WWII USMC Ace, Jerry O’Keefe who is also a Congressional Gold Medal winner and former Biloxi, Mississippi Mayor passed away on Tuesday morning. He was 93.
Not many people can say they flew fighters. Even fewer can say they were a combat ace (5 air to air kills). Jerry O’Keefe did one even better. He became an ace in a single day.
O’Keefe was a 1st Lt. with VMF-323 Marine Squadron, known as the “Death Rattlers”, who flew the F-4U Corsair at the time. On April 22, 1945, he shot down five Japanese Kamikazes near Okinawa.
“The Corsair was a superior plane to anything the Japanese had at that point,” said O’Keefe.
O’Keefe used the Corsair’s speed to close in on 6 Japanese dive bombers. At over 400 mph, the Corsair was the fastest plane at the time.
“I was behind them, and it was my intention to shoot all six of them” O’keefe. “I missed him, and he left the formation and turned sharply to the left. I decided I was going to stay with him until we settled that matter.”
O’Keefe continued to pursue, diving after the lumbering bomber. The speed of the Corsair was almost too much in the pursuit.
“I put my landing flaps down a little bit so I wouldn’t run past him”.
O’Keefe settled in behind him with the Corsair’s .50 cal machine gun.
“He just blew up,” said O’Keefe.
O’Keefe continued to pursue the remainder of the Japanese dive bombers, trading airspeed for altitude, and climbing above the enemy planes. At the end of the engagement, O’Keefe had 5 kills.
Later in life O’Keefe became the mayor of Biloxi in the 1970’s, serving for 8 years. He also became a philanthropist starting The O’Keefe Foundation with an endownment of $10 million. He was awarded the Congressional Gold medal, the highest honor bestowed by Congress.
You can see the History Channel’s reenactment of O’Keefe’s dogfight in the video below:
Video Courtesy: You Have Made History Today via YouTube
Top Photo: TIM ISBELL [email protected] File
You can read the Sun Herald’s full article here