What was JFK’s finest hour? Received historical wisdom is that it was his adroit handling of his face-off with Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis of October, 1962. However six months before, Kennedy also stood his ground during an all-but forgotten battle with Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. LeMay, the same “bomber general” who was the inspiration for deranged General Buck Turgidson of Dr. Strangelove, and Carl Vinson, the militant, khaki-loving chairman of the House Armed Services Committee—a battle which, had it gone differently arguably could have led to World War III—as well as Kennedy’s impeachment!
Casus belli for this epic intergovernmental fight was Lemay’s determination to build an armada of supersonic “Valkyrie” B-70 bombers which could be used in a first-strike against the USSR. The Iron Eagle wanted one hundred of them. So did his ally on the Hill, “Uncle Carl” Vinson, who included a “directive” to the Kennedy Administration to greenlight LeMay’s pet bomber in the 1963 defense appropriations bill, which the Air Force-friendly Congress would have almost certainly passed, creating an unprecedented constitutional crisis for JFK at the most vulnerable point of his presidency.
–Which is also why JFK decided to downplay the crisis after he artfully resolved it at the last minute after he invited “Admiral” Vinson to take a walk with him in the Rose Garden…
Want to read more? See this nugget from the archives from ’84 which I am currently transmuting into book form to coincide with Kennedy’s centenary next year.