South Carolina

Trump posthumously pardons World War II scientist with SC connection

When South Carolina’s Supreme Court Justice John Kittredge was growing up, his grandfather’s name — Zay Jeffries — was spoken frequently and his legacy featured prominently, even beyond his family members.

But it was not until he was in his 20s that Kittredge understood the depth of his grandfather’s contributions, he said Friday.

“I have a sister and brother who are older that remember him very well, and speak of him often and speak of him fondly, not only about his patriotism ... (but) his gentle ways and his caring ways,” said Kittredge, who was 9 when Jeffries died from cancer in 1965.

Those contributions were once again lionized Thursday, when President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Jeffries, a World War II metal scientist whose help on the Manhattan Project “proved vital to the war effort,” the White House said in a statement.

Raised in South Dakota, Jeffries helped develop artillery shells capable of piercing the armor of German tanks and also consulted on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

He was indicted in 1941 on antitrust charges related to his employment — violating the federal Sherman Act. But top defense officials asked for his prosecution to be delayed until after the war.

Jeffries “is now engaged in research of the utmost importance to victory in the war which he feels he would have to drop in the immediate future in order to prepare for trial ...,” then U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson wrote in 1942 to the attorney general in a letter provided to The State. “I therefore state that in my opinion the prosecution of the case ... will seriously interfere with the war effort.”

Jeffries was convicted and fined $2,500 in 1948 — the same year that President Harry S. Truman awarded him the Presidential Medal for Merit. Truman commended Jeffries for his “exceptionally meritorious conduct” to the country in a letter shared with The State.

The process to get his grandfather pardoned was long — a process that started more than a year ago, Kittredge said by phone Friday.

“In fact, the initial response from the pardon’s office (at the U.S. Department of Justice) was that we generally don’t consider posthumous pardons, even though the president grants them. It’s not the normal course,” Kittredge said.

But after several supporting affidavits — including one from a NASA scientist — and the help of political leaders U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, former U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy and former state lawmaker, ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, Kittredge and his family got their answer.

“I’m overjoyed,” Kittredge said. “I’m excited, gratified and very grateful. I’m grateful to them. Of course, we’re grateful to the president for his consideration and approval of the application.”

Kittredge didn’t only get to share the excitement with his siblings.

He also had the privilege, he said, of telling his 96-year-old mother, daughter of Dr. Jeffries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.