In November 1942, Col. Curtis LeMay delivered a briefing to his World War II bomber pilots. He told them they would fly directly toward the target, maximizing the risk of German anti-aircraft fire.
“You could hear a moan go through the room,” recalled Mike Kruge, 94, one of the last surviving members of that bomber group.
But as LeMay explained the nature of the mission—and why it was necessary to fly straight in (rather than take a safer zigzag approach)—the pilots began to believe they could do it. They grew even more excited when LeMay revealed that he would fly the lead bomber.
The pilots knew the Germans would target the lead bomber above all. Their leader’s willingness to make himself a focal point for enemy fire inspired the squadron.
LeMay (1906-1990) routinely insisted on flying the lead bomber on critical missions, even after he was promoted to brigadier general in 1943. He figured his life was less important than beating the enemy.
Throughout his career, LeMay succeeded thanks to his actions more than his personality. Associates did not find him warm or empathetic. But they admired him.
Despite his gruff exterior, he maintained a soft spot for his family. He wrote a letter to his wife every night during the war, even when he worked almost round the clock.
— Adapted from “Curtis LeMay’s strategic bombing helped win World War II,” Warren Kozak, Investor’s Business Daily.