Sunday, August 03, 2014

Warrior: what Greatest Generation 24-year-olds were capable of

Ira Cassius Kepford was born on 29 May 1919 in Harvey, Illinois, son of George Raymond and Emma McLaughlin Kepford. He was a star halfback at Northwestern University, where he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1941. He was honorably discharged from the Reserve on 29 April 1942, and accepted an appointment as a Naval Aviation Cadet.

Kepford earned his wings at Corpus Christi, Texas and Miami, Florida on 5 November 1942, and was assigned to Fighting-17 the following January.

In the Battle of the Solomon Sea, Kepford pressed through blistering antiaircraft fire from the
Bunker Hill to down four enemy aircraft and damage a fifth, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross.

On 29 January, Kepford led his wingman in an attack on 12 Japanese fighters over Rabaul; he scored four kills, and was awarded a Gold Star, for this action.

While returning to base on 19 Febuary 1944, Kepford spotted a low Japanese seaplane. Although he was alone (his wingman was forced to abort earlier, and Kepford was retained to cover bombers en route to Rabaul), Kepford dived down and flamed the plane. He was then attacked by a flight of three Zekes, which dived onto him with a massive altitude advantage. Kepford took full advantage of the newly installed water injection WEP to stretch out the chase, but the Zekes' energy advantage allowed them to slowly narrow the gap. As the lead Zeke opened fire, Kepford decided to "go for broke." He dropped his flaps and landing gear and nosed down until he was skimming the waves; as the Zeke roared over him, he pulled his Hog's nose up and opened fire. The Zeke's stabilizer crumpled under the snapshot, and the plane crashed into the waves. As Kepford pulled in his gear and flaps, the remaining two Zekes bracketed him . . . he was facing 2-to-1 odds, low and slow, and he was heading back in the direction of Rabaul. Kepford ran his throttle as far open as possible, and after gaining some speed he cut across the path of the port Zeke. The Japanese plane dropped to wavetop level, opened fire, and sharply turned to fall onto his six . . . at which point the Zeke's left wing caught a wave top, and the plane cartwheeled across the ocean surface, disintegrated, and sank. The third Zeke was left behind as Kepford dashed for home, landing on fumes in his fuel tank.

In his five months of combat duty, Ira Kepford scored a total of 16 confirmed kills and 1 unconfirmed. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Gold Star, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal, Unit Commendation to VF-17, and the American Defense Service Medal.

After the war, Ike married Miss Esther M. Kraegal. They had two children together, a daughter, Tracy, and a son, Tim. Ike pursued a business career with the Liggett-Rexall Drug Company following the war and later became its president. He retired in the early 1970s and settled in Harbor Springs, Michigan. He remained there until he passed away on January 19, 1987. Ike Kepford was highly successful as a scholar, an athlete, a fighter pilot and a businessman.
Found and salvaged this model of his plane recently. Tribute like my Navy flight jacket.

I understand the Corsair was undersuccessful as a carrier plane because of its long nose (lots of fatal crashes), but it worked well as a land-based fighter, like Pappy Boyington (this man sounded like a warrior: watch below) and Baa Baa Black Sheep. (Tell it to the Marines: flying the Navy's rejects and still winning. Kill or be killed.) Such was VF-17, an island-based Navy squadron. Yet they also served on carriers through Korea (as attack planes: bombers and close air support for ground troops?).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comment