Commodore, United States Navy
The Navy Cross is presented to Dixie Kiefer,
Commander, U.S. Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service
in the line of his profession as Executive Officer on board the U.S.S.
YORKTOWN (CV-5) in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Battle
of Midway on 6 June 1942. His conduct throughout was in keeping with the
highest traditions of the Navy of the United States.
The Vought UO-1 was the first airplane to be catapulted from a battleship at night. On November 26, 1924, Lieutenant Dixie Kiefer flew the plane off the USS. California in San Diego harbor. The only illumination came from the ship’s searchlights trained 1,000 yards ahead.
Kiefer died in a plane crash on the flanks
of Mount Beacon, New York, an ironic end to the military career of one
of the most popular figures of the Pacific War. Keifer’s death was less
than a year after he survived wounds in a Japanese kamikaze attack on his
ship in the closing months of the war. Kiefer was aboard a Navy Beechcraft
two-motored transport with five other Navy men, flying through heavy fog
which covered the area November 12, 1945. Kiefer was a real-life hero as
the commanding officer of one of the carriers, the Ticonderoga, which continued
on active duty until relatively recent times. He was a make-believe hero
in one of those popular postwar military theme films, “Fighting Lady,”
which dramatized the role of the first carriers in the Pacific war.
BEACON, New York, November 12, 1945 – Commodore Dixie Kiefer, 49, Pacific war hero, once called the “indestructible man,” was found dead today amid the twisted wreckage of a Navy plane near the summit of Mount Beacon.
Five others died with him. None of the dead was from Chicagoland.
The Commodore was widely known as Captain Dixie of the documentary film “The Fighting Lady,” which depicted wartime life aboard an aircraft carrier. He lived through 10 major wounds in two wars, was hit 65times by shrapnel in one Pacific battle, and died in a peace time trip of 160 miles, an hour’s scheduled journey.
The plane plunger into the rain and fog shrouded
mountain three miles northeast of here shortly after noon yesterday.
The wreckage was not found until 3 A.M. today.
BEACON, New York – November 12, 1945 – Exploding flares touched off by smoldering wreckage illuminated dense fog near the top of Mount Beacon three miles northeast of this city today and led searchers to a crushed two-engine Navy air transport and to the six bodies of its passengers and crew.
The flares started popping at 2:25 A.M. Eight hours later more than 200 sailors and marines who had hacked and axed a 1,400 foot path from Beacon’s base, toiled down the mountainside with the dead under dripping lane, with fog still clinging heavily to the peak, a Revolutionary War signal tower.
One of the dead was Commodore Dixie Kiefer, outstanding Pacific Naval hero, known to millions who saw the wartime documentary film “Fighting Lady” that told the story of our Pacific carriers. He was the “Captain Dixie” of that startlingly realistic film. He was 49 years old.
A second body was identified as that of Lieutenant Commander Ignatius Zielinski, 44, of Salem, Massachusetts, Chief Surgeon at the Quonset, Rhode Island, and Naval Base.
The Navy transport, a Beechcraft, rammed Mount Beacon about 150 feet below the summit at noon yesterday during a flight from Caldwell, New Jersey, to the Quonset Base, which Commander Kiefer had commanded since last April. The ship was some thirty miles off the straight-line course, obviously lost in the soupy fog.
Local pilots believe the transport came down to look for landmarks for contact flying and that it rammed the mountain at a speed of probably 150 miles an hour. The plane tore off tree tops, split some trees in two, and scattered its parts and its passengers as far as 400 feet from the spot where it hit.
William Atkinson and Dave Frost of East Beacon saw the transport dart out of the scud and swirling fog in the rain at noon yesterday and thought they heard a dull explosion a few seconds later.
A searching party of volunteers led by Lieutenant John Lawson of the State Police worked their way up Mount Beacon but rain and fog restricted visibility to not more than fifteen feet. Soldiers from the airport at Stewart Field, nearby, and State Troopers from Westchester, Putnam and Duchess Counties joined the search. They gave up at 6 P.M.
Another volunteer searching party started out at midnight. They worked Burnt Ridge with flashlights in the dripping fog, but neither heard nor saw anything until 2:25 A.M.
Suddenly, from the top of Burnt Ridge, which raises north of Mount Beacon, the searchers heard sounds like pistol shots? They saw, in the direction of the sounds, a series of white flares diffused by a thick fog. They thought that these signals had been fired by crash survivors. They hacked and cut through underbrush and clumped samplings, in the steady drip, for a full two miles before they reached the wreck.
Their searchlights picked out the plane – or what was left of it. It had shed one motor. The fuselage was a crumpled mass. The bodies were scattered, hardly recognizable. The landing flares had been set off by heat from the still-smoldering wreck.
Commodore Kiefer’s body lay some fifty feet from fuselage. Advance rescue unite sent from Quonset identified the body from paper’s in the Commodore’s uniform and from his cast-bound arm. He was hit by sixty-five shrapnel fragments off Formosa last January and the arm was not healed.
Watchers sat with the bodies through the night.
Meanwhile, at the Quonset Base, where Commodore Kiefer had endeared himself to the officers and enlisted men by kindly and tolerant treatment – “one regular guy” they called him – a call for volunteers brought our virtually every man not on liberty. Some 240 sailors and marines set our in the rain and fog in trucks, buses and ambulances, with axed and ropes and machetes, to search for the lost ship.
This contingent reached the foot of Mount Beacon about 7 A.M. today. They cut and slashed their way upward on the steep slope.
It developed that Commodore Kiefer had left Quonset in the transport after Saturday morning inspection. He had seen the Army-Notre Dame game and had spent some time in Manhattan with an old friend, an air transport company executive. He left Caldwell in the transport at 11:33 A.M. Sunday.
Fifteen minutes before the crash he had been in radio contact with Stewart Field, for weather reports, apparently seeking a hold in the fog. Incidentally, he was not at the plane’s controls.
Commodore Kiefer was a bachelor. He was born April 4, 1896 at Blackfoot, Idaho, was graduated from the Naval Academy in 1918 and saw anti-submarine patrol duty in the Atlantic in World War I. He was Executive Officer on the first carrier Yorktown when it was sunk at the battle of Midway and commanded the Ticonderoga off Formosa when two Japanese suicide pilots landed on its flight deck.
He maneuvered the Ticonderoga to prevent the wind fanning flame toward the ship’s bombs and gasoline supply, and carried the craft on, landing and launching planes against the enemy. Already holder of the Navy Cross, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, he received the Distinguished Service Cross from Navy Secretary Forrestal who called him the “Indestructible Man.”
One of the other victims of the crash, Lieutenant
Paul Heinzen, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the pilot of the
plane and is also buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
QUONSET, Rhode Island – November 15, 1945 – Special Naval memorial services were held today for Commodore Dixie Kiefer, commander of the First Naval District airbases, and five other Navy men killed with him in a plane crash near Beacon, New Jersey, November 11.
The body will be shipped by rail to Arlington tomorrow for burial.
The bodies of the others were sent to their homes yesterday.
The services were at the station auditorium. Commander Abbott Peterson, Jr., Senior Chaplain, read the Scripture and Lieutenant Commander W. L. McNBain, Catholic Chaplain offered prayers.
Commodore Kiefer and the others were killed
when their twin-engine plane, en route from Caldwell, New Jersey, to Quonset
on a routine mission, crashed into Mount Beacon in rain and fog.
All of the victims were stationed at Quonset.