It was on a cold morning the last day in January 1915 that Mrs. Sarnoski had the second of what was to be her 17 children. He was christened Joseph. Sarnoski’s father worked at the coal mine in Simpson, Pennsylvania. the town where Sarnoski was born.

As was often the case with coal miners the health of Sarnoski’s father began to fail. He left the coal mines and moved to a small property near White’s Crossing and began farming. As Sarnoski grew up he worked hard to make the farm support the family. At White’s Crossing, Sarnoski graduated from high school. Though the responsibility of alternating between education and farm work left little free time, Sarnoski developed an interest in aviation. Sarnoski had a number of hobbies that included baseball, fishing, hunting, playing the accordion and singing. In later years when he served as bombardier in a B17 bomber, those who flew with him could remember the sound of his voice belting out tunes over the headphones.

Soon after graduating from high school, Sarnoski enlisted in the United States Army as an air cadet, entering service in Baltimore, Maryland. After basic training he was assigned to the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, Virginia, with additional training at Lowry Field, Colorado. He completed the Advanced Aircraft Armorer’s Course in 1939 and trained to become an aircraft observer, bombardier at Lowry Field, Colorado. In 1940 he transferred from the Regular Army to the Air Corps in order to train as an air crewman, completing the Bombsight Maintenance Course.  Sarnoski was promoted to Sergeant, made an enlisted bombardier in B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and returned to Langley as part of the 41st Reconnaissance Squadron, attached to the 2nd Bomb Group.

While stationed at Langley Sarnoski met and married his wife, Marie, and was promoted to Staff Sergeant early in 1941. In September 1941 Sarnoski was transferred to Dow Field, Bangor, Maine, as a bombing instructor with the 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group, newly-equipped with B-17s. With the entry of the United States into World War II, Sarnoski’s group was transferred to Australia on January 13, 1942, where in March he was promoted to Technical Sergeant. Sarnoski continued to act primarily as an instructor but did fly some combat missions and earn promotion to Master Sergeant. In November 1942, now based at Port Moresby, New Guinea, he volunteered to become part of a combat crew put together by 1st Lt. Jay Zeamer, Jr.

On 5 April 1940. he was assigned as the bombardier to the 65th BS, 43rd BG at a jungle base in New Guinea called Dobadura. The pilot of the aircraft named Lucy was Jay Zeamer and he and his seven man crew (known locally as the “Eager Beavers”) and were known as being a little bit different. They were a wild bunch on occasion, and would volunteer for the worst possible missions in any and all weather, day or night. Nothing could keep them on the ground. Sarnoski was awarded the Silver Star in combat and by recommendation of his pilot received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant on May 24, 1943.

Medal of Honor Mission

On June 16, 1943, Sarnoski, normally a bombardier, volunteered to fly as one of the crew of B-17E 41-2666 Old 666 on an unescorted mission to Buka, a small island off the north coast of Bougainville. This was a 1200-mile round-trip mission, to photograph Japanese installations and map the west coast of Bougainville as far south as Empress Augusta Bay. This was being done in preparation for Allied landings scheduled for early November 1943 in World War II. Apparently unbeknownst to Allied intelligence, the Japanese had moved about 400 fighters into the Solomon Islands on June 15.

The photo reconnaissance mission was without incident, although the B-17’s crew reported observing 20 fighters taking off from Buka airfield. The bomber continued south to the mapping run and shortly before its completion, the B-17 was intercepted by five Japanese fighters attacking from the front. Though wounded in the attack, Sarnoski continued to fire his nose gun, shooting down two fighters. A 20-millimeter cannon shell exploded in the nose compartment of the B-17, severely wounding Sarnoski and knocking him completely out of the compartment. Sarnoski dragged himself back to his station and continued to fire until he died at his position. The B-17 eventually landed successfully in New Guinea after Sarnoski’s death. Jay Zeamer, Jr. was also awarded the Medal of Honor, the only instance of World War II when two members of one crew were honored for separate acts of heroism in the same combat engagement.

On January 6, 1949, two days after the first interment at the new cemetery, Sarnoski’s body was returned from its burial location on New Guinea and interred in Section A, Grave 582 of the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu, Hawaii.

Medal of Honor citation

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to

SARNOSKI, JOSEPH R. (Air Mission)

Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 43rd Bomber Group. Place and Date: Over Buka Area, Solomon Islands, June 16, 1943. Entered Service at: Simpson, Pa. Born: January 30, 1915, Simpson, Pa. G.O. No.: 85, December 17, 1943.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 16 June 1943, 2d Lt. Sarnoski volunteered as bombardier of a crew on an important photographic mapping mission covering the heavily defended Buka area, Solomon Islands. When the mission was nearly completed, about 20 enemy fighters intercepted. At the nose guns, 2d Lt. Sarnoski fought off the first attackers, making it possible for the pilot to finish the plotted course. When a coordinated frontal attack by the enemy extensively damaged his bomber, and seriously injured 5 of the crew, 2d Lt. Sarnoski, though wounded, continued firing and shot down 2 enemy planes. A 20-millimeter shell which burst in the nose of the bomber knocked him into the catwalk under the cockpit. With indomitable fighting spirit, he crawled back to his post and kept on firing until he collapsed on his guns. 2d Lt. Sarnoski by resolute defense of his aircraft at the price of his life, made possible the completion of a vitally important mission.

Duane A Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights” He also writes a weekly column “in The Big Island Reporter mailto:vachon.duane@gmail.com

It was on a cold morning the last day in January 1915 that Mrs. Sarnoski had the second of what was to be her 17 children. He was christened Joseph. Sarnoski’s father worked at the coal mine in Simpson, Pennsylvania. the town where Sarnoski was born.

As was often the case with coal miners the health of Sarnoski’s father began to fail. He left the coal mines and moved to a small property near White’s Crossing and began farming. As Sarnoski grew up he worked hard to make the farm support the family. At White’s Crossing, Sarnoski graduated from high school. Though the responsibility of alternating between education and farm work left little free time, Sarnoski developed an interest in aviation. Sarnoski had a number of hobbies that included baseball, fishing, hunting, playing the accordion and singing. In later years when he served as bombardier in a B17 bomber, those who flew with him could remember the sound of his voice belting out tunes over the headphones.

Soon after graduating from high school, Sarnoski enlisted in the United States Army as an air cadet, entering service in Baltimore, Maryland. After basic training he was assigned to the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, Virginia, with additional training at Lowry Field, Colorado. He completed the Advanced Aircraft Armorer’s Course in 1939 and trained to become an aircraft observer, bombardier at Lowry Field, Colorado. In 1940 he transferred from the Regular Army to the Air Corps in order to train as an air crewman, completing the Bombsight Maintenance Course.  Sarnoski was promoted to Sergeant, made an enlisted bombardier in B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, and returned to Langley as part of the 41st Reconnaissance Squadron, attached to the 2nd Bomb Group.

While stationed at Langley Sarnoski met and married his wife, Marie, and was promoted to Staff Sergeant early in 1941. In September 1941 Sarnoski was transferred to Dow Field, Bangor, Maine, as a bombing instructor with the 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group, newly-equipped with B-17s. With the entry of the United States into World War II, Sarnoski’s group was transferred to Australia on January 13, 1942, where in March he was promoted to Technical Sergeant. Sarnoski continued to act primarily as an instructor but did fly some combat missions and earn promotion to Master Sergeant. In November 1942, now based at Port Moresby, New Guinea, he volunteered to become part of a combat crew put together by 1st Lt. Jay Zeamer, Jr.

On 5 April 1940. he was assigned as the bombardier to the 65th BS, 43rd BG at a jungle base in New Guinea called Dobadura. The pilot of the aircraft named Lucy was Jay Zeamer and he and his seven man crew (known locally as the “Eager Beavers”) and were known as being a little bit different. They were a wild bunch on occasion, and would volunteer for the worst possible missions in any and all weather, day or night. Nothing could keep them on the ground. Sarnoski was awarded the Silver Star in combat and by recommendation of his pilot received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant on May 24, 1943.

Medal of Honor Mission

On June 16, 1943, Sarnoski, normally a bombardier, volunteered to fly as one of the crew of B-17E 41-2666 Old 666 on an unescorted mission to Buka, a small island off the north coast of Bougainville. This was a 1200-mile round-trip mission, to photograph Japanese installations and map the west coast of Bougainville as far south as Empress Augusta Bay. This was being done in preparation for Allied landings scheduled for early November 1943 in World War II. Apparently unbeknownst to Allied intelligence, the Japanese had moved about 400 fighters into the Solomon Islands on June 15.

The photo reconnaissance mission was without incident, although the B-17’s crew reported observing 20 fighters taking off from Buka airfield. The bomber continued south to the mapping run and shortly before its completion, the B-17 was intercepted by five Japanese fighters attacking from the front. Though wounded in the attack, Sarnoski continued to fire his nose gun, shooting down two fighters. A 20-millimeter cannon shell exploded in the nose compartment of the B-17, severely wounding Sarnoski and knocking him completely out of the compartment. Sarnoski dragged himself back to his station and continued to fire until he died at his position. The B-17 eventually landed successfully in New Guinea after Sarnoski’s death. Jay Zeamer, Jr. was also awarded the Medal of Honor, the only instance of World War II when two members of one crew were honored for separate acts of heroism in the same combat engagement.

On January 6, 1949, two days after the first interment at the new cemetery, Sarnoski’s body was returned from its burial location on New Guinea and interred in Section A, Grave 582 of the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu, Hawaii.

Medal of Honor citation

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to

SARNOSKI, JOSEPH R. (Air Mission)

Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 43rd Bomber Group. Place and Date: Over Buka Area, Solomon Islands, June 16, 1943. Entered Service at: Simpson, Pa. Born: January 30, 1915, Simpson, Pa. G.O. No.: 85, December 17, 1943.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 16 June 1943, 2d Lt. Sarnoski volunteered as bombardier of a crew on an important photographic mapping mission covering the heavily defended Buka area, Solomon Islands. When the mission was nearly completed, about 20 enemy fighters intercepted. At the nose guns, 2d Lt. Sarnoski fought off the first attackers, making it possible for the pilot to finish the plotted course. When a coordinated frontal attack by the enemy extensively damaged his bomber, and seriously injured 5 of the crew, 2d Lt. Sarnoski, though wounded, continued firing and shot down 2 enemy planes. A 20-millimeter shell which burst in the nose of the bomber knocked him into the catwalk under the cockpit. With indomitable fighting spirit, he crawled back to his post and kept on firing until he collapsed on his guns. 2d Lt. Sarnoski by resolute defense of his aircraft at the price of his life, made possible the completion of a vitally important mission.

Duane A Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights” He also writes a weekly column “in The Big Island Reporter mailto:vachon.duane@gmail.com

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