A Carmichael Hero

Carmichael, CA  |  Words and pictures Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Jack and Jerry Pefley. The couple's 70-plus-year marriage survived war, separation and illness. Jack died recently at the age of 95. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner

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Jack and Jerry Pefley maintained their "Rockin' KP Ranch on acres purchased by Pefley ancestors during the Carmichael Colony's earliest years. Picture by Susan Maxwell Skinner

Carmichael Boy Through and Through -- Jack Pefley Dies, 95

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - A warrior for his nation, his God, his family and his community, Jack Pefley died last month at the age of 95.

Founding one of Carmichael’s oldest clans, his parents and grandparents arrived in with the first wave of colony pioneers in 1910. Town founder Daniel Carmichael sold the family its 10 acres on California Ave. Born in 1923 at 12 pounds, 8 oz, Jack was the third child of Harold and Nellie Pefley. An infant moniker, “the wee one,” stuck all his life.

Jack and siblings Richard and Barbara were rough-and-tumble country kids during the great Depression. They hiked a daily mile to Carmichael School and later, six miles to San Juan High. Community matriarchs Mary Deterding and Effie Yeaw were near neighbors. The children studied psalms at Carmichael Presbyterian (then Carmichael Community Church) each Sunday.

During WW II, Jack followed his brother into uniform. Thus began a 25-year naval career from which he retired as a Commander. Jack claimed he favored the Navy over the Army because he craved “three hot meals a day and no sleeping in mud.” A lifetime passion for aviation began as he learned to fly amphibious craft off Donner Lake.  The farm boy’s extraordinary skill was soon noted. Called an “absolute artist” in the cockpit, he saw action in the Philippines, Japan, Korea. He later dog-fought with Russian MIGs in the Cold War.

During his Korean deployment, he was hailed for getting every war-wounded passenger off a downed PBM Mariner while “working the pedals” to keep the amphibian afloat. He then managed to re-fly and save the aircraft. Asked how he managed, Pefley replied “I’m a Carmichael farm boy and I know how drive a tractor.”

His service continued during peacetime as a Navy test pilot. He mastered jets and survived several crash landings in prototypes that did not pass muster. He also earned a university degree in electrical engineering. Leap-frogging between Berkeley and the Willow Grove Base (PA), he wooed Hatboro native Jerry Kratz. They married in 1948, raised three kids and last year marked a 70th wedding anniversary. The nonagenarian groom offered advice for a long marriage: "be away from home as much as possible," he joked. Indeed, military postings to Japan, Morocco, the Philippines, France -- and his civilian career as a World Airways pilot -- meant many long separations for the Pefleys. 

In 1983, the pilot retired to his Rockin' KP (Kratz-Pefley) Ranch and resumed farm boy chores. Community endeavors included his 42-year support of the Carmichael Chamber of Commerce; board membership for Carmichael Park District and nine decades of fidelity to his church. He offered a wide smile while bicycling neighborhood streets; while lunching with his wife at La Bou or laboring (in lederhosen shorts) among grapevines his ancestors had planted on Palm Drive. Jack Pefley quips were legend and -- like those of many Greatest Generation survivors -- their punchlines were seldom politically correct.

As his health declined, Jack and Jerry moved to Carmichael’s Eskaton Village and recently, to Mercy McMahon Terrace in Sacramento. A few weeks ago, the man of God cheerfully told friends he would soon be in heaven. He left them days later. “Dad’s only complaint was that he would have preferred to die in Carmichael,” says his daughter, Christine Mayer. “He was a Carmichael boy, through and through.”

Jack Pefley is survived by his wife Jerry, children John, Christine, and Patricia, and three grandchildren. His memorial will be celebrated at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery (Dixon) on March 1 at 1pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Carmichael Park Foundation or Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.

Jack and Jerry Pefley. The coupleJack and Jerry Pefley maintained their "RockinJack Pefley began a distinguished US Navy flying career in WW II.  He retired 25 years later at the rank of Commander.
Courtesy of the Pefley family.