Jack Milton Ilfrey was born 31 July, 1920 in Houston, Texas.
father was a fighter pilot during World War I and later became the cashier of the First National Bank
Ilfrey graduated from High School and went on to Texas A&M College for two years.
While in college he learned to fly in the first Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) in 1939.
He continued with the CPTP at the University of Houston during the day while employed by The Hughes Tool Co. during the evenings.
entered the US Army Air Corps
as an Aviation Cadet in April of 1941.
graduated with the first wartime class of pilots at Luke Field, Arizona, on 12 December, 1941, (Class 41-I) and was assigned to the famed 94th Pursuit "Hat In The Ring " Squadron
, 1st Pursuit Group
first assignment found him flying P-38D and E's in defense of the California coastline.
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 Mission," the first mass flight of fighter planes and bombers to England.
"We called it the 'Guinea Pig Mission', cause that is what we were," Ilfrey
Shortly after take off, Ilfrey
lost a belly tank, which meant he
would not have enough fuel to complete the mission.
calculated that he
had enough to make an emergency landing in Gibraltar, but his
calculations proved incorrect and he
was forced to land in Lisbon, Portugal.
Immediately upon landing he
was informed that, as the country was officially neutral, all pilots and aircraft from outside countries that landed there would be interned.
agreed with the Portuguese authorities when they asked him to show a pilot the controls of his
P-38 and, as the pilot sat on the wing, he
started up the engines.
As a second P-38 came in for an emergency landing he
chance, shoved the throttles forward and the propwash blew the Portuguese pilot off of the plane.
An international incident flared before he
had even taxied the Lightning down the runway.
finally made it to Gibraltar, where he
later was informed that the US State Department
was demanding for him to return to Lisbon, but the Commander of American Operations at Gibraltar cabled Washington that Ilfrey
had already left for North Africa before the cable had arrived.
Jack soon put all of his
training into action over North Africa.
On 29 November he
shared credit for downing a Messerschmitt Me-110 near Gabes Airdrome, in Tunisia.
On 2 December he
downed two Messerschmitt Me-109s over Gabes Airdrome, Tunisia, and on 26 December he
shot down two Focke Wulf Fw 190s five miles west of Bizerte.
On 11 January, 1943 he
damaged a Me-109 five miles north of Gabes Airdrome and on 3 March he
downed another Me-109 near El Aounia, Tunisia, making him one of the first aces (many believe he
was the first) who flew P-38s.
The action continued when, on the following day, he
damaged another Me-109 over Bizerte Harbor.
received a commendation for his
actions from the Chief of Staff, US Army
, on 3 February, 1943.
After a total of five and a half air to air victories and two 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 at the replacement training unit at Santa Ana, California.
returned to the E.T.O. in April of 1944, as the Operations Officer of the 79th Fighter Squadron
, 20th Fighter Group
, based out of King's Cliffe, Northamptonshire, England.
This group was also equipped with P-38's.
On 27 September he became the Squadron's Commander.
Soon after his
was back in action.
On 24 May, during a mission to Berlin, he
was credited with downing two Messerschmitt Me-109s, one of which had actually collided with Ilfrey's Lightning and had sheared off nearly four and a half to five feet of Ilfrey's right wing.
The enemy pilot did not recover from the subsequent spin, but Ilfrey's skill kept him from joining in the fate of his
managed to bring the P-38 back home only to discover many of his
squadronmates had given up on him making it back.
As D-Day approached, and Invasion stripes were added to their aircraft, the 79th Fighter Squadron
readied itself for some intense action.
flew three patrols over Normandy on 6 June (D-Day), as the largest invasion force to ever cross the English Channel fought below him on the beaches of Normandy.
The Luftwaffe did not make an appearance in the skies over Normandy that day so the men of the 20th Fighter Group
had the chance to watch the invasion unfold beneath them.
On 12 June, after successfully dive bombing a railway bridge over the Loire River, near Angers, France, Jack
was shot down while strafing a nearby train.
was over 200 miles behind the front lines, but with the help of the French civilians he
managed to evade capture dressed as a French farmer Jacques Robert' and was back in England within six days.
Despite the official doctrine which sent all pilots who evaded back to the United States he
somehow managed to side-step the rules and continued flying in combat.
In late July, the 20th Fighter Group
converted to the P-51D Mustang and within months were involved in "Operation Frantic VI", a shuttle mission to Russia, Italy and back to England.
It was around this time that Ilfrey
was promoted to Major, however the celebration that followed said promotion led to his
being busted back to 2nd.
Lt. for multiple infractions.
remained in command of the squadron, however, and his
claim to fame...or infamy... (as he
was fond of saying) is he
was the only 2nd.
Lt. to ever lead a Combat Squadron during the war.
soon returned to the rank of Capt. however, as Gen.
wingman squeezed into the cockpit of the P-51 (designed for only one person,) and flew a short trip to Brussels where they landed safely.
On 9 December, 1944, after a total of 70 missions, 320 hours of combat flying and 2 enemy aircraft downed, Ilfrey was reassigned to the US, where he became a Troop Commander at McChord Air Force Base.
left the USAAF with the final rank of Major in December of 1945.
In two tours of duty Ilfrey completed a total of 142 missions, flew 528 combat hours, downed an officially confirmed seven and a half enemy aircraft (all air victories), damaged two more and destroyed two enemy trains on the ground.
In December, 1945 he left the service, purchased a Beechcraft Model 18 commercial light transport and became a pilot for a Dallas, Texas-based construction firm.
From 1949 through 1951 Ilfrey also trained foreign pilots in Hondo, Texas but, as his eyesight began fading, he began to seek out work that would keep him closer to the ground.
Ilfrey retired after 30 years as a bank officer at Alamo National Bank, in San Antonio, Texas.
In addition to being the Historian, and a past President, of The 20th Fighter Group Association he was the Editor of the group's newsletter, Kings Cliffe Remembered, throughout it's entire run of over fifty issues.
He was active in the 8th Air Force Historical Society, The 1st Fighter Group Association, The American Fighter Aces Association, The Commemorative Air Force and the P-38 National Association.
On 6 October, 1998 he
was inducted into the Commemorative Air Force's American Combat Airman Hall of Fame
was also an invaluable resource to aviation enthusiasts, researchers, historians and model-builders alike and was widely known for his
generosity to those interested in preserving aviation history.
In 1946, he
acclaimed autobiography, Happy Jack's Go Buggy . The foreward to this book was written by none other than aviation legend Gen.
resided in San Antonio, Texas during the final years of his
He passed away on 15 October, 2004, at Nix Hospital, after several months of declining health.
was buried next to his
parents in Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery, Houston, Texas on 19 October.
was, sadly, the last surviving ace of both the 79th Fighter Squadron
and 20th Fighter Group
(Photograph courtesy of Jack Ilfrey)
Capt. Ilfrey's Known Assigned Aircraft:
P-38J #43-28431 (MC-O) "Happy Jack's Go Buggy " (Lost 12 June, 1944 - Ilfrey
evaded) · P-51D # 44-13761 (MC-I) " Happy Jack's Go Buggy"