John Cerak was born in Clayton, New Jersey, in 1944. He entered the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 24, 1963, and graduated with a commission as a 2d Lt on June 7, 1967. Lt Cerak attended North Carolina State University under an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment from June 1967 to April 1968, and then completed Undergraduate Pilot Training, receiving his pilot wings at Laughlin AFB, Texas, in April 1969. After completing A-37 Dragonfly Combat Crew Training, he deployed to Southeast Asia where he served with the 90th Attack Squadron at Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam, from December 1969 to October 1970, followed by F-4 Phantom II Combat Crew Training and an assignment with the 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB, Florida, from January 1970 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War while flying TDY out of Udorn Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, on June 27, 1972. After spending 275 days in captivity, Capt Cerak was released during Operation Homecoming on March 28, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and then left active duty on July 1, 1973. John flew for Delta Airlines for many years after leaving the Air Force.
His Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
Captain John P. Cerak distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as an A-37 fighter pilot near Phuoc Long, Republic of Vietnam, on 13 May 1970. On that date, Captain Cerak provided close air support for friendly forces who were in contact with a hostile force of unknown size. His pinpoint ordnance delivery in spite of a restricted attack heading, poor visibility, and close proximity of friendly troops evoked commendation from the Forward Air Controller. Captain Cerak's tenacity and outstanding airmanship contributed immeasurably to the relief of the besieged friendly forces. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Captain Cerak reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.