Retired Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the gruff, cigar-chomping "Iron Eagle" who built the nation's global nuclear strike force and suggested the United States threaten to bomb North Vietnam "back into the Stone Age," is dead at 83.

The four-star Air Force general died of a heart attack Monday at the base hospital.In addition to transforming the war-weary Strategic Air Command into a force that could deliver nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, LeMay relayed the order to drop the A-bomb on Japan and directed the Berlin Airlift in 1948.

In 1968 he ran for vice president as George Wallace's running mate.

During World War II, LeMay was instrumental in pressing the daylight bombing offensive against the Nazis. He led missions personally, demanding bombers not use evasive maneuvers over target areas thick with anti-aircraft fire.

He became Air Force vice chief of staff in 1957 and chief of staff in 1961.

Contending strategic air power held the key to U.S. security, LeMay pushed for a modern bomber force and ushered in the B-52, still part of the nation's nuclear deterrent.