Richard Joseph O’Keefe – Major General, United States Air Force

Richard Joseph O’Keefe, the former Commander of the 17th Air Force in Libya, died July 21, 1993 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Washington, D.C.  He was 87 and lived in Fairfax, Virginia. The cause of death was cancer of the stomach, said his son Joseph Kirk O’Keefe.

He took over as Commanding Officer of the 17th Air Force at Wheelus Air Force Base, outside Tripoli, August 1956. Under the command were U.S. bases in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Moroco as well as Libya. After receiving his second star in Tripoli, he returned to the Pentagon in July 1958, where he served in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General until his retirement in 1960.

He had received his first star as Commanding Officer of the Dhahran Air Transport Base in Saudi Arabia in 1949, where he had served for 3 years. He gained renown in 1952 as Director of Air Force Flight Safety Research, heading the investigation into the crash of a C-124 Globemaster at Moses Lake, Washington, in which 87 servicemen died. According to the official findings, pilot tried to take off with his controls at least partially locked. As result of the inquiry, it was recommended that the unlocking device be redesigned.

He was born at Brooklyn, New York, and enlisted in the New York National Guard in 1924. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy and graduated in the Class of 1930.  He became a Second Lieuetnant in the Army Air Corps on graduation from the Air Corps Flying School, Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas.

During World War II, he served as a Colonel with 1st Air Svce Area Command, based in Cairo, responsible for air logistics in North Africa.

His medals included the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

Besides his son Joseph, survivors include his wife, Louise; another son, Richard Dennis; two brothers, and four grandchildren. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to West Point Memorial Fund, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York 10996, or the American Cancer Society.

September 20, 1905-July 21, 1993.

He was buried with full military honors in Section 34, Grave 117-A, Arlington National Cemetery.

Courtesy of the United States Air Force

Retired July 31, 1960, Died July 21, 1993

Richard Joseph O’Keefe was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1905. He enlisted in the 244th Coast Artillery, New York National Guard, on February 28, 1924 and was discharged on July 16, 1926, after he entered West Point as a cadet. He graduated from Devitt Prep School, Washington, D.C., in 1926 where he prepared for West Point. He was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy from the 4th District, New York, and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy on June 12, 1930, with a bachelor of science degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry.

Second Lieutenant O’Keefe was detailed to the Army Air Corps in September 1930 and was assigned to March Field as a student officer for primary and basic flying training. In June 1931 he was transferred to the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, bombardment course, and received his pilot’s wings in October
1931. He was transferred at that time from the Infantry to the Army Air Corps and was assigned to the 20th Bombardment Squadron, Second Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia.

He entered the Air Corps Technical School, Maintenance Engineering and Armament, at Chanute Field, Illinois, in July 1933 and graduated a year later.

Following graduation he was assigned as chief inspector and engineering officer of the Panama Air Depot, Panama Canal Zone, with station at France Field. He returned to the Air Corps Technical School at Chanute Field in August 1936 where he was appointed assistant director of engineering.

Entering the Air Corps Engineering School at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, in August 1938, he graduated the following July and was assigned to the Experimental Engineering Section, Power Plant Laboratory at Wright Field, becoming chief of the Engine Accessory Group in December 1940. During the summer of 1941, he was assigned as chief of the Engine Group, Field Service Section, until his departure for Rome Air Depot, New York, in May 1942. He was named depot chief engineering officer, becoming chief of the Maintenance Division, Rome Air Materiel Area, in February 1943. That October he assumed command of the Miami Air Depot, Florida, and two months later was designated chief of the Maintenance Division.

Going to the African-Middle East Theater in August 1944, he commanded the Eighth Air Depot Group and in April 1945 commanded The First Air Service Area Command with headquarters at Cairo, Egypt. He returned to the United States at the end of World War II and in January 1946 was appointed assistant chief of the Power Plant Laboratory at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. In February 1948 he was appointed commander, Dhahran Air Field, Saudi Arabia. He was also designated chief, Saudi Arabian Training Mission and in July 1949 was appointed chief, Joint United States – Saudi Arabian Survey Group. At this time he was appointed temporary Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force.

He returned to the United States in February 1951 and in March was appointed director, Flight Safety Research, in the Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Inspection, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, with duty station at Norton Air Force Base, California.

He was named deputy director of supply and services, Deputy Chief of Staff for Materiel, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, on May 9, 1955, with duty station at Washington, D.C. He was appointed director of supply and services a month and a half later.

In April of 1956 he was ordered overseas to Saudi Arabia as chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group. He was also designated commander of the Second Air Division. On June 8, he was appointed commander, Seventeenth Air Force, a subordinate command of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, with headquarters at Wheelus Air Base, Tripoli, Libya, In October 1956 he was appointed temporary Major General.

He returned to the United States on July 1, 1958, and was named Deputy Inspector General for security, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.

General O’Keefe is a command pilot and technical observer.


Has extensive collection of sporting rifles; is an avid hunter and woodsman; fond of golfing, fishing, travelling and the outdoors. Is extremely interested in geopolitics of Africa and the Middle East areas and especially Arab culture and people. Do it yourself addict and tinkerer. Actively participates in community relations activities and events.


Prefers plain American cooking; wears predominately conservative clothing; prefers comfortable, rather than luxurious living accommodations. Likes historical novels, technical treatises on external and internal ballistics, folk and classical music, travel in primitive areas, mild dry climates, and is especially interested in Africa and the Middle East. “The squeaking wheel gets the most grease,” “A man who can live with himself can live with others.” Stresses accuracy and clarity; loyalty up as well as loyalty down; sincerity and integrity in relationships; high degree of competence in expression, both orally and in writing.


Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters
European-African Eastern Campaign Medal
American Defense Service Medal
World War II Victory Medal
American Campaign Medal
Air Force Longevity Service Award with six oak leaf clusters
National Defense Service Medal

Richard Joseph O´Keefe was Born in Brooklyn September 20th, 1905. He was the son of Joseph J & Rebecca Theresa (Jones) O´Keefe. He married Ruth Louise Shinn December 9th, 1931. Children: Joseph Kirk, Richard Dennis,
Charles Terrance.

Timothy F. O´Keefe was born in Brooklyn January 18th, 1919. He was the son of Timothy & Adele O´Keefe. He married Eileen McSweeney January 22nd, 1941
Children: Timothy Jr., Terrence, Richard, J. Vincent.

Meaning that if they were at all connected by family ties – they were at least not brothers. Of course one can´t rule out that they could have been cousins, but that is beyond my scope. The strange thing is of course that some of the names of Timothy´s children resembles the names of Richard´s children – could still mean some family connection. Their fathers could have been brothers?


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