Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Aircraft Carrier Boss and Decorated Naval Hero Dixie Kiefer [otd 04/05]

Captain Dixie Kiefer.
U. S. Navy photo.
U. S. Navy Commodore Dixie Kiefer, winner of the Navy Cross and other medals, was born April 5, 1896 in Blackfoot, Idaho. The family moved around while Dixie was young: The 1900 Census shows the family in Spokane. In 1910, his widowed mother Christena was listed as head of the household, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It was from there that Dixie received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated from the Academy in 1918. Kiefer first served aboard the patrol ship USS Corona, which operated out of Brest, France, and acted as a convoy escort.

After the war, Dixie learned to fly and, in 1924, performed the first nighttime catapult launch of an aircraft. He took off from the battleship USS California with only the ship's searchlights for illumination. Kiefer continued his association with naval aviation between the two World Wars.

In February 1942, Dixie became Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The following May, the Yorktown fought in the Battle of the Coral Sea, considered a tactical defeat for the Americans, but a strategic win. American aircraft mauled two Japanese fleet carriers so badly that they were unavailable for the pivotal Battle of Midway. Coral Sea also left the Yorktown badly damaged. However, extraordinary exertions by the crew and shipyard workers at Pearl Harbor quickly returned the ship to duty.

Thus, Dixie served as Yorktown’s Executive Officer at Midway in June 1942. The ship went down fighting for the victorious American forces, and Kiefer received the Navy Cross (second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor) "for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service." Forced to jump into the sea, Kiefer smashed an ankle and foot, one of ten major battle wounds he suffered in his career.

During his recuperation, the Navy produced a documentary film about the battles of an unidentified (under wartime security) fleet carrier called The Fighting Lady. Producers used mostly actual field footage, along with a few scripted scenes. Kiefer played “Captain Dixie,” in some of those scenes. The carrier was, in fact, a brand new Yorktown, commissioned in January 1943, after being renamed to commemorate the ship lost at Midway.

Ticonderoga shortly after Kamikaze strike. U.S. Navy photo.
Promoted, Captain Kiefer was assigned to command the new fleet carrier USS Ticonderoga. During attacks on Formosa in January 1945, multiple Kamikaze hits badly damaged the vessel.

Kiefer himself suffered a smashed arm and 65 pieces of shrapnel in his body. The Ticonderoga returned to combat after repairs, but Kiefer was not in command because he had not yet fully recovered.

Promoted to Commodore, that spring he took command of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station (10-15 miles south of Providence, Rhode Island). As usual, Dixie quickly earned the respect and affection of the officers and enlisted men under his command.

Commodore Kiefer's arm was still in a cast when the airplane he was riding in crashed in heavy fog near Beacon, New York, in November 1945. Special memorial services were held for Kiefer and the others killed in the crash, then Kiefer's body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

Besides the Navy Cross, Kiefer received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Purple Heart.
                                                                                                                                     
References: Arlington National Cemetery Records.
Walter Lord, Incredible Victory, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York (1967).
James A. Mooney (Ed.), Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Dept. of the Navy (June 1991).
Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, Navy Department, Government Printing Office, (January 1, 1917).
Clark G. Reynolds, On the Warpath in the Pacific: Admiral Jocko Clark and the Fast Carriers, U.S. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland (October 30, 2005).

3 comments:

  1. Do you know anything about his father? My grandmother's maiden name is Kiefer and she's from Blackfoot, Idaho but we don't know how/if there's a relation. Do you know why Dixie Kiefer's parents were in Blackfoot at the time of his birth?

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  2. The only family information I could find were a few bits in the U.S. Census, as I mentioned in the blog item. Dixie's family was living in Spokane for the 1900 census: The father is shown as "C. W. Kiefer" (could be "G. W."), age 39, listed birth state as Pennsylvania, and occupation as "music teacher." He died sometime between 1900 and 1910. The census also shows that Dixie had at least four siblings.

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  3. I was actually able to answer my own question. With a little bit of luck I figured out Dixie's genealogy and hooked him into the Kiefer line. See https://familysearch.org/tree/#view=ancestor&person=LDM3-VWZ

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