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Ira Cassius Kepford was born on 29 May 1919 in Harvey, Illinois, son of George Raymond and Emma McLaughlin Kepford. He was a star halfback at Northwestern University, where he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1941. He was honorably discharged from the Reserve on 29 April 1942, and accepted an appointment as a Naval Aviation Cadet.

Kepford earned his wings at Corpus Christi, Texas and Miami, Florida on 5 November 1942, and was assigned to Fighting-17 the following January.

In the Battle of the Solomon Sea, Kepford pressed through blistering AAA fire from the Bunker Hill to down four enemy aircraft and damage a fifth, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross.

On 29 January, Kepford led his wingman in an attack on 12 Japanese fighters over Rabaul; he scored four kills, and was awarded a Gold Star, for this action.

While returning to base on 19 Febuary 1944, Kepford spotted a low Japanese seaplane. Although he was alone (his wingman was forced to abort earlier, and Kepford was retained to cover bombers on-route to Rabaul), Kepford dived down and flamed the plane. He was then attacked by a flight of three Zekes, which dived onto him with a massive altitude advantage. Kepford took full advantage of the newly-installed water injection WEP to stretch out the chase, but the Zekes' energy advantage allowed them to slowly narrow the gap. As the lead Zeke opened fire, Kepford decided to "go for broke." He dropped his flaps and landing gear and nosed down until he was skimming the waves; as the Zeke roared over him, he pulled his Hog's nose up and opened fire. The Zeke's stabilizer crumpled under the snapshot, and the plane crashed into the waves. As Kepford pulled in his gear and flaps, the remaining two Zekes bracketed him . . . he was facing 2-to-1 odds, low and slow, and he was heading back in the direction of Rabaul. Kepford ran his throttle as far open as possible, and after gaining some speed he cut across the path of the port Zeke. The Japanese plane dropped to wavetop level, opened fire, and sharply turned to fall onto his six . . . at which point the Zeke's left wing caught a wave top, and the plane cartwheeled across the ocean surface, disintegrated, and sank. The third Zeke was left behind as Kepford dashed for home, landing on fumes in his fuel tank.

Kepford returned to the States in March of 1944, and was assigned to Fleet Air Command at Alameda, California. In June, he was tranferred to VF-84. In December, he was attached to the Staff of Commander Fleet Air, West Coast, where he served the remainder of WWII. Kepford retired from the Navy with the rank of Lieutenant Commander on 1 June 1956.

In his five months of combat duty, Ira Kepford scored a total of 16 confirmed kills and 1 uncomfirmed. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Gold Star, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal, Unit Commendation to VF-17, and the American Defense Service Medal.


The "Joly Rogers" Squadron


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