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First Name: John

Last Name: Jerstad

Birthplace: Racine, WI, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: U.S. Army Air Forces (1941 - 1947)

Home of Record: Milwaukee, WI
Middle Name: Louis

Date of Birth: 12 February 1918

Date of Death: 01 August 1943

Rank: Major

Years Served: 1941 - 1943
John Louis Jerstad

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John Louis Jerstad
Major, U.S. Army Air Forces
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

Major John Louis Jerstad (12 February 1918 - 1 August 1943) was a U.S. Army Air Forces officer and pilot who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the Medal for his heroic actions as a B-24 pilot during a raid on Ploieşti, Romania, during World War II.

John Louis Jerstad was born 12 February 1918 and raised in Racine, WI. He was the oldest of two children of Art and Alice Jerstad; his sister Mary was four years his junior. Jerstad attended Washington Park High School and, after graduating in 1936, went on to Northwestern University, earning a degree there in 1940. He participated in Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts, and while in college he returned to Racine during the summers to run a children's day camp. He taught school for a year in Ladue, MO, before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Forces in July 1941.

Military Service

Jerstad enlisted as an aviation cadet at Milwaukee, WI, on 12 July 1941. He trained at Ontario, CA, and Luke Field, AZ. He was commissioned on 6 February 1942 and served with the 98th and 93rd Bomb Groups at Barksdale Field, LA. In October 1942 he went to Europe with the 93rd and flew B-24s with the 328th Bomb Squadron, as a Captain. He was promoted to Major in April 1943 and was assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing headquarters a month later. He was picked by Colonel Edward L. Timberlake, former commander of the "Traveling Circus" to be Timberlake's chief operations officer.

By August 1943, he had completed more than his tour of missions and was no longer directly connected with the 93rd Bomb Group. He had conducted many of the missions in an aircraft nicknamed Jerk's Natural; "Jerk" was a reference to his own name, Jack Jerstad, and "Natural" referred to the fact the plane's serial numbers added to 7 and 11, a "natural" in dice games. When Jerstad heard of the upcoming low-level bombing mission against the oil refineries at Ploieşti, Romania, he volunteered to lead a formation. The mission was Operation Tidal Wave, in which 179 B-24s took off on an 18-hour, 2,400 mile round-trip mission to destroy the largest of the Nazi-held oil refineries at Ploieşti, 30 miles north of Bucharest, Romania. This day, 1 August 1943, ended with five U.S. Air Force airmen, including Maj. John L. Jerstad, earning the Medal of Honor; three, including Jerstad, posthumously. Sixty aircraft were lost on the mission.

Three miles from the target, Jerstad's bomber, nicknamed "Hell's Wench," was badly damaged and set aflame by enemy ground fire. More than 230 anti-aircraft guns, supported by many barrage balloons and smoke pots, surrounded the refineries, with more than 400 fighters in the area. Ignoring the fact he was flying above a field suitable for a forced landing, he kept on course. After the bombs were released on the target, the fire in his aircraft became so intense that it made further progress impossible, and the B-24 crashed into the target area. Jerstad was listed as missing in action. For his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps, 9th Air Force.

Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 1 August 1943.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. On 1 August 1943, he served as pilot of the lead aircraft in his group in a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Rumania. Although he had completed more than his share of missions and was no longer connected with this group, so high was his conception of duty that he volunteered to lead the formation in the correct belief that his participation would contribute materially to success in this attack. Maj. Jerstad led the formation into attack with full realization of the extreme hazards involved and despite withering fire from heavy and light antiaircraft guns. Three miles from the target his airplane was hit, badly damaged, and set on fire. Ignoring the fact that he was flying over a field suitable for a forced landing, he kept on the course. After the bombs of his aircraft were released on the target, the fire in his ship became so intense as to make further progress impossible and he crashed into the target area. By his voluntary acceptance of a mission he knew was extremely hazardous, and his assumption of an intrepid course of action at the risk of life over and above the call of duty, Maj. Jerstad set an example of heroism which will be an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Jerstad's family accepted his Medal of Honor during a presentation ceremony at Holy Communion Church in Racine, WI.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart


Jerstad-Agerholm Elementary/Middle School in Racine is named in honor of Jerstad and fellow Medal of Honor recipient and Racine native Harold C. Agerholm. The Legacy Museum, run by the Racine Veterans Center, includes an exhibit of photographs and artifacts relating to the two men.

Death and Burial

Major John Louis Jerstad was killed in action on 1 August 1943. Initially, his body was not recovered and he was listed as Missing in Action. Seven years after his aircraft was shot down, the military notified Jerstad's family that his remains had been located. Major Jerstad is buried at Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial, Neuville-en-Condroz, Liege, Belgium, in Plot C, Row 24, Grave 10.

Honoree ID: 1456   Created by: MHOH




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