Seven Days in LeMay - updated –Friday November 15 – Friday November 22, 1963
This is a work in progress and a continuation of articles on LeMay previously written:
General LeMay on November 22, 1963
The exact whereabouts of US Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy has always intrigued those who suspect his hatred for the President could rise to the threshold to murder him. While we still haven’t pinpointed the exact location of LeMay when he learned that JFK had been assassinated, we are getting close, and I am confident, will eventually know for sure.
There are a number of good researchers who have been working on this, and cooperating with what we have learned so far and I thank them.
For starters, LeMay’s official biographers say that at the time of the assassination he was hunting and fishing in Northern Michigan lake country, where his wife’s family owned a cabin. His wife’s maiden name was Helen Maitland. She attended the University of Michigan and her family was said to have a lake cabin in Northern Michigan, but that has yet to be confirmed.
We know from the Detroit newspaper article [JFKCountercoup2: Godfrey Wings Off To Hunt With Gen. LeMay ] that after LeMay left a two day USAF Commanders Conference at Maxwell AFB in Alabama on Thursday, November 14, he celebrated his birthday on Friday, November 15, by going on a hunting and fishing expedition with CBS media celebrity Arthur Godfrey, who was also a USAF Reserves officer.
"He flew to Detroit from Chicago, piloting his own plane, on his way to Rose City and a few days of hunting with old friends, one Genera Curtis LeMay. 'It's Curt's birthday and we try to celebrate by going hunting,' said Arthur.' We haven't done it in a few years though.'"
A week later, while Godfrey was back in Virginia and at work in New York broadcasting a show, LeMay was still in the area, so he must have taken a week’s vacation. The Andrew’s Air Force Base special Log Book for 11/22/63 records that LeMay had requested a plane be sent to pick him up in Toronto, Canada, but then in mid-flight, changed his location and the destination of his pick up to Wiarton, Canada, just across the Great Lake from Michigan.
Andrew's Log: JFKcountercoup: Andrews Log 11/22/63 Salvaged from Trash
Map of Wiarton: Wiarton - Google Maps
The Air Force One radio transmission tapes found among the effects of General Clifton has LeMay’s aide Colonel Dorman desperately trying to get a message to LeMay, who was enroute from Wharton to DC. Dorman’s son told me that his father very seldom left the side of LeMay, so a week’s vacation fishing and hunting in Michigan and Canada fits that bill. But where was he, who was he with and what was he doing?
LeMay is a significant player in the assassination story not only because of his serious policy disagreements with President Kennedy, but because he was the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on September 25, 1963 when Desmond FitzGerald briefed the Joint Chiefs on the CIA’s covert Cuban operations, including their “detailed study” of the German military plot to kill Hitler that was being adapted for use against Castro, currently the subject of a Supreme Court deliberation.
Curtis LeMay was born into a large, poor Ohio family. His father was a laborer so they moved frequently, and young Curtis helped put food on the family table from hunting and fishing, that gave him a life-long passion for both. LeMay said that when he hunted and fished for food it was “for the pot,” as he put it.
LeMay was an engineering student at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he also was a cadet in the Army Air Force Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC).
During World War II, LeMay commanded bombers in the 8th Air Force and advocated carpet bombing of enemy cities to destroy the will of the people to continue the war. From Europe LeMay was transferred to the South Pacific where he commanded the bombing attacks of Japan, continuing his philosophy of carpet bombing civilian cities, which became unnecessary with the development and use of the Atomic bomb.
We now know that LeMay was the U.S. military official who “oversaw” Project Paperclip, the use of former Nazi scientists, who were given jobs with major Defense contractors like Bell Aircraft, General Dynamics, LTV, Collins Radio, and others.
When LeMay took over the Strategic Air Command (SAC), he found it ill prepared to fight a nuclear war. In a practice attack over Dayton, Ohio, not one plane hit it’s assigned target, so LeMay engineered a complete overhaul of the SAC, from upgrading the air fleet, outfitting the Air Force Security guards with new uniforms and weapons, and personally selecting the rifles and sidearms that would be used.
BAY OF PIGS
After Kennedy assumed office, and was immediately thrown into the Bay of Pigs fiasco, LeMay claimed in his official oral history that the Bay of Pigs was strictly a CIA operation and the military were not consulted until the very last minute, and advised against it without full air support.
But one Bay of Pigs CIA record discovered by Bill Simpich includes the initials – LeMay – indicating he was in the CIA Cuban operations link before the failure of the invasion.
[Simpich on CIA and LeMay at Bay of Pigs: JFKCountercoup2: LeMay and the CIA @ the Bay of Pigs ]
The official CIA history of the Bay of Pigs indicates that the original plan for training elite commandos to be infiltrated in small groups in the eastern end of the island, would give them the forests and mountains to serve as a staging area for an advance on Havana, much as Castro himself had done.
But at some point, the CIA special forces commando trainers led by General Ed Lansdale and Philippine counter-insurgency expert Col. Napoleon D. Valeriano – were removed from training the Cubans, the landing site moved to the Bay of Pigs swamp, and the plan for the infiltration of commandos became a full fledged mechanized invasion with ships, tanks and an air force. It is still not clear who was behind these strategic changes in plans, or their rational for doing so.
It’s quite clear from a study of such special force advocates as Nazi Germany’s Otto Skorzeny, Lansdale and Valeriano, that their elite small group commando warfare was staunchly opposed by regular army commanders like LeMay.
The failure of the Bay of Pigs has been blamed on President Kennedy’s adamant refusal to approve an additional air strike to take out the remainder of Castro’s air force, despite strong requests from Air Force General Charles Cabell, the brother of the mayor of Dallas. In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, both CIA director Allen Dulles and Air Force General Cabell lost their jobs.
LeMay remained safe however, as he was ostensibly not involved in the Bay of Pigs, and the President liked the way LeMay was feared by the Soviet generals, much like Genera Patton was the most feared American general by the German military staff officers.
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
After the President rejected the military’s Northwoods plan to instigate a war with Cuba by staging false terrorist attacks that would be attributed to them, things came to a head during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, when JFK rejected the unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs to attack Cuba immediately, take out the missiles and then invade. While the Marine Corps Chief of Staff General Shoup was initially reluctant to go to war, having earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his combat exploits in the South Pacific during World War II, he eventually came around to LeMay’s position. That is made clear after the President abruptly left the Oval Office during a meeting with the Joint Chiefs, when JFK’s taping system continued to record their true feelings.
At one meeting during the crisis, LeMay says, “You are in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.”
When Kennedy asks LeMay to repeat what he said, Kennedy responded, “Well you are in it with me!”
During the meeting, when the President explained he was exploring some diplomatic solutions, LeMay says, “It’s Munich all over again,” referring to the President’s father Joe Kennedy, Roosevelt’s ambassador to the Court of St. James, and his support for the British Prime Minister Nevelle Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazi’s invasion of Poland.
The “Umbrella Man” at Dealey Plaza worked in an office building that also included offices for the U.S. Army Intelligence, who shared a joint cafeteria. Lewis Witt said that he didn’t remember who told him, but it was over lunch one day when he learned of the Kennedy’s distaste for the umbrella, as it was associated with Neville Chamberlain and US Ambassador Joe Kennedy’s appeasement of the Nazi’s at the Munich conference. So his raising the umbrella, probably one of the last things JFK saw before being killed, was a protest symbol of the President’s appeasement of Cuba and communists.
At the same time President Kennedy was focused on Cuba, beginning a backchannel communications with Castro through his Choate Academy schoolmate William Attwood, and Carlos Lechuga, Castro’s representative at the UN, the CIA was engaged in a number of actions designed to kill Castro.
As a sidebar to the official talks, Attwood had introduced Kennedy to Mary Pinchot, who would marry CIA official Cord Meyer, Jr., while Lechuga, when he was ambassador to Mexico, had an affair with Sylvia Duran, the Cuban embassy clerk who dealt with Lee Harvey Oswald’s request for a visa to Cuba.
While focused on Cuba, President Kennedy was distracted by events in Vietnam, including the assassination of President Diem and a military coup that took over the government. To get a first hand report JFK sent trusted emissary General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, leaving General LeMay as temporary chairman on September 25, 1963, when FitzGerad briefed them on the CIA’s covert intelligence operations against Cuba that could require military assistance.
General Victor “Brute” Krulak (USMC), the general responsible for such military assistance to the CIA, sent his adjunct Colonel Walter Higgins to the briefing, whose minutes provide the most details we have of that meeting, including the psychological operations, the CIA’s “detailed study” of the German military’s plot to kill Hitler to be adapted for use against Castro, and a Cuban security document written by the President’s national security aide McGeorge Bundy that was so secret it had to be read by the recipient and then returned to Bundy.
Krulak knew the President from the South Pacific when Kennedy’s PT boat helped rescue some of Krulak’s marines trapped on a Japanese held island, as portrayed in the movie “PT-109.”
When he was assigned to his position at the Pentagon he visited the President at the White House afterhours, and delivered a bottle of whiskey he had promised JFK for his actions saving his men during the war but had never delivered on.
Around the same time as FitzGerald’s briefing of LeMay and the Joint Chiefs on September 25, JFK signed a limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty against the advice of the Joint Chiefs, approved an Executive Order giving the highest national security priority to Project Four Leaves, a military communications system, and then he left on what they call the Conservation Tour, the first stop of which was to visit Mary Pinchot’s mother, a staunch Republican who had donated land for the federal parks system. Mary accompanied him.
It was while on the Conservation Tour in Wisconsin when the President’s late November tour of Texas was given final approval and a press release issued giving the dates and places the president would visit.
MEETING AT MAXWELL
A week before JFK would visit Texas, General LeMay and all of the Air Force commanders met at two day (November 13-14) conference at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
For a complete list of those who attended this Commander’s Conference see:
Among those in attendance was General Charles Cabell. Although relieved of his duties in the regular Air Force in the wake of the Bay of Pigs, Cabell was listed as a Reserve officer and commander of training, and Maxwell was a training base, so he may have been the base commander at the time of the meeting.
This commander’s conference was listed as a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the problems facing the Air Force at the time.
The following day, Friday November 15, was LeMay’s birthday, and the Detroit newspaper article notes that LeMay went on a hunting-fishing trip to Michigan with media celebrity Arthur Godfrey.
According to LeMay’s official autobiography – Mission with LeMay, Godfrey was originally an Army Reserve officer who loved to fly, but LeMay convinced Godfrey to transfer to the US Air Force Reserves.
Godfrey was presented with his own air plane by Eastern Airline President Eddie Rickenbacker - and Godfrey routinely flew the plane from his Virginia farm to New York City to broadcast his radio and TV shows over the CBS network. He also owned and flew a Bell Helicopter.
As LeMay describes in his autobiography, in 1957 he accompanied Godfrey and others on an African safari, in which he kept daily contact with his SAC headquarters via a single sideband HAM radio that could log onto the official Air Force channels. LeMay was also good friends with Art Collins, president of Collins Radio, the company that made and maintained the single sideband radios on every SAC bomber as well as the Executive Fleet, including Air Force One.
LeMay's HAM radio call sign - KOGRL is still the call sign of the Strategic Air Command SAC Amateur Radio Club.
FALSE DEATH REPORTS
According to the Detroit news article, there were unfounded reports of Godfrey’s death, which reminded me of a news report published around the time of the assassination that General LeMay had been killed in a plane crash.
When I went to the National Archives with John Judge he requested records on LeMay and they brought out a cart full of documents, magazine articles and news reports. While Judge went through them I made photo copies of the Andrews special Log Book for November 22, 1963, that mentions LeMay being picked up in Canada. When I was finished I went over to see how John was doing and he showed me a small newspaper clipping – one column and only a few inches that reported LeMay was killed in a plane crash, obviously untrue. Could the two false reports of the deaths of Godfrey and LeMay be related, especially since they were flying together in Michigan?
As far as I can see there are a number of distinct possibilities of LeMay's location at the time of the assassination – LeMay was where he said he was – at his wife’s family lake Cabin in northern Michigan, though I have yet to identify this location. LeMay’s daughter did give a lengthy oral history but neglects to mention any such lake cabin.
LeMay's radio code name, according to his aide Colonel Dorman, was "Grandson," and LeMay's daughter does however, mention in her oral history that her son’s godfather was a US Army Reserve general and a Havana-Las Vegas casino operator. That would be Genera “Babe” Barron, who her father picked up at the airport when he visited them, and when Ruby’s pal Tony Zopi mentioned Barron’s association with LeMay to the HSCA, they found Barron visiting LeMay at the time. While Barron is an important connection, we still don’t have the location of the Maitland family lake cabin in Michigan.
LEMAY AND GODFREY IN MICHIGAN
We do know from the Detroit newspaper article that Godfrey and LeMay flew from Chicago to Rose City, Michigan to hunt and fish. Just south of Rose City is a hunting and fishing resort known as Grousehaven, 3,000 acres on the Rifle River, owned by former General Motors executive Harold R. "Bill" Boyer, of Grosse Point, Michigan. During WWII Boyer handed the GM tank division and worked closely with the military in supplying their vehicles. The streets of Grousehaven are named after celebrities who have patronized the place, including one named after Arthur Godfrey. The gamekeeper, who taught Genera LeMay how to hunt with a bow and arrow, was interesting enough to have a book written about him - "Remarkable Papa Bear."
Another possibility was brought to my attention by a former Michigan neighbor who said that Jimmy Hoffa owned a lake cabin in Northern Michigan and LeMay was known to frequent the same area. Putting two primary suspects like LeMay and Hoffa together would be fascinating, but it’s not a done deal, yet.
One of the finest hunting and fishing resorts at the time, Rainbow's End was located on Sugar Island in Northern Michigan, that sported a grass runway. Sporting 13 private cabins, a bar barn and winterized manager's house. One of the cabins, one with a slate pool table, was owned by Jimmy Hoffa. Around 1977 when the resort was sold, General LeMay's Ohio address was listed among the former patrons who were annually sent Christmas cards. According to locals, there is also a movie treatment in progress about a Jimmy Hoffa-Curtis LeMay fishing and hunting expedition from a different time than November 1963, but after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is however, Kincheloe AFB nearby, so if LeMay was there at the time of the assassination he didn't have to travel to Wiraton to get a flight back to DC.
A fourth possibility is contained in a manuscript, the chapter on Air Force Generals Lansdale and LeMay I was permitted to read, but not to quote because of publishing rights. This writer has identified a hunting and fishing lodge owned by Detroit car manufacturers located on a private island just north of Wiarton. It has a small runway for private planes and is only a few miles from Wharton by plane or boat.
While there was no phone service at the time, in 1963, there was a singe-sideband HAM radio that would permit LeMay to maintain contact with the Air Force, as he did on a daily basis when he went on the African safari trip with Godfrey in 1957.
In his autobiography Mission with LeMay, he writes:
“Butch Griswold was minding the manse at Omaha. Even when we were remotely in the bush, I would get on the radio at least once a day and talk with SAC Headquarters. Sometimes electrical conditions didn’t permit me to reach them directly; but I could always get in to one of our North African bases, and then they would rebroadcast right to SAC HQ. If anything had come up, I could have flown out in the helicopter to Fort Archambault and been picked up there.….”
We know from the Andrews Log that LeMay was picked up at Wiraton with a USAF C-140 twin jet executive plane
In addition we may learn more if we can get a hold of this: “…..I accumulated two huge, loose-leaf volumes with back covers. These were kept under lock and key, and they weighed about a ton. They were tantamount to a daily diary of my work during the C of S years. Wish I had gotten such a record together for the Vice Chief period, but we just didn’t do it. There are exactly seven hundred and twenty-eight items in those folders, ranging from TOP SECRET to Unclassified. By far the largest portion, naturally, are Classified documents. It is likely that the bulk of those won’t be downgraded for years to come. Therefore they may not be used in this book.”
LeMay disobeyed Air Force Secretary Zuckert’s order for him to land at Andrews, but instead he lands at the civilian DCA – at 5:12 pm, and ostensibly goes to the Pentagon, but he has plenty of time to arrive at Bethesda in order to be the cigar smoking four star general in the audience that Paul O’Conner makes reference to.
It is also noteworthy that a small executive type jet aircraft was sent to pick up LeMay, in stead of LeMay’s personal command and communications plane – nicknamed “Speckled Trout.” A speckled trout is a very rare fish that can only be caught at certain times of the year at certain locations and is considered a prize fish among the best anglers.
LeMay liked the small the small fast, twin jet C-140 made by Lockheed so much that he established a private company to own and lease such planes. In 1964, LeMay became one of the founding board members of Executive Jet Aviation (EJA) (now called NetJets), along with fellow USAF generals Paul Tibbits and Olbert Lassiter, Washington lawyer and former military pilot Bruce Sunlun, and entertainers James Stewart and Arthur Godfrey. It was the first such private business jet charter and aircraft management company in the world.
So while we don’t yet know exactly where LeMay was hunting and fishing in Michigan and Canada, we are narrowing down the possibilities, and I believe we are getting close.
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