John Louis Jerstad MOH

b. 12/02/1918 Racine, Wisconsin. d. 01/08/1943 Ploesti, Romania.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 01/08/1943 Ploesti, Romania.

John L Jerstad MOH

Jerstad was born Feb. 12, 1918, in Racine, Wisconsin, to Arthur and Alice Jerstad. He was active in the Boy Scouts when he was young and had a sister named Mary. After high school, Jerstad went to Northwestern University. He then taught at a school in Missouri before enlisting as an aviation cadet in July 1941.

After training in California and Arizona, Jerstad was commissioned as a pilot on Feb. 6, 1942, and began his flying career with the 98th and 93rd Bomb Groups at Barksdale Air Field near Shreveport, Louisiana.

In October 1942, Jerstad was deployed with the 93rd to Europe, where he flew B-24 Liberators with the 328th Bomb Squadron. He took part in more than two dozen missions over the next few months and was promoted to major in April 1943.

A month later, he was reassigned to the headquarters of the 2nd Bomb Wing as a wing operations officer. He was involved in planning Operation Tidal Wave, a daring raid over Ploesti, Romania, to take out oil refineries and installations that supplied about two-thirds of Germany’s petroleum production at that stage of the war.

Jerstad wasn’t required to fly this mission because he was no longer directly connected to the 93rd Bomb Group that would carry it out, but he volunteered for it.

On Aug. 1, 1943, the 25-year-old Jerstad served as co-pilot of the lead aircraft, called Hell’s Wench, for the low-level raid. More than 175 bombers took off on the more than 1,000-mile journey from Benghazi, Libya. According to the National Museum of the Air Force, clouds caused the formation to break into two groups, and a wrong turn also caused confusion. The bombers arrived near the target site disorganized and without the element of surprise. The area ended up being heavily defended, and they immediately faced heavy antiaircraft guns.

The bombers needed two pilots each to control the planes since the B-24s were hard to manage at low altitudes. That day, Jerstad was flying with Lt. Col. Addison Baker, who was the squadron’s commander.

Three miles from the target, Jerstad and Baker’s bomber was hit and caught fire. The pair knew they were flying over a field where they could force a landing, but they wouldn’t complete their mission if they did. Instead, they kept flying to the target and successfully released their bombs. By then, the fire that continued to burn in their plane became overwhelming, and they crashed into the target. The raid destroyed 42 percent of the refining facility, striking a heavy blow to the Germans for several weeks. However, it took a heavy toll on the Allies, too. Fifty-four bombers were lost, and 532 of the 1,726 personnel involved had died, were missing or were taken prisoner.

Jerstad’s bravery during the raid was quickly honored. On November 21, 1943, Gen. Uzal Ent, the leader of the Ploesti mission, gave Jerstad’s Medal of Honor to his parents in a ceremony at Holy Communion Church in Racine. Baker and three other men — Lt. Lloyd Hughes, Col. Leon Johnson and Col. John Kane — also received the nation’s highest honor for the mission.

Jerstad was listed as missing in action for a long time. According to the Racine Journal Times, the Army called his parents seven years after his death to say they had finally found his remains. The fallen pilot was buried at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium alongside more than 5,100 other fallen Americans from World War II.

In Jerstad’s hometown, his legacy lives on. A duplicate of his Medal of Honor is on display at the Racine Veterans Legacy Museum. An elementary school was also named for Jerstad and Marine Corps Pfc. Harold Agerholm, another local World War II Medal of Honor recipient. Jerstad Avenue on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska is also named in his honor.



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 the success of 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 anitaircraft 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.