Col. James Clark Dieffenderfer (“Jimmie Dee”), a long-time visitor to Boca Grande and the father of local resident Ann Fletcher, took his final flight on 16 September 2022. A decorated World War II hero and a man of extraordinary character, he leaves behind a loving and extended family, along with countless friends. He died peacefully three months shy of his 103rd birthday. He closed his eyes and drifted away quietly in his sleep without pain or fear. Jimmie Dee was a devoted husband, father of three and a longstanding member of the 43rd Bomb Group, and the Florida Orlando community. He will be forever missed by those that were lucky enough to have known him.
Born on Christmas Day in 1919 in West Virginia, he grew up with his brother and sister, working through the Great Depression building apple crates at the age of eleven. Through hard work and family support he received a ROTC scholarship from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and earned his pilot license as part of their first Civilian Pilot Training Program. Graduating with the Class of 1941 with a degree in Electrical Engineering, he entered the Army Air Corps (AAC) and graduated from the Army’s military pilot training program at Kelly Field, TX in March 1942. Initially assigned to the 74th Bombardment Squadron in Panama, he went on to serve nearly 29 years in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in a variety of roles.
During World War II, then 1st Lt. Dieffenderfer was reassigned to the 63rd Bombardment Squadron, a part of the 43rd Bombardment Group where he flew 46 combat missions (310 combat hours) as a B-17 pilot in the Southwest Pacific. On his first mission his tail gunner was killed and his navigator lost his legs but survived. As a war hero, he was decorated with two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, and three Air Medals. Returning to the United States in August of 1943, he was reassigned as an instructor pilot, training aircrews in B-24s, B-29s, and B-32s.
After the war, he held positions developing aircraft and space electrical systems, including Chief of the Laboratory for developing new materials at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and executive officer for the Deputy Chief of Research and Development at the Pentagon.
Col Dieffenderfer retired in 1970 from the United States Air Force as the Vice Commander of the Office of Aerospace Research in Washington DC and moved to Florida in that year. He continued working in the electrical field, installing electrical systems and equipment in shopping malls and amusement parks until he joined the Walt Disney Corporation, where he was responsible for all animation construction and sound systems at Epcot Center.
Col Dieffenderfer retired from Disney in 1986. His name was added to the Disney Hall of Fame and to the Aviation Wall of Fame Heroes in WWII at the Blacksburg Airport in March 2003. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations in his name be made to a Veteran’s organization of your choosing.
A private funeral was held at All Saints Episcopal Church in Winter Park, FL with full military honors.