Al Jaffe was a scrappy, streetwise Jewish kid from the Bronx who climbed into a P-51 Mustang fighter plane in the last year of World War II and flew it into history.
Second Lt. Abraham Al Jaffe completed 77 reconnaissance missions in Europe, including one that helped turn the tide of the war during the pivotal Battle of the Bulge.
He was also involved in holding the bridge at Remagen, Germany, enabling U.S. troops to cross the Rhine River two months before the war ended.
His exploits inspired Henry Fondas character, Lt. Col. Daniel Kiley, in the 1965 feature film Battle of the Bulge and earned Jaffe 17 medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the nations third highest combat decoration.
Jaffe succumbed to long-term heart disease at home in Weston on Aug. 20, three days after his 88th birthday. He and his wife, Edith, moved there three years ago after 45 years in North Miami Beachs Skylake neighborhood.
In his last hours, Jaffe was attended by loved ones amid an extraordinary trove of original WWII memorabilia, including his aviators log book, his Army uniforms, his decorations and their supporting citations, photos he shot at the just-liberated Nazi death camp Buchenwald, and a replica of the P-51 he named Nankie, his childhood name for sister Charlotte.
Fascinated by airplanes, Jaffe joined an Army Air Force cadet program while attending James Monroe High School. He went on active duty at 18, trained at bases across the Deep South including Floridas Punta Gorda Army Airfield survived a training crash, and several near misses in combat.
He never expected to come home, which, hed later say, made him both fearless and fatalistic.
We had hundreds of thousands of people over there, so what did a life mean? Jaffe asked during a videotaped oral history interview in 2003.
To his own amazement, his most serious war wound was a self-inflicted ax gash on one leg during a firewood-chopping mishap.
Settling in South Florida after the war with his young bride, Jaffe got a job as an investigator for the business rating agency Dun & Bradstreet, then transitioned to banking and business.
He served as chief financial officer of Topp Electronics in the 1970s when, said son Arthur Jaffe, a Plantation CPA, it was bigger than Panasonic. He became president of Pan American Bank of Hialeah in 1975 and retired in 1994 as a vice president of Barclays Bank in Miami.
Although his business career had its share of excitement he was involved with Jacques Mossler, the Key Biscayne tycoon brutally murdered in 1964, allegedly by his wife Candy and her nephew/lover Melvin Lane Powers, both acquitted in a sensational trial nothing ever rivaled his wartime experience.
Jaffe spoke of it to civic groups and historians in plain language lightly sprinkled with GI profanity well into his 80s.
He remained in the Army Reserve until 1957, attended P-51 reunions, and returned in 1995 to the scene of his most dangerous mission, in Belgium.
But for years, Al Jaffe barely mentioned it, not the death he saw, caused or risked.
Who talked about it? he asked in the oral-history interview. We didnt talk; we did.
Jaffe described the rough conditions that his group endured while following Gen. George Pattons First Army the decoy force assembled to confuse the Germans about the Allies landing plans in France across the Rhine into Germany.