David Rocco co-authors the book "The Indestructible Man" About Dixie Kiefer
A new book about a little-known hero of World War II—and one with strong ties to this area—has just been published by local writer David Rocco. Rocco has recently co-authored the book “The Indestructible Man,” the amazing story of Navy officer Dixie Kiefer, who was an instrumental player in major battles in World War II after serving in World War I.
Dixie Kiefer was a true World War II hero. He was the first man to fly an airplane off a ship at nigh. He was Executive Officer on the carrier USS Yorktown at the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, and skipper of USS Ticonderoga when she came under brutal attack by Japanese kamikaze planes. He was the last man off Yorktown before she sank at Midway. Though seriously injured, he swam through shark-infested waters pushing a life raft filled with hurt sailors toward a rescue ship.
Later, as captain of the big aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, his ship came under a vicious attack by kamikaze aircraft. Though critically hurt by flying shrapnel, with 65 serious wounds, he remained on the bridge for twelve hours, overseeing counter-attacks. He continued damage control with a badly broken right arm after being hit by suicide planes. He successfully steered his big carrier through a killer typhoon that took the lives of more than 800 men throughout the Allied fleet. Through it all, he performed coolly and heroically, leading his men through hell and back.
But “Captain Dixie” was much more. He was a sailor’s skipper. A man who would not ask his men to do anything he would not do. He referred to his crew as “Dixie’s kids.” His regular “cocktail club” meetings aboard his ships were legendary. And he even had a key role in an Academy Award-winning documentary titled “The Fighting Lady”.
His men joked their skipper had so much shrapnel in his body that the ship’s compass followed him. When the Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal*, a Beacon native, awarded Dixie the Distinguished Service Medal for his amazing valor, he proclaimed Kiefer to be “The Indestructible Man.” But nobody could have foreseen the end to Captain Dixie's story.
Now, for the first time, Don Keith and David Rocco tell the full story of this pioneering hero who inspired not only the men with whom he served, but an entire nation at war.
On November 14, 1945, a plane crash took the lives of six Navy servicemen. Their plane crashed on the northwest flank of Mt. Beacon in the Town of Fishkill on Armistice Day 1945. The Beechcraft Twin Engine Navy Transport was returning to the US Naval Air Station (NAS) in Quonset Point Rhode Island from Curtiss Wright Airport in Caldwell, NJ (now called Essex County Airport).
The Navy Transport departed from Curtiss Wright Airport at approximately 11:35 AM. Unfortunately, they encountered heavy rain and fog when they approached the Stewart Airport air traffic controller. At about 12 noon on 11/11/1945, all six men lost their lives when their plane crashed on Mt. Beacon, just 100 feet from the peak. The six are:
Commodore Dixie Kiefer - 49
Commander Dr. Ignatious Zeilinski - 44
Lt. Lloyd Heinzen - Pilot - 27
Lt. Jr. Hugo "Hans" Kohler - Co -pilot - 25
Aviation Machinist Clarence Hooper - 22
Seaman 1st Class David Wood - 23
May their souls rest in peace as we try to remember them and others who also gave their lives serving our country. Their contributions are the reason why we enjoy the way of life we all take for granted They were and always will be members of the "Greatest Generation."
There is now a remembrance of them at the Town of Fishkill War Memorial Park. Friends of the Mt. Beacon Eight and the Town of Fishkill honored the six men from the 1945 plane crash as well as two additional Navy Servicemen who lost their lives on Mt. Beacon on September 14, 1935. Their plane was a Navy "Helldiver" single engine Bi-plane. They were:
Lt. Lincoln C. Denton, 27 - Pilot
Aviation Mate Clinton E. Hart, 28
After three-plus years of research, David Rocco has completed this book with help from award- winning author Don Keith. We’re pleased to help him get the word out about eight US Navy servicemen who lost their lives on Mt. Beacon while serving our great country.
David Rocco is from Yorktown Heights, New York, and retired from the New York City Housing Department. Since then, he has led civic and environmental efforts including the Walkway Over the Hudson Project in Poughkeepsie, The Mount Beacon Fire Tower Restoration Project, the Beacon Sloop Club’s Woody Guthrie vessel, and the Mount Beacon Eight organization. This latter group successfullly sought to recognize those who died along with Dixie Kiefer in the 1945 plane crash as well as two other Navy aviators killed on the mountain ten years earlier.
Rocco’s co-author on “The Indestructible Man” is best-selling and award-winning writer Don Keith. Keith has written extensively on World War II history as well as other subjects including college football, NASCAR racing, submarines, broadcasting, and civil rights. His nationally-bestselling military thriller, “Firing Point,” is being made into a major motion picture under the title “Hunter Killer,” starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman. Keith’s web site is www.donkeith.com.
READ: A 7/25/2017 New York Times article on this, Lost in the Woods, the 1945 Crash Site of a Navy Hero: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/nyregion/lost-in-the-woods-the-1945-crash-site-of-a-navy-hero.html?_r=0https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/nyregion/lost-in-the-woods-the-1945-crash-site-of-a-navy-hero.html?_r=0
*Sidebar: James V. Forrestal, Beacon native, was the first Undersecretary of the Navy from 1940 – 44, appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt. He became Secretary of the Navy in 1944. Forrestal introduced a policy of racial integration in the Navy. He was in the South Pacific in 1942 at the Battle of Kwajalein in 1944, and witnessed the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. After five days of battle, Marines were sent to hoist the American flag on the 545-foot summit of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. This was the first time the U.S. flag had flown on Japanese soil. Forrestal, who’d just landed on the beach, claimed the historic flag as a souvenir. A second flag was run up in its place, and this flag-raising was the moment captured by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal in his famous photo. A Beacon Elementary School and many other buildings nationally are named for him.
The Indestructible Man” by Don Keith with David Rocco - 231 pages, with rare photos and eye-witness accounts – available wherever books are sold in trade paperback and all e-book formats, from Erin Press, 40 Red Stick Road, Indian Springs Village, Alabama 35124.