The Most Decorated American Aircrew

The Most Decorated American Air Crew, cover art for Ken's Men Against the Empire, Vol. I. Painting by Jack Fellows

This painting depicts B-17E #41-2666, nicknamed LUCY, piloted by Capt. Jay Zeamer, Jr. of the 65th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group on June 16, 1943 flying a crucial photomapping mission for the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Solomons later that year. LUCY, alone, without fighter cover, was surrounded and attacked over the objective by eight Japanese Zero fighters from 251 Kokutai. The pilot refused to abort and held the plane on the required straight and level course until his assignment was finished.

During the air battle that followed, half of his crew was seriously wounded. The bombardier, 2/Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski, fought back heroically throughout the engagement until he died of his injuries, earning him the Medal of Honor. Zeamer, although grievously injured himself, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for piloting the B-17 until the mission was complete, then assisting other crewmen on the long flight back to base in the severely damaged bomber, ensuring the safe return of the precious photos. The rest of the crew received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor, making them the most highly decorated American aircrew in history. Zeamer eventually recovered from his near-fatal injures. This artwork is published on the cover of our upcoming book Ken’s Men Against the Empire Volume I.

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12 thoughts on “The Most Decorated American Aircrew

  1. I’m not implying our men in uniform aren’t courageous now but back then, many crew members were drafted into war. They did their duty for their families back home. They were another great generation and this is a “normal” example of it.

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  2. The story of ‘ole 666’ is an amazing show of determination, guts and dedication to life. It’s an incredible story and how they managed to get back is beyond me. Combine the grit of an aircrew with the ruggedness of a good aircraft and this is what you get I guess.

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  3. Hi, I enjoy your posts.

    Question: is there any way to do a search on your website for news of a a certain person? My cousin Kenneth Hedges was part of that history.

    Thanks, Allene Niehaus

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