Joe gets a bio (Part 1)

Photo of Sarnoski

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the last flight together of Zeamer’s Eager Beavers, the most highly decorated air crew, and solo mission, in U.S. history.

It was my sincere hope to celebrate it by getting all of the crew members’ biographies finished and published to my site dedicated to the crew. When it became apparent that life was simply too fast and furious (and picking up speed, no less) to manage that—not the way I write a biography, at least—I narrowed it down to finishing Joseph Sarnoski’s.

I began working on Joe’s soon after I finished Zeamer’s several years ago, but kept setting it aside as I saw opportunities to advance a film or series adaptation. That’s always been my top priority. Once I’d done as much as I felt I could in that vein, though, I picked back up on Joe’s.

What I underestimated, though, was how much more work his history would be than Zeamer’s. I had a great launch pad thanks to the yeoman’s work that Joe’s nephew Jim Rembisz and niece Judy Thompson have done, both in terms of Joe’s military career and their family’s early history.

But going deeper was far more challenging simply because there are far fewer dots to connect. Joe sadly didn’t survive to write his own story as Zeamer did, and the records of his youth and military career aren’t remotely as voluminous. Culver Academy, where Zeamer spent his teen years, has its entire history digitized in amazing fashion; Sarnoski spent his teen years on the farm. Resurrecting Joe’s youth meant arcane research and, mostly, interviews, pulling out very distant and faded family memories. On the military side, Zeamer’s archival records run to the hundreds of pages; you can almost flip through his story like a book. Sarnoski’s almost literally don’t exist; we have only two summaries of his official records prepared by other individuals decades ago to go by. His individual flight record consists of his last five flights, which amount to the last two weeks of his life. It’s confounding and even more perplexing, considering Joe spent most of his military career at Langley—the beating heart and nerve center of the early Army Air Corps. Not only that, but most of that time in the 2nd Bomb Group, the most prestigious bomb group of the era and still one of the most legendary in Air Force history.

So I had to do far more digging for him than I ever expected, and infer far more than I wanted. I don’t like to infer. And I hate to guess. Sometimes you have to, but I strain to make my leaps no more than hops, and preferably steps. It took more time in his case, too, simply because the story of his early military career is also the story of the birth of the modern Air Force. It’s an epic story in its own right, and I wanted to give a proper flavor of that as well, and to show how Joe was a part of that.

Doing that under normal circumstances on a full-time basis takes time and effort, but on a part-time basis with his unique challenges is why what I’ve posted today is still only half the story as I’ll end up telling it.

For now you can follow Joe from his beginnings to the night he leaves for war. I plan to keep at it, taking comfort in the fact that the history I’m relating from here on out is history I know and have told before. It will undoubtedly go faster for that fact alone.

I hope you enjoy what I have so far.

Joseph R. Sarnoski

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