Lemnitzer was promoted to Brigadier General in June 1942 and assigned to General Eisenhower's staff shortly thereafter. He helped form the plans for the invasions of North Africa and Sicily and was promoted to Major General in November 1944. Lemnitzer was one of the senior officers sent to negotiate the Italian surrender during the secret Operation Sunrise and the German surrender in 1945. He would later be accused of making it possible for some Nazis to elude investigations for war crimes.
Following the end of World War II, Lemnitzer was assigned to the Strategic Survey Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was later named Deputy Commandant of the National War College. In 1950, at the age of 51, he took parachute training and was subsequently placed in command of the 11th Airborne Division. He was assigned to Korea in command of the 7th Infantry Division in November 1951 and was promoted to Lieutenant General in August 1952.
Lemnitzer was promoted to the rank of General and named Commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East and of the 8th Army in March 1955. He was named Chief of Staff of the Army in July 1957 and appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September 1960. As Chairman, Lemnitzer weathered the Bay of Pigs crisis and the early years of American involvement in Vietnam. He was also required to testify before the United States Senate Foreign Affairs Committee about his knowledge of the activities of Major General Edwin Walker, an extreme racist who had been dismissed from the Army over alleged attempts to promote his beliefs in the military.
Lemnitzer approved the plans known as Operation Northwoods in 1962, a proposed plan to discredit the Castro regime and create support for military action against Cuba by staging false flag and supposed "criminal acts of terrorism" . Lemnitzer presented the plans to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962. It is unclear how McNamara reacted, but three days later President Kennedy told the general that there was no chance that America would take military action against Cuba. Within a few months, after the denial of Operation Northwoods, Lemnitzer was denied another term as JCS chairman.
In November 1962, Lemnitzer was appointed as Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe, and as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in January 1963. This period encompassed the Cyprus crisis of 1963-1964 and the withdrawal of NATO forces from France in 1966.
Lemnitzer had a passionate hatred for Communists and the "liberal" politicians that he felt were in office during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. He was a strong proponent of staging a full-scale military invasion of Cuba, and then keeping all of its inhabitants under a state of martial law until they began to accept U.S. doctrine. When his suggestions were repeatedly denied in favor of more covert CIA programs based around espionage and propaganda, he began making proposals to attack U.S. citizens and servicemen, and blame it on Cuba, in order to garner public support for a military invasion. One such proposal, known as Operation Northwoods, involved such ideas as firing mortar rounds into U.S. military bases, switching a real plane for a remote controlled plane and blowing it up remotely - blaming it on Cuba, or sinking a U.S. naval vessel stationed near Cuba. The sinking of a vessel has been interpreted as involving real casualties but another interpretation is that the vessel should be unmanned. This latter interpretation is supported by a closer reading of the declassified Northwood Joint Chiefs of Staff report which mentions mock victims and the use of drones. Ultimately most of his plans were rejected by the Kennedy Administration.
Lemnitzer retired from the military in July 1969. In 1975, President Ford appointed Lemnitzer to the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States (aka the Rockefeller Commission) to investigate whether the Central Intelligence Agency had committed acts that violated American laws and allegations that E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis (of Watergate fame) were involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
|Presidential Medal of Freedom (Awarded by President Reagan, June 23, 1987)|
|Army Distinguished Service Medal (with three oak leaf clusters)|
|Navy Distinguished Service Medal|
|Air Force Distinguished Service Medal|
|Legion of Merit (Officer) and (Legionnaire) degrees|
|American Defense Service Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with two campaign stars)|
|American Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Army of Occupation Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal|
|Korean Service Medal (with two service stars)|