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Thu, Sep 01, 2016

Gone West: WWII Ace Jeremiah J. O'Keefe

Shot Down Five Japanese Planes In His First Aerial Battle

It's difficult enough to become an "Ace" ... a pilot credited with shooting down at least five enemy aircraft in combat. Even more amazing is reaching that milestone in a single mission.

But that was the story of Jeremiah J. O'Keefe, who downed five Japanese aircraft in his first aerial battle during WWII, who passed away Tuesday at his home in Biloxi, MS at the age of 93.

According to an obituary appearing in the New York Times, O'Keefe, who was known as Jerry, joined the Navy just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He earned a commission as lieutenant in the Marine Corps and was assigned to the newly-formed squadron VMF-323 "Death Rattlers".

But his first action did not come until 1945. On April 22 of that year, O'Keefe was flying air cover for ships unloading troops and supplies at Okinawa. After about two hours, the squadron was notified of a large number of enemy airplanes approaching from the direction of japan.

The Death Rattlers were flying 24 F4U-1D Corsairs. They met the incoming 80 kamikaze planes and Val dive bombers intent on destroying the U.S. ships. O'Keefe's first kill was one of the Vals, and then he went after an additional six airplanes. What was described as a classic dogfight ensued, in which one of the crippled Japanese planes tried to ram O'Keef's Corsair.

When O'Keefe finally landed, he found he had exhausted the ammunition in four of his six machine guns.

The squadron was credited with taking down 23 of the 54 Japanese aircraft shot down that day. Two other pilots also became aces in that same action.

O'Keefe was credited with two more kills later that week.

O'Keefe's citations included the Air Medal, the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the U.S. Congress in 2015.

After the war, O'Keefe returned to Mississippi and entered politics as a strong opponent of segregation. His son Joseph said he died after suffering congestive heart failure.

(U.S. Navy image)

FMI: www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=646

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