Once Upon a Time

Col. George Iles: Pilot from Quincy to the world -- Part 2

This plaque honoring Col. George J. Iles is in the new elementary school named for him at 3111 N. 12th. | Photo courtesy of Iles Elementary School
Posted: Dec. 23, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 27, 2018 3:29 pm

Part 2 of 2 articles

George J. Iles was born to Mr. and Mrs. George D. Iles of 1416 N. 14th in 1918. Although a few black children attended the various public schools, Quincy was largely a racially segregated city, and Lincoln School on the northwest corner of 10th and Spring streets had been built particularly for black children. Young George attended the school.

Iles played football and graduated from Quincy Senior High in 1935. After graduation he enrolled in Quincy College, where he also was an athlete. While a college student, he took advantage of an opportunity that had been created because of the need for pilots in World War II. He earned a private pilot's license under the Civilian Pilot's Training Program and became Quincy's first black pilot. Unfortunately, there were few opportunities to fly.

In 1942, after working as a U.S. employment service interviewer, Iles applied for acceptance into the Army program known as the Tuskegee Airmen. This was a program at Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama. The program was established to train black pilots for service in the war. His first application was rejected, but in 1943, he was accepted. He graduated and became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the 332nd Fighter Group, 99th Pursuit Squadron. They were nicknamed the Red Tails and flew in the Army Air Corps, a precursor to the Air Force. These airmen provided fighter escorts for the heavy U.S. bombers flying over Italy, completing thousands of successful missions.

In February 1944, on his 23rd mission, Iles was shot down and imprisoned. He was released later the same year. He returned to Tuskegee and became a pilot instructor. He was chosen for special military intelligence training in Virginia, and then sent to Army intelligence school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. He received another promotion in rank.

Iles had married Cornelia Elizabeth Vinson of 2026 Spruce in Quincy, and they had a son, Bruce Adrian. His family joined him in Denver while he was in the intelligence school.

By the time the family settled in Colorado, Iles had begun a long and highly successful career in the U.S. Air Force. He subsequently had assignments in several states and in Germany, Italy, England, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand, specializing as an intelligence officer.

Unfortunately, much of Iles' history is not preserved in ways that are easily accessible to the public. Fortunately, family members kept extensive scrapbooks of newspaper clippings showing the recognition their relative received when he returned to Quincy on visits throughout his illustrious career. In addition to recording the locations and length of his assignments, the clippings show him receiving recognition after recognition, including when he worked as an intelligence officer for Air Force reconnaissance in Europe and attended an air tactical school in Florida.

In Korea he was an intelligence officer in the Far East headquarters of the Air Force. Returning to the United States, he became an instructor in the Air Force Department of Intelligence Training. He also received a Bronze Star for meritorious service.

In 1965, Iles was sent to Bangkok as a commander of the special intelligence unit. After Thailand he returned to the United States and served at Fort Belvoir in Virginia as head of the program's division of the 1127th Field Activities Unit.

He was awarded the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

While serving his country in the U.S. and around the world and accumulating numerous completed curricula in military education, Iles continued his nonmilitary education, as well. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Boston University, and later, a master's degree.

While stationed in Thailand, Iles endured a father's grief when his son, Cpl. Bruce Adrian Iles, died in action in Vietnam on May 15, 1967. Nevertheless, in an interview given only a few months later, Iles asserted his sense of obligation to complete the mission begun in Vietnam.

In 1973, after completing 30 years of distinguished service in the U.S. Army and Air Force, Iles retired. He and his second wife, Jola Marie Neesen, of Venlo, Holland, (also spelled Vola in the family clippings), and their son, Danny, settled in Marysville, Calif. Iles believed that the area offered the opportunity to create an organization to promote understanding and build character in children through sports. In 2000, he founded the nonprofit Iles Academy of Golf for Kids in Marysville with his good friend Fred Hayes. The academy was founded to teach children golf but also leadership skills, sportsmanship, decision making and integrity. Iles died Dec. 9, 2004, and was laid to rest in Sierra View Memorial Park in Olivehurst, Calif. In an interview with Hope Green for the Boston University weekly, he said, "I was always very proud that the first element in American society to integrate was the U.S. military. I think the Tuskegee Airmen had a hand in hastening the integration of blacks into the civilian world, because we proved during World War II that we could do the job as well as anybody else." He had served his country as a pilot, instructor and intelligence officer in three wars and on three continents, clearly demonstrating the truth of his statement.

On Oct. 25, 2017, the Quincy Public Schools Board voted to name the new elementary school to be built at 3111 N. 12th near the Illinois Veterans Home in honor of Iles. Iles Elementary School opened for the fall semester of 2018.


Linda Riggs Mayfield is a researcher, writer, and online consultant for doctoral scholars and authors. She retired from the associate faculty of Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing, and serves on the board of the Historical Society.



Brown, Harold. "The buddy I'll never forget." aarp.org/home-family/voices/veterans/info-2018/friendships-shaped-by-war.html


Iles, Col George J. Find A Grave. findagrave.com/memorial/15123464/george-j-iles


"Frederick Hayes Obituary." Appeal Democratic, Oct. 25, 2016.



Gazzar, Brenda. "Linda man broke new ground; African-American pilot was a famed Tuskegee Airman." Appeal Democrat. Dec. 10, 2001.


Green, Hope, "Blacks in the military: A long uphill climb toward a level playing field." Reflections (column). B.U. Bridge. Nov. 23, 2001.


Iles Academy of Golf. (website) yubasutter.chamberofcommerce.me/yubasutter/mem_Ilesgolf


Korean War. History. history.com/topics/korea/korean-war


McGinley, Patrick. "Lincoln School 1872-1957." Quincy Herald-Whig, July 14, 2013.



Nichols, Carol. Interviews. John Riddle, Harold Brown. January, 2017-May, 2018.


Nichols, Carol. Presentation, Quincy School Board, Oct. 25, 2017.


Parks, Wendy. "Separate Journey, Same War." The Journal Times, Feb. 28, 2001.


Robertson, Rickey. "Exercise Sage Brush 1955." Stephen F. Austin State University. 2013. sfasu.edu/heritagecenter/6820.asp


Together We Served (website) airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=172072


Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund: Founders of the Wall. "The Wall of Faces." vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/25031/BRUCE-A-ILES


Vinson, Charles Lee.1940 Census. Ancestry.com. ancestry.com/1940- census/usa/Illinois/Charles-Lee-Vinson_4yj7k1


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that Iles took part in the Tuskegee Airmen program, not the Tuskegee Experiment. 

School building names

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County is running a series of articles about the names of public school buildings. The series began in August with an article about Abby Fox Rooney. The Lincoln Douglas article ran in October. Col. George Iles is a two-part article. The Iles Elementary School is at 3111 N. 12th St.