FISHKILL–Four years of research, countless hours of digging and a chance stop at a local store have led to the publication of new book about Navy legend, Capt. Dixie Kiefer.
Behind it is Yorktown resident and community volunteer David Rocco, who did the brunt of the legwork. He discovered award-winning author Don Keith as he was thumbing through some books about W.W. II history.
In January of this year, Rocco got in touch with Keith about the story he knew needed to be told.
“Three hours later, he wrote back to me,” said Rocco, a member of Friends of the Mount Beacon Eight and project manager of the Mount Beacon Fire Tower Restoration project.
“He said, ‘I like what I hear, but I need more information,’ so I sent it to him.”
Within days, Keith agreed to take on the project, and by March of this year, he sent Rocco the first five chapters of “The Indestructible Man: The True Story of World War II Hero “Captain Dixie.'”
Oddly enough, Rocco and Keith never met in person or talked by phone. They communicated via email, but despite the lack of face-to-face contact, the 230-page paperback book was released in June of this year.
As a contributor, Rocco said he is pleased that Kiefer’s story has finally reached a larger audience.
Kiefer and five Navy servicemen died when their Beechcraft twin-engine plane crashed on a rainy morning in November 1945 on the northwest ridge of Mount Beacon.
Rocco’s research led him to another plane crash on the ridge. Ten years before the 1945 crash, two other Navy reservists–one a pilot and the other a mechanic–died when their single-engine biplane went down on the opposite side of the mountain.
Kiefer’s death got all the attention because of who he was, Rocco said. The decorated officer was the first person to fly an airplane off a battleship at night. He also served as the executive officer of the USS Yorktown and commanding officer of the USS Ticonderoga.
Rocco noted the irony of his death 72 years ago, particularly since he was a hero in the Pacific War who survived two Japanese kamikaze attacks on his ship, where he suffered 65 wounds from bomb shrapnel as well as a broken arm.
“They weren’t killed in a glorious battle,” he said. “I found out that in W.W. II, there were over 10,000 plane crashes. Thousands lost their lives in non-combat missions due to things like weather conditions and equipment that wasn’t what it is today.”
In fact, Rocco is haunted by the deaths of all the men who died in the plane crashes on Mount Beacon–a place he considers sacred ground–and a phenomenon that has propelled him to engage in years of painstaking research.
He noted the strange numerical connections the day Kiefer and five others died in 1945 while his Navy transport plane crashed as it was returning to the Air Naval base at Quonset from Caldwell, N.J.
“They weren’t killed in a glorious battle. It was just an overnight trip. They left on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and crashed 1,100 feet up.”
Over the years, Rocco dug further at libraries and reached out to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to learn more about the other men also killed alongside Kiefer.
“Dixie got all the headlines, which is understandable,” Rocco said. “The others were only slightly mentioned, so I wanted to make sure the other five were mentioned as much as possible.”
Now that the book is out, Rocco has managed to keep busy with speaking engagements.
In the coming weeks, he will be featured at the Local Author Fair at the Mount Vernon Library on Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Clinton Community Library in Rhinebeck on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.
He also will be speaking at the West Point Chapter of the Company Military Historians at the West Point Museum on Nov. 14 at 7:30 and town of Yorktown Historical Society on Nov. 16.
On Veterans Day, there will also be a ceremony at the town of Fishkill Veterans Memorial Park at 11 a.m. to dedicate a monument and historic marker, which will one day be placed at the site of the 1945 crash.
Rocco said he will go wherever he can to broaden awareness about Kiefer and the other men, who lost their lives decades ago in Dutchess County.
“I feel like it is up to me to tell the story of the eight voices that are long gone. They served our country and died in our own backyard in the Hudson Valley. It’s a way to honor them. They should be treated with the utmost respect.”