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Jay Zeamer Jr., 88; pilot won the Medal of Honor in World War II

March 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

Jay Zeamer Jr., a World War II bomber pilot who was awarded the Medal of Honor for fighting off enemy attacks during a photographic mapping mission, died Thursday at a nursing home in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. He was 88.

Zeamer, a major in the Army Air Forces, also earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Silver Stars and two Air Medals for his service in the South Pacific.

He was awarded the nation's highest military honor for his actions on June 16, 1943, after volunteering for the mapping mission over an area near Buka in the Solomon Islands that was well-defended by the Japanese.

While photographing the Buka airdrome, Zeamer's crew spotted about 20 enemy fighters on the field, many of them taking off. But Zeamer continued with the mapping run, even after an enemy attack in which he suffered gunshot wounds in his arms and legs that left one leg broken.

Despite his injuries, he maneuvered the damaged plane so that his gunners could fend off the attack during a 40-minute fight in which at least five enemy planes were destroyed, one by Zeamer and four by his crew.

"Although weak from loss of blood, he refused medical aid until the enemy had broken combat. He then turned over the controls but continued to exercise command, despite lapses into unconsciousness, and directed the flight to a base 580 miles away," according to the citation posted by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

He had been listed by the society as one of 36 living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II.

Second Lt. Joseph Sarnoski Jr. of Simpson, Pa., Zeamer's wounded bombardier, shot down two of the planes and kept firing until he collapsed on his guns. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Zeamer's wife, Barbara, said her husband rarely talked about his experience during the war.

"His daughters never knew he'd won the Medal of Honor until they were in junior high school," she said. "I think he didn't feel he deserved it. He was so close to his bombardier, and he felt terrible about his being killed."

A native of Carlisle, Pa., Zeamer grew up in Orange, N.J. He studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering.

After the war, Zeamer worked at Pratt & Whitney in Hartford, Conn., before moving on to Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles and then Raytheon Co. in Bedford, Mass. He retired in 1968 to Boothbay Harbor, where he had spent summers as a boy, rowing his homemade boat across the harbor.

In addition to his wife, Zeamer's survivors include their five daughters.

He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

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