Monday, February 12, 2018

WW2 Ploiesti Mission Fallen - Medal of Honor hero and B-24 pilot John Jerstad

Major John Jerstad led the 93rd Bomb Group on the Ploiesti Mission flying Hell's Wench,
shown here in this painting by Roy Grinnell.
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8080299/john-louis-jerstad
https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/4101092226 
John L. Jerstad never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.

He was born on February 12, 1918 in Wisconsin. His parents Arthur and Alice were also both born in Wisconsin. His father worked as an auto factory bookkeeper and later as an assistant cashier at a malted mill. John had one younger sister. By 1940 John had graduated from Northwestern University and was working as a teacher while living at home.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces on July 12, 1941. In flight school he was trained to fly B-24 Liberators and became a captain in the 328th Bombardment Squadron, 93rd Bombardment Group in October 1942 which operated out of England as part of the 8th Air Force. It was transferred to the 12th Air Force and moved to North Africa in December. In April 1943 he was promoted to major and became the chief operating officer for the 2nd Bomb Wing.

Although Major Jerstad had completed more missions than needed to return home, he stayed with his men and continued to fly.  On August 1, 1943 he volunteered to lead a formation in the ill-fated bombing mission of the oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania known as Operation Tidal Wave. He was flying a plane named Hell's Wench.

Major Jerstad's official Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

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.

The Americans lost 60 out of 177 bombers and more than 500 men on this mission.

His cenotaph grave is at Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial, Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium.

Thank you John for your sacrifice. Let's Earn It for John.

Last year on this date I profiled B-17 flight engineer Edwin Rechlin. You can read about Edwin here.

On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!

I created this video to explain why I started this project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXt8QA481lY.

Follow on Twitter @ww2fallen100
Join the public Facebook group WW2 Fallen 100

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