In memory of
“Cyril Sydney Kemp (a.k.a. Bennie)
Born 16th June 1912 was killed on 23rd
February 1941 returning from a raid on Boulogne. He was Acting Squadron Leader at the time of his death; his Blenheim IV crashed at Swanton Morely as he avoided a Wellington that was returning to base.
Bennie Kemp was survived by his wife and 9 month-old son, Rodney Paul Bennie Kemp who has forever mourned the loss and absence of his father throughout his childhood and adult life.”
Arthur Jeffrey, ‘Fearless' WWII Ace with Movie-Star Good Looks who Shot Down first German Rocket Plane Dies at 95
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Of the tens of thousands of American pilots who flew in WWII, just 1,279 earned the title of ace. Sadly, the number of these unique American heroes is dwindling. Only 70 WWII aces remain alive today.
With 14 aerial victories, Arthur Jeffrey was the second highest scoring living American ace when he died in his sleep at his home in Yakima, Washington, on April 18th. His combat awards include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Air Medal with 16 Oak Leaf Clusters.
Born November 17, 1919, in Brewer, Arkansas, Jeffrey’s family moved to Cardin, Oklahoma, when he was just a few years old. Cardin, now abandoned, was a small mining town in the northeastern corner of the state.
At the heart of the Great Depression, Jeffrey’s parents, with their six children, were having a hard time making ends meet. To help his family survive, at age 15 Jeffrey started working the nightshift in Cardin’s lead and zinc mine. As the youngest worker in the mine, his nickname was “Schoolboy.” For over three years he attended school during the day and worked in the mine at night, up until he finished high school in 1937, when he graduated as class salutatorian.
Arthur Jeffrey enlisted in the Army in August 1939 and served as a radio operator until being accepted into the Aviation Cadet Program in September 1941 at Kelly Field, Texas. Graduating in April 1942, he was assigned to the 50th Pursuit Squadron at Hamilton Field, California, as a P-38 “Lightning” pilot.
During the summer of 1942 while stationed at Hamilton, he met and shortly thereafter married his first wife, native San Franciscan and former model Edna Finnila. They would remain married 20 years and have two sons. In October 1942 he and his wife Edna moved to Newport Beach, California, where he joined the 434th Fighter Squadron. At the time, the 434th pilots were flying “submarine patrol” missions off the California coast. Years later his wife Edna recounted how when coming back from a mission he would buzz their apartment – upside down in a P-38, so low that she could see the pipe hanging out of his mouth. That ended when the neighbors complained to the War Department.
The pilots of the 434th Fighter Squadron were eventually deployed to England, arriving May 14, 1944. They flew their first mission just 11 days later on May 25th. Less than two weeks after that on June 6th, 1944, they would be providing top air cover for the D-Day invasion. Jeffrey flew two missions of over three hours each on June 6th, along with additional missions in the days that followed. He literally had a birds-eye view of the greatest invasion in human history. He commented how he had never seen so many ships and planes in one place. No one had. Never before had there been, and, surely, never again will there be, a spectacle of that nature of such magnitude.
On July 29, 1944, Jeffrey was escorting home a badly-shot-up B-17 bomber over Germany when it was attacked by an Me-163, a German rocket-powered plane. Jeffrey thwarted the attack, saving the bomber and its crew, by pursuing and shooting down the Me-163. The engagement lasted less than four minutes.
During the pursuit of the Me-163 Jeffrey had his P-38 in a steep dive with full power and an indicated airspeed of over 500 knots, which translates to over eight tenths the speed of sound – far faster than the P-38 was designed to fly. Waiting until the last moment, he pulled out of the dive with just a few hundred feet to spare.
The struggling bomber with two of its four engines shot out and a damaged tail eventually ditched in the North Sea. One crewman was lost and the others became POWs. Sixty years after the event Jeffrey was able to meet the B-17’s navigator, Bob Fulkerson. He credited Jeffrey with saving his life and giving him “60 years of freedom and family.”
The 434th Fighter Squadron switched from P-38 “Lightnings” to P-51 “Mustangs” around September 1944. Soon after that, on two occasions, December 5th, and then again on December 23rd, Jeffrey shot down three enemy aircraft on one mission. For his actions on December 5th, he was awarded the Silver Star. The citation reads:
Leading a Section of nine (9) P-51 fighters, Colonel Jeffrey observed a group of approximately forty (40) FW-190's with a top cover of approximately fifteen (15) ME-109's positioning for an attack. Heedless of the tremendous odds, he selected the low element as the most immediate threat to the bombers and launched a bold assault. During the ensuing battle the gunsight bulb burned out and two guns in the right wing ceased to function, causing the aircraft to veer off the target with each burst of machine gun fire. Despite this handicap he sent two (2) planes down in flames before the formation dispersed. Descending through a layer of clouds to four-thousand (4,000) feet, he engaged two (2) FW-190's just as the remaining right wing gun expired.
Undaunted, he maneuvered his aircraft with such dexterity that he was successful in destroying one (1) of the enemy and expended the last of his ammunition while scoring strikes on the other. The fact that during this action Colonel Jeffrey, together with his section, destroyed seven (7) enemy planes, probably destroyed one (1) and damaged two (2) others is due largely to his courage, combat skill, and gallant leadership.
At an early age Jeffrey demonstrated the kind of courage and boldness that undoubtedly contributed to his becoming a top fighter pilot. Around 11 years old, upon being dared by some older kids, he jumped across an abandoned open mineshaft. It was something that would haunt him for years, as, had he failed, the consequences would have been dire. The mineshaft was over 50 feet deep.
One of Jeffrey’s most impressive feats of airmanship came after the war in 1947 on a clear moonlit night over a small farm town somewhere in the upper Midwest. He was flying an Air Force two-place AT-6 Trainer with a young GI in the back seat who was ‘hitching’ a ride to Chicago. Unknown to Jeffrey, the aircraft’s magnetic compass was off by 20 degrees, which inevitably resulted in their getting lost. Out of fuel, the engine quit just as he was briefing his passenger on how to bail out. About that same time Jeffrey spotted the reflection of moonlight off the wing of a light aircraft parked at a small airfield below.
Judging the distance to the airfield and the glide ratio of his now powerless aircraft perfectly, incredibly, Jeffrey managed the “impossible” – a successful dead-stick landing on an unlit short grass strip at night! He was able to stop the aircraft just short of the fence at the end of the runway.
A local restaurant was located next to the airport and its patrons came pouring out. Word spread fast. Within minutes, it seemed half the population of the small town had showed up. This was a big event. Never had such a “large” aircraft landed at their little airport.
After the aircraft was refueled, the town’s people built a large bonfire at the end of the unlit runway so Jeffrey could see his way down it. As he throttled the engine up to full power and released the brakes, the AT-6 roared down the short runway and lifted off just in time to clear the bonfire at the end, but with the wheels passing through the flames. They then disappeared into the night, later landing safely and uneventfully in Chicago.
Arthur Jeffrey retired as a full colonel in 1968 after 30 years of military service. Despite being a war hero, he was very modest, even reluctant to talk about his war experiences. His older son only learned the story behind his Silver Star upon finding it online a few days after his father had passed away. Jeffrey was predeceased by his younger son Brian, his first wife Edna, and his second wife Ann, to whom he was married for 45 years. He is survived by his older son Kent, a retired Delta Airlines captain, and his sisters Helen Luke and Bertie DiPietro, and nine nieces and nephews.