What was the Strategic Air Command? What did it have to do with Oscar Zero? Why isn’t it around anymore?
SAC, as it was commonly known, was created in 1946 to manage the U.S. Army Air Force’s strategic bombing capability. In the years of World War II, the idea of strategic bombing was to destroy an enemy’s war-making potential well beyond the front lines. It had been experimented with in World War I however by 1939 the day of the large bomber had arrived. Over Europe, American and British heavy bombers pounded German industrial targets day and night. By 1945, American B-29 bombers were laying waste to Japanese cities leading up to the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
With the advent of the atomic bomb, there was a realization that the days of 1000 bomber raids were effectively over when a single B-29 could destroy a city with one bomb.
SAC emerged in the years 1946 to 1948 as a weak component of the Air Force, as did its sister organizations as demobilization largely gutted experienced personnel from their ranks. By 1948 however SAC had moved from Virginia to Omaha, Nebraska and had a new commander in charge.
General Curtis Emerson LeMay was the personification of the “tough boss”. Generally smoking a cigar, disapproving ideas merely with stony silence and having no tolerance for incompetence or even innocent mistakes, many histories point to LeMay into crafting the command into an overwhelmingly powerful and professional fighting force.
Much has been said about the seemingly legendary aspects of the Strategic Air Command’s rise to prominence as America’s foremost military unit during the 1950s. Much has also been criticized about the command, especially by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force’s Tactical Air Command from complaints about taking much of the defense funding to investing in an “all or nothing” approach to nuclear war. By 1964 films such as “Dr. Strangelove” and “Fail-Safe” would poke fun and dramatize respectively the command’s overwhelming response in a nuclear conflict.
By the time the 321st Strategic Missile Wing activated in the mid-1960s, SAC had a mixed reputation ranging from being the guardians of freedom to an organization effectively tasked with bringing about Armageddon. The command’s role was by nature controversial, however history denotes the professionalism of day-to-day operations by airmen and officers alike
Jumping ahead to June 1992, when the Strategic Air Command ceased to exist as an organization, it is interesting to note the command was active essentially throughout the entire Cold War. When one speaks to its veterans they consider General Curtis LeMay a commander who knew how to straighten things out and was an effective boss who did not put up with nonsense. For the most part they are very proud of their service with SAC with its very strict rules and ever present tension. It has been said that they prepared for war daily so they would not have to go for real. In the end historians have found SAC’s lifespan full of ups and downs but with a proud legacy that lasts in the voices of its veterans.