eisenhower's aide asked us in, both of us. Sears was scared shitless, I was too young to feel anything beyond being invited through that great big white door with the bright brass handles. We arrived in his office and my Dad was seated just to the right of the general's desk. We were offered seats, I sat, Sears was too scared. Eisenhower walked from his desk to Sears, gently placed his hand on his shoulder and repeated his offer for him to sit, Sears sat, albeit wall eyed. The general then walked over to me, displayed that patented smile, and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I blurted that I wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and be a career naval officer (true). He asked whether I might consider West Point and follow my father's footsteps and I replied that he was a Texas A&M alumnus and I wasn't sure the Air Force was going to survive on its own; besides, I liked going to sea.
Here's what's riveted in my mind. I'll get to the worked out details later. This man was squatted in front of my chair with a wreath of stars on each shoulder and he talked to me like I was a man. He paid attention to what I said, I felt like the only person in the room with him. On our way back to Laon (my Dad's base, if you're looking at a map, look around Reims) I asked him why the general treated me like I was the only person in the room. His answer was "He's like that...".
That's part of the story, there's more. The reason he had been summoned to Paris was that Eisenhower was about to horsetrade with the French. The U.S. would donate a number of Martin Marauder B-26's to France and, if my Dad would agree to do it, train their flight crews in ground attack and close air support. As tough as Eisenhower could be, he couldn't volunteer the 126th without the commander's consent. I didn't begin to understand the significance until many years later, i.e. a five star general won't commit a colonel unless the colonel agrees. Tough stuff them woopoos.
There's yet another twitch. When I set out for an appointment I was in trouble. My congressman had as many in the schools as was allowed. For a senatorial appointment I had to take a competitive exam. I did, I won. Seems that senator L.B. Johnson had sold his appointments, for cash, to senator Ralph Yarborough not an uncommon or illegal practice. I was politely informed by LBJ's office that I would not be appointed by him, find some other way. As a son of a serving servicemember I was entitled to compete for one of the fifty presedential appointments. I competed, scored dead last, but anything better than 51 was OK. You guys remember that day in the messhall when we turned in our $300 and filled out all those forms? One of the things we had to do was write a letter to our appointment source to thank them. OK, I wrote Eisenhower (I had met him ~1954) and thanked him. Imagine my surprise and delight that he actually remembered me. His naval aide wrote the usual "yeah yeah" reply, but the President, in addition to initialling it, wrote in a greeting that recalled that day in Paris.
OK, last twitch. I've reported and
this page has recorded various stuff about me and LeMay. I want to
go back and revisit a piece of this because it affects the landscape.
I previously reported that I had gotten a quite formal letter from the
Chief of Staff of the Air Force telling me whaat I could use in my term
paper. Now please take a huge leap and land in the spot where I was
knocked down by his dog and invited in for a toddy. I was flattered
that he remembered me, he made the attachment via my father. This
episode was during Christmas leave, so nobody was charged. Since
he had recognized me, and was as pleased as he was amused that I had "gone
Navy" (note, this is LeMay, not Eisenhower) he put his elbows onto his
knees and confessed to a very junior midshipman that he was thoughoughly
pissed. "I run this place and I can't even order that something be
declassified." I told him that I was delighted to do the work in
DC, but that wasn't the point. He was completely frustrated that
the buraucracy had more tenacity than the commander. His temper
was legendary but it wasn't as bad as he made everyone
Dad died in March 1993. In proper military fashion he died on payday so he was alive for the month. One of my fondest memories of him is hearing him repeat the sea story Blackie put on the web page. The old man took great pleasure in telling the story on his boy "Bill, does this really look like a cross to you?". I'll confess it's one of my favorites even if I'm the butt of it, but he enjoyed repeating it without reference to his kin :-)
|Military Tradition posted:
8 January 2000