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Thomas S. Power
1905 – 1970 (aged 64–65)
Thomas S Power.jpg
General Thomas Sarsfield Power
Place of birth New York City, New York
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1929-1964
Rank General
Commands held Strategic Air Command
Air Research and Development Command
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Silver Star
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star
Air Medal (2)

General Thomas Sarsfield Power was commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command and an active military flier for more than 30 years.


Biography and early career

Born in New York City in 1905, General Power attended Barnard Preparatory School in New York and entered the Air Corps flying school February 17, 1928. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1929.

His early service included assignments at most of the famed Air Corps fields of the day - Chanute Field, Illinois, as a student officer; Langley Field, Virginia, as commanding officer of the 2d Wing Headquarters Detachment; Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., for duty as an Army air mail operations pilot; Randolph Field, Texas, as a flying instructor; Maxwell Field, Alabama, to attend the Air Corps Tactical School, and completing his early career as engineering and armament officer at Nichols Field, Philippines.

World War II

During World War II, General Power first saw combat flying B-24 missions with the 304th Bomb Wing in North Africa and Italy.

Returning to the United States in August 1944, he was named commander of the 314th Bomb Wing (Very Heavy) and moved his B-29s to Guam as part of the 21st Bomber Command.

From Guam, General Power led and directed the first large-scale fire bomb raid on Tokyo, Japan, on March 9, 1945.

On August 1, 1945, General Carl Spaatz, then commanding general of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, moved General Power up on his staff as deputy chief of operations. He served in this capacity during the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Cold War Years

During the Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946, General Power was assigned as assistant deputy task force commander for air on Admiral William H. P. Blandy's staff.

Then came assignments as deputy assistant chief of air staff for operations in Washington, and a period of air attaché duty in London, prior to his transfer to the Strategic Air Command as vice commander in 1948.

During the next six years, General Power assisted General Curtis E. LeMay, then commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command, in building up SAC.

Then came his appointment as commander of the Air Research and Development Command in 1954, a position he held for three years.

When General LeMay was named vice chief of staff of the Air Force in 1957, General Power became commander in chief of SAC and was promoted to four-star rank.

When RAND proposed a counterforce strategy which required SAC to restrain itself from striking Soviet cities in the beginning of a war, Power countered "Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!"[1]

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Power purportedly raised the US Defense Condition to "DefCon 2," one step short of total nuclear war with the non-democratic communist bloc, some say without Presidential approval. Power also took the unprecedented action of broadcasting an alert message to global Strategic Air Command (SAC) nuclear forces in "the clear" (meaning on non-scrambled, open radio channels) in order to accomplish two objectives: 1) alert all US forces of the possibility of impending global nuclear war; 2) alert the Soviet Union that SAC was fully prepared and on standby to deploy nuclear weapons, if called upon to do so by the President. Power's decisive and controversial moves were most likely definitive in the prevention of war, as the Soviets immediately began the process of the removal of the nearly-activated nuclear missiles in communist Cuba after the broadcast, and while US President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy struggled while continuing to pursue negotiation over weak diplomatic telecommunications channels before the implementation of the "red phone" hotline between Washington, D.C. and Moscow. References: recordings of the live broadcast; Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 213.

Like his mentor General LeMay, Power fully believed that the only effective form of war strategy against non-democratic (totalitarian) nations run by dictators in possession of nuclear weapons (such as Joseph Stalin) was Mutually Assured Destruction. Power can be credited with the continuing supervision of this strategy, both in the development and deployment of the necessary weaponry, and the willingness to use these weapons, should the US and its allies be threatened. Like LeMay, Power understood the value of bomber aircraft, which (unlike missiles) can be recalled in the event of an error in technical threat detection, and offer a strategic recourse short of total war.

Power retired from the Air Force on November 30, 1964 and died December 6, 1970. He was a rated command pilot and aircraft observer, and was America's last general officer with no post-secondary education.[2]

Awards and recognitions

General Power was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Commendation Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Film: Power, a confirmed and unapologetic proponent of the LeMay school of staunch and successful militaristic Anti-Communism, was cartooned to create the "General Ripper" character in the film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).


  1. ^ "William Kaufmann, 90; MIT political scientist reshaped Kennedy's defense strategy". Boston Globe. 26 December 2008. Retrieved 17 October 2009.  
  2. ^ Air power: the men, machines, and ideas that revolutionized war, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II / Stephen Budiansky ISBN 0670032859

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Curtis E. LeMay
Commander, Strategic Air Command
Succeeded by
John Dale Ryan

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "".



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