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First Name: Joseph

Last Name: Sarnoski

Birthplace: Simpson, PA, USA

Gender: Male

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

Home of Record: Baltimore, MD
Middle Name: Raymond

Date of Birth: 31 January 1915

Date of Death: 16 June 1943

Rank: Second Lieutenant

Years Served: 1936-1943
Joseph Raymond Sarnoski

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Joseph Raymond Sarnoski

Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Second Lieutenant Joseph Raymond Sarnoski (31 January 1915 - 16 June 1943) was a U.S. Army Air Forces officer who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during World War II. Sarnoski was part of Captain Jay Zeamer Jr.'s crew on "Old 666" on the day that both he and Zeamer earned the Medal of Honor.

Joseph Raymond Sarnoski was born on 31 January 1915, the second-oldest in a family of seventeen children belonging to a Polish coal miner in Simpson, PA, just north of Carbondale. His father's health began to fail and he left the coal mines to begin farming. Joseph worked hard to help keep the farm operating and make ends meet. The family later moved to nearby White's Crossing, where 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.

On 7 March 1936, Sarnoski enlisted in the U.S. Army as an air cadet, entering service in Baltimore, MD. After basic training he was assigned to the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, VA, with additional training at Lowry Field, CO, where he completed the Advanced Aircraft Armorer's Course in 1939.

In 1940 he was discharged from the Regular Army to re-enlist in the U.S. Army 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 in Bangor, ME, as a bombing instructor with the 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group, which was newly-equipped with B-17s. With the entry of the U.S. into World War II, Sarnoski's group was transferred to Australia on 13 January 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 and now based at Port Moresby, New Guinea, he volunteered to become part of a combat crew put together by 1st Lt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. Sarnoski was awarded the Silver Star in combat and upon the recommendation of his pilot, received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant on 24 May 1943.

On 16 June 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, a 1200-mile round-trip mission, to photograph Japanese installations and map the west coast of Bougainville as far south as Empress Augusta Bay in preparation for Allied landings scheduled for early November 1943. Unbeknownst to Allied intelligence, the Japanese had moved about 400 fighters into the Solomon Islands on 15 June.

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. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

The B-17 known as Old 666 eventually landed successfully in New Guinea after Sarnoski's death. The pilot, Jay Zeamer, Jr., was also awarded the Medal of Honor. This was the only instance in World War II when two members of one crew were honored for separate acts of heroism in the same combat engagement.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 43rd Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Buka Area, Solomon Islands, 16 June 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.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Silver Star Medal
Purple Heart


This mission has been recreated by The History Channel as part of Episode 12 of its series Dogfights, "Long Odds", first telecast 19 January 2007.

Merli-Sarnoski State Park, located in Fell Township (just outside of Carbondale), PA, was co-named for Joseph Sarnoski and Gino J. Merli in 2002; both were World War II Medal of Honor recipients and Lackawanna County residents.

Death and Burial

Second Lieutenant Joseph Raymond Sarnoski was killed in action on 16 June 1943. On 6 January 1949, two days after the first interment at the new cemetery, Sarnoski's body was moved from its burial location on New Guinea and interred at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, HI, in Section A, Grave 582.

Honoree ID: 1632   Created by: MHOH




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