Lauris Norstad, the general who commanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Europe during the 1961 crisis that culminated in the building of the Berlin Wall that separates East from West Germany, has died in Tucson, it was learned Wednesday.
The Associated Press reported that Norstad, at one time the youngest Air Force officer ever to become a four-star general and the first of his branch of service to head NATO, died Monday. He was 81 and died at Tucson Medical Center of cardiac arrest.
Norstad, who had retired from the military in 1963 and was chairman of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. in 1972, was a resident of Tubac, 60 miles south of Tucson.
Promoted to brigadier general in 1943, a day after his 36th birthday, Norstad was involved in planning the Allied invasion of North Africa. He personally went ashore with the assault forces, earning a Silver Star. Norstad was promoted to four-star general in 1952 when he was only 45.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Army chief of staff, appointed Norstad director of plans and operations after the war. Later, when Eisenhower was head of NATO, he made Norstad his leading air commander.
In 1956, then-President Eisenhower named him to succeed Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther as supreme allied commander in Europe over the 15-nation NATO forces.
Although Norstad was known as a protege of Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy came to admire him for his conduct of the NATO alliance during the Berlin Wall crisis, despite Norstad's insistence that the Kennedy Administration was placing too much emphasis on conventional weaponry in a nuclear era.
Norstad sought for NATO an increase in manpower and equipment and saw the alliance, he said in an interview, as "a shield" capable of holding Russian forces in check with conventional weaponry but also capable of obliterating the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons.
Norstad, a native of Minneapolis and the son of a Lutheran minister who had emigrated from Norway, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1930 and was sent to March Field, Calif., for training with the Army Air Corps Flying School. He transferred from the cavalry to the Air Corps in 1931.
During World War II he was an aide to Air Force commander Gen. H. H. (Hap) Arnold, who made him a member of his advisory council. At war's end he was a major general and assistant chief of air staff in Washington and helped fashion the separation of the Air Force from the Army into its own branch of service.
In addition to serving as president and chief operating officer of Owens-Corning Fiberglas, he was a director of such other firms as United Airlines, Conoco and RAND Corp.
Burial will be next Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.