Jack Milton Ilfrey was born July 31, 1920 in Houston, Texas, graduated from Mirabeau Lamar Senior High School there and went on to Texas A&M, where he learned to fly in the first Civilian Pilot Training Program
(CPTP) in 1939.
He had secondary Civilian Pilot
Training Program at the University of Houston in
for the Hughes Tool Company at night.
the Army Air Corp as an Aviation Cadet in
graduated at Luke Field, Arizona in the first wartime
assigned to the
94th Pursuit Squadron,
In the spring of 1942, the 1st Fighter Group (as they were now designated,) were equipped with new P-38Fs and were ordered to Dow Field, Maine, to prepare for the "Bolero
-- the first mass flight of fighter planes and bombers to
"We called it the Guinea Pig Mission, cause that is what we were." Ilfrey said. On July 4, 1942, the 94th. "Hat In The Ring" squadron took off on the first leg of the mission, from Presque Isle, Maine to Goose Bay, Labrador. Four P-38s were assigned to each of the
97th Bombardment Group B-17s that joined them on the mission. On July
6th, the second leg was flown from Goose Bay to Reykjavik, Iceland. It was on this leg of the mission that six of the P-38s and two B-17s ran low on fuel and were forced to land on an ice cap in Greenland. While all of the crewmen survived, all eight aircraft had to be abandoned. Later dubbed the
Squadron," many expeditions were formed to recover these craft, and in the summer of 1992, one of the P-38s was removed from beneath its 270 foot tomb of
On July 26th., most of the 94th FS (including Ilfrey,) landed at Kirton, in Lindsey, Lincolnshire, England. They were stationed there with the Polish
303rd Koscuisko Squadron, who taught them many of the tricks of the trade. On September
1 the 1st FG made the first all-American fighter sweep over northern France from Beurnmouth, on the English Channel's coast. This was also the first mission of the US
8th Air Force against the enemy.
Many other missions would soon follow. On November
15 the group took off from Chivenor, in the Lands End area of England, on "Operation Torch," the invasion of North Africa. It was not long before they all discovered what war in the air was all about.
It was during this mission that the first of many noteworthy happenings in Ilfrey's career
occurred. Shortly after take off, Ilfrey lost a belly tank, which meant he would not have enough fuel to complete the mission. He calculated that he had enough to make an emergency landing in Gibraltor, but his calculations proved incorrect and he was
forced to make an emergency landing in a very German friendly
Immediately upon landing he was informed that, as the country was neutral, all pilots and aircraft from outside countries that landed there would be interned.
Jack escaped internment by tricking the local military authorities into refueling his P-38F. Once that was accomplished, he offered to show them how to start the engines. With Portuguese officers still kneeling on the wings, Jack firewalled the throttles and pulled the canopy closed as his hapless captors were blown off like leaves. Without the time to taxi to a runway, Ilfrey takes off straight ahead. He then
navigated to Gibraltar by compass alone. The diplomatic flap caused by Jack's bold escape results in the State Department demanding that he be sent back! General Jimmy Doolittle would have none of
he stepped in and smoothed things out for Jack.
Jack soon put all of his training into action over North Africa, as on November
29. He shared credit for downing a Messerschmitt Me-110 near Gabes Airdrome, in Tunisia. On December
2 he downed two Messerscmitt Bf-109s over Gabes Airdrome, Tunisia, and on December
26 he shot down two Focke Wulf Fw-190s 5 miles west of
On January 11, 1943 he damaged a Bf-109 5 miles north of Gabes Airdrome and on March
3 he downed another Bf-109 near El
now say he
The action continued when, on the following day, he damaged another Bf-109 over Bizerte Harbor.
He received a commendation for his actions from the Chief of Staff, US Army, on February
3, 1943. After a total of
5-1/2 air to air victories, 2 confirmed damaged enemy aircraft, 208 combat hours and 72 missions, Jack was relieved of combat duty and reassigned to the states as a flight instructor in P-38s and P-47 Thunderbolts.
1944 Jack went back to the ETO
and became Squadron Commander of the
79th Ftr. Sq.
P-38's at King's Cliffe. On May
24 he was credited with 2 ME 109's'in a hairy dog fight
near Berlin. One
of the 109's collided with his
P-38 and ripped off 4 1/2 -5 feet of his right
13 after successfully
a railway bridge over the Loire River near Angers, Jack was
shot down while strafing a train near
there -- some 200 miles below the front lines. He evaded
capture and was back
in 4 days.
It was along this time that Maj. Ilfrey was busted to 2nd Lt. for
infractions of the rules, but was left in
command of the
79th Sq. His claim to
infamy) is that he was probably the only 2nd Lt. CO of
a Combat Fighter Squadron during the
war -- at least for a few days
-- until he started his promotional climb
back. He was again saved by Gen. Doolittle C.O. 8th A.F. at the persuasion of Col. Cy
The last memorable incident to happen was on
20 Nov 44 when he landed behind enemy lines, near the
Maastrick, Holland, and successfully picked up his wing man
for a short ride to Brussels.
After 70 missions and 320 hours of combat flying
Jack was reassigned to the
States, where he became a Troop
Commander at McChord AFB.
In two tours, he completed a total of 142 missions with 528 combat