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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

"JFK: Destiny Betrayed" Misleads on General Curtis LeMay, Part One

Screen shot of JFK: Destiny Betrayed

Oliver Stone's so-called documentary series, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, claims that General Curtis LeMay was ordered by General Zuckert to land at Andrews Air Force Base from his holiday in Canada, and that LeMay then decided to go to National Airport. That is not what happened. Here is an excerpt from a transcript: (54:05 from episode 3)

Oliver Stone: Can you tell us about the Air Force One tapes, and General Curtis LeMay?

Douglas Horne: On the new version of the Air Force One tapes, the Clifton tape, it’s revealed that Colonel Dorman, General LeMay’s aide, is desperately trying to contact LeMay on the radio.

Colonel Dorman: [This is] Colonel Dorman, General LeMay's aide.

Andrews: Right.

Colonel Dorman: General LeMay is in a C-140.

Andrews: Right

Colonel Dorman: Last three numbers are "497," He's inbound, His code name is 'Grandson,' and I want to talk to him.

Douglas Horne: A logbook was recovered by the ARRB from the Air Force command post at Andrews. And it was given to us by a civil servant named Chuck Holmes. And this logbook records in-flight conversations between a command post at Andrews and Air Force One as it's flying from Texas back to Washington.

Command Post: Air Force One, this is the Air Force Command Post. If possible, request the names of the passengers onboard, please.

Douglas Horne: So, this logbook shows that General LeMay, at the time of the assassination, was in Canada. This is really interesting because his official biographer says he was hunting in Michigan, but we know that’s not true. He was in Toronto, for reasons unknown. Without his aide, Colonel Dorman, who went with him everywhere. This logbook reveals that he was ordered by [Air Force] Secretary Zuckert to land at Andrews Air Force Base because all the federal officials were going to meet the President’s body at Andrews Air Force [Base]. A transmission was made from LeMay’s plane back to this command post, and it says, General LeMay will not go to Andrews. General LeMay will go to DCA, National Airport. According to this log, his plane lands at 5:15 PM, well before the autopsy starts.

Whoopi Goldberg: Very few people in the Pentagon had a worse relationship with Kennedy than Curtis LeMay. During the Missile Crisis he opposed Kennedy’s solution of a blockade. When Kennedy left the room after this conference, LeMay openly ridiculed him. LeMay was strongly against the Test Ban Treaty Kennedy was working on and signed in 1963. He wanted to escalate the Vietnam War, with both naval and air power, by carrying the war north. He advocated bombing North Vietnam back to the Stone Age, if need be, and was willing to use atomic weapons if the Chinese intervened.

Screen shot of Clifton tape from JFK: Destiny Betrayed

This is quite the allegation.

Let's start with LeMay's flight back to the United States from Canada. JFK: Destiny Betrayed makes it sound suspicious that LeMay flew into National Airport instead of Andrews Air Force Base.

The truth is that General LeMay was never ordered to fly into Andrew Air Force Base.

Here is the sequence of events on November 22, 1963, as provided by Larry Haapanen: (all times are EST, you can access the Bill Kelly transcription of the Holmes logbook here)

1:30 PM JFK is shot in Dallas.

2:20 PM 4197 Set-up to Dept to P/U Gen LeMay at Toronto, Canada (Holmes logbook)

2:46 PM Aircraft 4197 [C-140 jet] departs for Canada, ETA 3:46 PM (Holmes logbook)


2:50 - 3:00 PM Change LeMay P/U from Toronto to Wiarton (Holmes logbook)

3:05 PM Contacted 24197 to change destination to Wiarton (Holmes logbook)

3:47 PM Air Force One departs Love Field for Andrews AFB (Holmes logbook)

4:04 PM LeMay departs Wiarton: "24197 Gen. LeMay dept Wairton [sic] 1604 ETA

DCA 1715, Driver & Aide at DCA ETA changed 17:10 Secy Zuckert will meet

LeMay at ADW (notified acft) (Holmes logbook)

~4:15 PM Conversation between Gen. Clifton on AF-1 and SA Jerry Behn in DC.

Behn: WATCHMAN, should the secretary of defense and others be at Andrews on your arrival?

Clifton: No. I am about to -- no; negative. I am about to call the White House. President Johnson wants to meet [with] the White House staff; the leadership of Congress; and as many of the cabinet members as possible, at the White House [as] soon as we get there -- approximately 1830, 1830 [EST}. Over

(page 34 of The Kennedy Assassination Tapes by Max Holland)

[Apparently General Clifton makes call to White House, not on tapes]

4:30 PM At HQ, Military District of Washington, Major Rutherford informs CG

[General Wehle] that Col. Connell, of General Clifton's office at WH, has

called to say that he's had call from General Clifton directing that no DoD

personnel meet AF-1 at Andrews, including the Chief of Staff.

~4:40 LeMay is half hour away from landing. LeMay's aide, Col. Dorman, attempts

to place a call to LeMay's plane. Message is not disclosed, but apparently

it needs to get through before LeMay is on the ground, as Dorman says,

"But if you can't work him now, it's gonna be too late because he'll be on

the ground in a half hour."

5:00 PM "Gen LeMay will land DCA NOT ADW" (Holmes logbook)

5:12 PM LeMay arrives at DCA (National Airport)

48 minutes before AF-1 lands at Andrews

The entry at 4:04 PM indicates that General LeMay was going to land at National Airport and then be driven to Andrews Air Force Base. There is no evidence that General LeMay was ever ordered to fly to Andrews. The expectation that he and others would meet at Andrews was changed at 4: 30 PM when General Clifton on Air Force 1 instructed the military in Washington to have no Department of Defense dignitaries present to greet the plane at Andrews.

Douglas Horne alleges that the entry at 5:00 PM about General LeMay landing at National Airport is a change in destination. This is just not true. The previous logbook entry at 4:15 PM indicated that his ETA at National Airport was 5:15 PM. Perhaps the 5:00 PM transmission was just a response from his pilot about chatter about other people going to Andrews.

This provides the evidence of a call from General Clifton on Air Force 1 to his own office in Washington stating that there should not be any high-ranking DoD personnel on hand to meet AF-1 at Andrews. That meant that only a small party was on hand to greet Air Force 1 - General Maxwell Taylor, Robert McNamara, and General Philip Wehle.

JFK: Destiny Betrayed ultimately leads viewers to assume that LeMay landed at National to be closer to Bethesda Naval Hospital. In fact, it's only a bit closer to Bethesda. More importantly, National Airport is a substantially shorter drive to the Pentagon than Andrews. One would expect that LeMay would have gone there to confer with the other Chiefs.

F: Where were you at the time of the assassination?

L: I was in Washington at the time--the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

F: You were at work on that particular day?

L: No, I was off some place, at the actual time of the assassination, I was called back.

F: Yes, what was the situation that you found when you got back to Washington? Was there a little bit of tenseness or was it pretty well decided that Lee Harvey Oswald was just after one man?

L: Well there wasn't much of a flap. Everybody was a little concerned that they didn't know what made the attack, the assassination, so they wanted everybody present for duty. That's the reason they were called back.

What was LeMay doing in Canada? He told his biographers that he was hunting in Michigan. Here is his expense report for November 1963:

You can see that LeMay took leave from November 14 -17, 1963. He flew in and out of Wurtsmith Air Force Base which is only about 40 miles from Rose City, Michigan where he typically went hunting. Larry Haapanen spoke to Air Force Colonel Aaron Burleson in 2001, who told him that LeMay was fishing in Canada on November 22, 1963. And he should know:

Lawton Constitution, June 26, 1974

He served as "the Special Air Mission officer at Air Force Headquarters, a position involving coordination of transportation for the nation's highest ranking government and military officials."

Note that LeMay's expense report was filed on November 21, 1963. The next expense report that LeMay filed was for December 1963. So, the evidence is pretty clear that LeMay was on leave when JFK was assassinated.

So, LeMay wasn't away on secret business, and there was nothing nefarious about General LeMay landing at National Airport. Perhaps he wasn't quite the villain depicted in JFK: Destiny Betrayed.

Contrary to popular perception, LeMay never stepped outside the chain of command or even tried to advance his personal views. As he later wrote, “We in SAC were not saber-rattlers. We were not yelling for war and action in order to ‘flex the mighty muscles we had built.’ No stupidity of that sort. We wanted peace as much as anyone else wanted it.” However, he strongly disagreed with the policy that promised the Soviets that the U.S. would never use nuclear weapons first. He believed the entire purpose of having a nuclear arsenal was its threatened use, not its actual use. And by promising not to use it, what was the sense in even having it? Despite this view, however, he stuck to his job. Years after his retirement, he insisted to biographer Thomas Coffey that he never advocated preemptive war with the Soviets, saying, “I never discussed the problem with President Truman or with President Eisenhower. I never discussed it with General Vandenberg when he was Chief of Staff. I stuck to my job at Offutt and in the Command. I never discussed what we were going to do with the force we had or what he should do with it, or anything of that sort. Never discussed it with topside Brass, military or civilian.”

Had the writers and producers of JFK: Destiny Betrayed done a modicum of research, they would have realized that Douglas Horne's allegations were not supported by the facts. But no, they bought it hook, line and sinker.

Thank You: Researcher Larry Haapanen provided the data and the links for the chronology of General Curtis LeMay. Paul Hoch provided valuable feedback on this post.

Coming Up: In Part Two on General LeMay, I examine the allegation that he was at JFK's autopsy.

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