At 93, Joseph Jamro’s gentle demeanor contrasts dramatically with the dangerous battles he survived fighting Germans during World War II.
Jamro grew up in Schenectady and joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 after graduating from Mont Pleasant High School. The aerial gunner flew in dozens of combat missions, surveying the skies from the tail turret of a B-24 Liberator.
On the afternoon of Aug. 17, 1944, Jamro’s crew was ordered to bomb a fuel refinery in Ploiesti, Romania, that Germans were using to fuel their war machine in Europe. It was Jamro’s fourth assignment — at least — to one of the hottest targets in the war. As the heavy bomber approached the oil fields, German pilots swarmed like bees and shot it full of holes. Jamro leaped out of the descending aircraft at high altitude and parachuted onto a farm in the enemy-held territory. He was captured, interrogated and sent to a prisoner of war camp.
Within a week, the occupying German troops and loyalists fled Romania in the face of Soviet military advances, allowing Jamro to escape to Bucharest. He survived fierce Allied bombing of the city, and according to one account, carried wounded people from danger amid the chaos, earning him the nation’s third-highest military medal, the Silver Star.
“I escaped a lot of stuff,” Jamro said this week while recovering from an injury in the Capital Living Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre.
Yet more than 70 years after Jamro’s fight against fascism, members of his family say something is niggling at him — and them. They are working feverishly to obtain the Silver Star for Jamro before the veteran fades away. Their argument relies on a 1946 written history of Jamro’s 454th Bombardment Group, which specifically states the Schenectady man was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry during the raid on Bucharest. But no official record exists showing the U.S. authorized the honor for Jamro, and the National Personnel Records Center recently informed the family that a record needed to answer their appeal was damaged in a fire.
Jamro’s daughters, Peggy Warzala of Rotterdam and Barbara Brandone of Ballston Lake, are leading the effort to recognize their father, who was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds suffered, a Bronze Star for heroism and other medals, according to his DD-214 discharge document. They say they want their father to have the Silver Star for future generations, but have not been able to resolve the issue.
“I think he’s earned it,” Warzala said.
Jamro was born in Schenectady to working class parents who emigrated from Poland. He graduated from high school in 1940 and took a job at General Electric Co. He enlisted as airman on Halloween of 1942 and trained as a tail gunner at bases across the U.S.
Jamro observed the sky from the rear of the plane, reported sightings of foreign planes to the pilot and fired a .50-caliber machine gun. By June 1944, he had flown 47 missions across Europe with an 11-man crew that was based in southern Italy. The staff sergeant recalled that airmen would moan with fear when they received orders to bomb Ploiesti, described by some as the most fortified and protected target in Europe during the war.
“Everyone wanted the oil,” Jamro explained.
He recalled the roar of the bomber taking off on Aug. 17, 1944, and fighter jets escorting it and about 27 other planes toward Romania. Suddenly, German warplanes appeared and fired on the plane, Jamro said. He watched as the flak and anti-aircraft fire came closer and closer, ultimately ripping through the plane in several places.
Jamro waited for the order to bail out, but it never came. He noticed parachutes outside the bomber and decided to jump through a camera hatch. “As I was going down, the plane was spiraling down and passed me in my parachute,” Jamro said. It took Jamro about 10 minutes to land. He came down with a giant thump, which tore ligaments in his right knee and hurt his head. The tail gunner was one of more than 3,000 U.S. airmen downed in Romania over 13 months of raids. Only about 1,100 of those remained alive in prison camps.
“I felt like a clay pigeon,” he said. “A lot of guys lost their lives coming down.”
Jamro landed about three miles outside Ploiesti in the middle of a German patrol. The Germans stripped him of his valuables and took him to a POW camp. Days later, his captors moved him to Bucharest amid heavy bombing from Allied forces. The German occupation of Romania was coming to an end. Threatened by invading Soviet soldiers, the Germans retreated from Bucharest. That allowed Jamro to escape from the Bucharest camp on Aug. 24, 1944. Jamro said at least 10 members of his 11-member crew survived the downing of the plane and the fall of Nazi-held Romania.
On Aug. 25 in Bucharest, Jamro “assisted in evacuating the wounded under heavy bombing,” according to “The Flight of the Liberators,” a book that tells the history of the 454th Bombardment Group. The book was written in 1946 by military personnel. “For his courage and disregard for personal safety in carrying the wounded out of danger, Jamro was awarded one of the nation’s highest combat decorations — the Silver Star,” page 53 of the book states.
Jamro left Romania for Italy on Sept. 1. While he recalls rescuing the wounded in Bucharest, he never received a Silver Star. He arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 2 and accepted a job as a special mail delivery man around Schenectady. He married his wife, Beverly. Jamro retired in 1977. He and Beverly lived in Florida for several years before they returned to the region around 2000. Last October, Jamro was injured in a fall. He’s experienced flashbacks from the war during his recovery, according to family members. While researching their father’s military history, they discovered Lt. Col. James Gunn III, the pilot of the doomed B-24 flight that Jamro was aboard, was posthumously awarded a Silver Star on Oct. 14 for organizing an American evacuation of Romania to Italy in September 1944.
Jamro’s daughters have been unable to find supporting evidence their father was awarded a Silver Star. Last November, the National Personal Records Center informed the family that Jamro’s records were burned in a fire on July 12, 1973. “Fortunately, a portion of the record was among those recovered; however, it was damaged in the fire,” the center’s director wrote.
Warzala filed an application with the Department of the Army to correct Jamro’s military record, but the case management division said Dec. 31 that a decision may take 12 months. She’s working with elected officials to expedite the process, but so far hasn’t seen results.
Jamro hesitated when asked if he thought he should be awarded the Silver Star for his actions during World War II.
“I haven’t got it,” he said. “If they think so. I leave it up to them.”
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