The first newspaper article and photograph were among my mementoes for the period 1951-1954.

General Curtis E. LeMay (1906-1990)

General LeMay Tough Man Where One Goof is Curtains

by Bob Considine

International News Service

Gen. Curt LeMay looks tough, talks tough, is tough and holds the world's toughest job. Let the man goof just once and your life (and the lives of everybody else in the free world) wouldn't be worth a counterfeit slug.

General LeMay holds the club. From a map-lined and chart-filled room at Offutt Air Force Base he controls the Strategic Air Command, the mightiest military striking force in all history.

"If the rebel rings today" which is SAC language for "If war breaks out," the atomic attack on scores of Russian and satellite targets would be directed from this room by a cigar-chewing man who seldom raises his voice but has a way of meaning every word he consents to utter.

It has been reported that in the first critical hours of a third world war General LeMay would take off in his twin-decked C97, fly to the center of the conflict and there direct the dropping of A-bombs, H-bombs and whatever else we have in our closet.

That presents quite a picture, and the muscular, hard-chinned general would be good type-casting. But the story is wronger than Harvey Matusow.

If war comes, the toughest general of them all will do his fighting from Offutt, no matter how much he growls and wants in. All his tools are here, all his magic buttons.

The nerve center of SAC is deceptively innocuous-looking. The pastel-shaded quarters of SAC's enlisted men, all modishly decorated, give off the air of a Miami motel.

The administration buildings look about as menacing as the Census Bureau. The airstrips are not constructed to hold SAC's hardware--the 10-engine B-36's, the six-jet B-47 and the incredible eight-jet B-52.

But once you are taken inside the main Administration Building, you know that they're playing for keeps. You're scrutinized no matter how many badges and cards you're armed with.

You don't do any wandering about by yourself. There's a big fellow to walk beside you, and you don't take more than half a dozen steps before you sense that he is your keeper, rather than a pleasant guide.

As you are led closer to "The Room" you are deeply impressed with its importance, though the man at your side may be chatting idly about the weather or the Yankees.

Big bold signs caution against loose talk. Other signs restrict this or that room, deny admission to certain corridors. Then at a certain point there are no more open doors. The final portals do not have standard locks, either. They are opened like safes.

SAC is another world . . . another war. You won't find a "raunch" cap in the whole outfit. The memories of World War II pilots simmer in you, but their gaiety, their lighthearted rafishness are hard to believe as one moves through the stern sobriety of a SAC base.

The SAC pilot (oops, aircraft commander) doesn't smile often. He is likely to be 32, 33, years old and has a couple of children growing up. He is a Major, most likely, or even a Lieutenant Colonel. On duty he carries sidearms.

He knows the precise "yields" of every nuclear weapon, is hep to radiation problems, the fantastic mathematics of intercontinental navigation, and the figures on life expectancy.

He has made his will and literally is packed and ready to go on a few minutes notice.

His target was selected for him several years ago. He knows it as well as he knows the face of his wife. He has "bombed" it scores of times on the endless practice missions. He'd recognize it on his radar screen through 50 thousand feet of pea soup.

There's a place in this country that looks just like it--let's say the railroad switching yards of Chicago or the Pentagon building--and so he is often sent there, sometimes by way of the North Pole.

A truck filled with electronic equipment, parked at the site of the target, keeps tabs on the accuracy of his hypothetical bomb drop.

A near-miss isn't good enough. In SAC nothing is "good enough". It must be dammed perfect. If it isn't, somebody gets rapped on the skull with an on-the-spot reduction in rank. But it works the other way, too, and the men of SAC have come to live by those standards . . . just as the boss himself lives by them.

The boss--he's just tough, that's all. He walked out to a bomber once when the ground crew was gassing it up and kept his cigar in his mouth, despite the heavy fume of gas vapors. A Sergeant said "General, better douse that cigar . . . This ship might burn."

"It wouldn't dare," the boss growled.

Prior to the expansion of Memorial Stadium in the late 1960s, what sporting event held the record for the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the state of Nebraska?

A Sports Car of America (SCCA) event held at Offutt Air Force base on July 5, 1953. A crowd of somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000 attended the event. Why Offutt? Because the head of the Strategic Air command at the time was General Curtis LeMay and he was a big sports car buff.

At that time SCCA was not particularily well known, as there were very few road courses available. LeMay decided they should hold the trials and races on SAC runways. In addition to Offutt, races were run at a number of other bases, the first on 26 October 1952 at Turner Air Force Base in Georgia.

Since LeMay's headquarters were at Offutt, he put special emphiasis on races there.

There were a number of races of various lengths held that July day in 1953. The final one was 200 miles. The winner was a 21-year old from Kansas City, named Masten Gregory. He went on to greater fame and became the first American driver to score a podium finish in a Formula One World Championship event with a third-place finish in the 1957 Grand Prix of Monoco.

Carroll Shelby of Dallas and Jack McAFee of Los Angeles co-drove a Ferrari to second place. Shelby would leave a huge imprint in racing and is best known for the Shelby GT Mustang. Third went to Dr. John Urbas of Westville, Ill. Also racing that day was Loyal Katskee of Omaha. Katskee went on to a distinguished racing career.

On July 4, 1954, the event was held again at Offutt, although the crowd was estimated around 25,000 to 30,000. McAfee returned and won the race in his Ferrari, besting Bill Spear of Connecticut, also in a Ferrari.

Local hero Katskee was third in his Jaguar. More than $1 million was reportedly invested in enlisted men's facilities as a result of SAC races around the country.

Unfortunately, this brought the races to the attention of the government and resulted in charges of misuse of funds. Although the charges were dropped, the SAC races were a thing of the past.

But the races also gave SCCA a great deal of exposure, and many permanent road-racing facilities were built. The local Region of the SCCA currently holds events at the MidAmerica Motorplex along I-29 near Pacific Junction, Iowa.

General LeMay and Katskee have been inducted into the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

The Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the Nebraska Region of SCCA provided information for this story.

Omaha World-Herald

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