Jack llfrey was born July 31, 1920 in Houston, Texas. He graduated from high school there and went on to Texas A&M where he learned to fly in the first Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1939. He entered Army Air Corp as an Aviation Cadet, April 1941. He graduated 1941 from Luke Field, Arizona, and was assigned to the 94th Pursuit Group flying P38 D and E's in defense of the Southern California coast.
In late Spring of 1942 the First Fighter Group was equipped with new P38 F's and flew to Dow Field, Maine to stage with the 97th Bomb Group in preparation for the Bolero Mission, first mass flight of fighter planes to England. All pilots who completed the trip were awarded the first 8 Air Force Air Medal.
On July 4, 1942 the 94th "Hat In The Ring" fighter Squadron took off on first leg of the mission. Four P38's flying wing on a B17, took off from Presque Isle Maine to Goose Bay Labrador. July 6th -Goose Bay to Bluie West I, Greenland. July 15th -B. W. I. To Reykjavik, Iceland.
It was on this day that 6 of the 94th's P38's and 2 of the B17's, low on fuel went down on Greenland's Icecap. All crews were rescued but the eight aircraft are still there to this day except one that was taken out in 1992.
July 26th saw most of the 94th land at Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire, England to be stationed there with Polish 303 Koscuisko Squadron. On September 1st the First Fighter Group made the first all American pilots and aircraft fighter sweep over Northern France for the fledgling 8th Air Force. On November 15th they took off from Chivenor, in the Lands End area on Operation Torch, the invasion of N. Africa ,where they were suddenly to find out what it was all about.
Shortly out Ilfrey lost a belly tank but calculated he could make Gibraltar. Calculations proved wrong and he had to land in Lisbon, Portugal where he was immediately told that he and the P38 would be interned. However, he conned the Portuguese out of some gas, fired up and made an unauthorized take off. By the time he got to Gibraltar and International incident had flared up. At the urging of the State Department, Gen. Eisenhower was to send him back to Lisbon but Gen. Doolittle stepped in and saved the day for Jack.
Jack was awarded a commendation letter from Chief of Staff, U. S. Army, dated 3rd Feb. 1943 for being one of the first aces in the 12th Air Force Mediterranean Theater, for shooting down his 5th plane the day after Christmas 1942. Historians now say he was the First Ace in a P38, but did not prove it with official records. He is also considered to be Houston's first ace.
After 208 combat hours, 72 missions, he was relieved from combat duty and returned to the states and instructed in P38's and P47's.
In April of 1944 Jack went back to the E. T. O. and became Squadron Commander of the 79th Fighter Group, flying P38's. On May 24th he was credited with 2 ME 109's in a hairy dog fight near Berlin. One of the 109's collided with his P38 and ripped off 4 % to 5 feet of his right wing. He was still able to return to England. On June 6, 1944 - D-Day - he flew 3 patrols over the Normandy Landings (10 hours in a P38). On June the 20th converted to P51 D's and went on Frantic VI, Shuttle Mission to Russia, Italy and back to England. It was about this time the Maj. Ilfrey was busted to 2nd Lt. For infractions of the rules, but was left in command of the 79th Squadron. His claim to fame... or infamy.... Is that he was probably the only 2"d Lt. 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 CO of 8th Air Force at the persuasion of Col. Cy Wilson, 20th Group C.O.
The last memorable incident to happen was on Nov. 20, 1944 when he landed behind enemy lines, near the front, around Maastrick, Holland and successfully picked up his wing man for a short ride to Brussels. After 70 missions, 320 hours of combat flying he was reassigned to the States where he later became a Troop Commander at McChord Air Force Base. In two tours, he completed 142 missions, 528 combat hours.
• Silver Star
• Distinguished Flying Cross W/5 OCL
• Air Medal W/12 OCL
• 8 kills—all air