In Memory of Two American Badasses

Yesterday was some awesome mountain biking at Merli-Sarnoski Park, just outside Carbondale. I rode up with Scott S, and we met Mike K and Renee E at the park. This place is pure northern Pennsylvania, hardwoods-and-granite singletrack, with rocky surface and plenty of climbing. Those guys rode like the monsters that they are, and I managed to hang on the back…

Merli-Sarnoski State Park is named after Gino Merli and Joseph Sarnoski, two local guys who both won the Medal of Honor in WW2. I found no biographical information about these guys on the park’s website, which I thought was strange, so I Googled them:

  • Gino Merli (1924-2002), one of the inspirations for The Greatest Generation, left high school and fought his way from Omaha Beach to the Battle of the Bulge. Along the way, in Belgium, he covered his comrades with machine gun fire as they retreated from a German attack. His position was overrun several times — he feigned death as he was bayonetted, then when the Germans moved forward he got up and shot everything standing. Twice. When the Americans counterattacked the Germans surrendered, and his comrades found him still at his gun, surrounded by enemy dead. After the war he returned to finish high school, and later in life he worked as an advocate for veterans.
  • Joseph Sarnoski (1915-1943) was the son of a coal miner. He joined the Army in the 1930’s, became a bombardier, and when war came he was assigned to lead training and practice missions in Australia, where he started volunteering for other missions. In June 1943, with three days left before being sent home, he joined a B-17 flight crew on an unescorted photo-reconnaissance mission over Rabaul, where they were attacked by Japanese fighters. (Photography means the plane has to be flown straight and smooth over its target — no evasive maneuvers, they’d just have to fight it out as the cameras roll.)  Blasted from his station and mortally wounded by 20mm cannon fire, he crawled back to his guns and continued firing, while the mission continued, until he died at his position.

It seems fitting to recognize them here, and it was good to remember them as we rode in their park. I have no idea what they would have thought of mountain biking, but I’m glad that the Merli-Sarnoski trails have not been dumbed down; they are as badass as the men they were named for.

Anyway, back to our ride: it was really fun, and (luckily) uneventful. There were no serious crashes, no mechanical problems; the only mishap was when I looked at our ride time and distance (seven miles in three hours, according to my GPS), and panicked because Scott said the ride was 20 miles long — we had another six hours of riding to go! I actually volunteered to bail, so they could finish the ride at a more reasonable pace. They talked me into continuing, and the pace picked up, though not by much, as the trails became a bit easier in the second half — and then, just like that, the ride was over. My GPS read 12.9 miles total riding, but since it calculates distance by connecting the dots between location measurements, it was cutting corners and under-reporting distance on the twisty trails. Well, live and learn.

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