Jeremiah Joseph “Jerry” O’Keefe III was born on July 12, 1923, and died on August 23, 2016.
He was an American World War II veteran and decorated fighter pilot ace.
He was also a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and was the mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi in the 1970s.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served from 1942-1943.
Jeremiah the became a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943-1945.
Jeremiah was a 1st Lt. with the VMF-323 Marine Squadron, known as the “Death Rattlers”.
O’Keefe gained recognition for his contributions to a dogfight in Okinawa on April 22, 1945, in which he shot down five Japanese Kamikazes, becoming an ace in a single day.
(That action was chronicled on the Dogfight TV series, the episode “Supersonic”.
Lt. O’Keefe shot down another two enemy planes on April 28 bringing his total victories to seven which made him the highest scoring ace in Okinawa at the time.
He had been given both the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
Jerry and his family had owned O’Keefe Funeral Homes since the early 1900s.
During 1957, Jerry bought his major competitor’s business, creating Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes.
Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe also founded a life insurance company, Gulf National Life.
During 1996 O’Keefe won a jury trial concerning a contractual dispute involving the family businesses.
Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe and fellow plaintiffs were awarded $500 million in damages, a sum that would have bankrupted the defendant.
Eventually, O’Keefe settled for a significantly lower sum.
The former Lt Jerry O’Keefe was elected to the Mississippi State Legislature in 1960 for one term, ending 1964.
Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe served as the Chairman of the ‘Temperance Committee’, fighting for liquor legalization, on a local-option basis, in Mississippi, the last remaining ‘dry’ state in the nation.
He was a major financial contributor and fundraiser for both the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.
Jerry and his wife Annette also founded and endowed the O’Keefe Foundation, a charitable organization designed to support local organizations and various other charitable purposes.
Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe passed away at 93 years old.