Friday, June 25, 2004

WWII fighter Thomas Jeffers survived stalag


Bombardier served in Air Force for 20 years

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - Thomas Jeffers' life could well have ended 60 years ago, when the then-23-year-old bombardier's B-24 - "Rhapsody in Junk'' - was shot down over a tiny village in northern Germany.

Instead, the Army Air Corps lieutenant went on to endure nearly a year as a prisoner of the Nazis and to see the liberation of himself, his fellow prisoners of war and all of Europe before returning home to make a career in the Air Force and raise a family.

Early Thursday, that long and eventful life ended at The Knolls of Oxford nursing home, where the retired lieutenant colonel - a resident of Hamilton in recent years - died from complications of a stroke. Mr. Jeffers was 83.

"He was truly our hero and a kind and loving man,'' said a daughter, Marilyn Walton of Oxford.

Born in 1921 in Brockton, Mass., Mr. Jeffers went to work at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, as a civilian employee before joining the Army Air Corps in 1943.

The young second lieutenant was shipped to an airfield in England, where he joined the 754th Squadron of the 458th Bomb Group. He was on his third bombing mission when his plane was shot down. One crew member was killed; the rest were taken prisoner.

Mr. Jeffers spent the next eight months as a prisoner of the Nazis at Stalag Luft III, which is now in western Poland. As the Nazi war machine began to collapse and the Russian Army advanced form the east, he and the other prisoners were forced to march 78 miles through blizzard conditions to another prison camp, in Bavaria.

There, he and his fellow prisoners were liberated in April 1945 by Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army.

After the war, he spent 20 years in the Air Force, retiring after a final tour of duty in Thailand. He became purchasing director for Riverside Hospital in Columbus.

Mr. Jeffers was a member of the Retired Officers Association, the 2nd Air Division and the American Military Society and a former member of St. Teresa's Catholic Church in Springfield.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Phyllis, in November.

In addition to Walton, survivors include another daughter, Diane Stamp of Plymouth, Mich.; a brother, Donald Jeffers of Ocala, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday at Weigel Funeral Home, 980 NW Washington Blvd., Hamilton. A brief visitation and prayers will take place at 8 a.m. Monday at the funeral home, followed by Mass of Christian burial at St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church, 224 Dayton St., Hamilton. Burial will follow at Ferncliff Cemetery in Springfield, Ohio.

Memorials: American Air Museum in Britain, PO Box 97055, Washington, D.C. 20090-7055 or to the Miles Christi Institute, PO Box 701200, Plymouth, MI 48170.

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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