WWII veteran tells his story in ‘Last Fighter Pi­lot’ book

Man will be at Spirit of ’45 cer­e­mony

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY ERIC ALTHOFF

On Aug. 15, 1945, Army Air Corps Capt. Jerry Yellin landed his P-51 Mus­tang fighter jet on U.S.-oc­cu­pied Iwo Jima af­ter hav­ing rained down bombs over Tokyo. Af­ter he emerged from his cock­pit, he learned the hor­ri­ble truth: The war had ended three hours be­fore he dropped his bombs, but word had not reached his fighter group in time.

What’s more, his good friend, 1st Lt. Phil Sch­lam­berg, had dis­ap­peared in a cloud bank while es­cap­ing Ja­panese air­craft, mak­ing Sch­lam­berg the fi­nal of­fi­cial U.S. com­bat death of the Sec­ond World War.

“I led my flight of four air­planes into some heavy weather. Then I came out of the clear skies, and he was gone. Phil was gone off my wing,” Mr. Yellin, 93, told The Wash­ing­ton Times from his home in Florida. “And the hard­est part was learn­ing that when we started to strafe the [Ja­panese] air­fields, the war had been over for three hours. We never got that mes­sage.”

“The Last Fighter Pi­lot,” a new book by Don Brown, de­tails how Mr. Yellin en­listed on his 18th birth­day, Feb. 15, 1942, and within a few years found him­self on the vol­canic is­land of Iwo Jima af­ter the Marines had cleared out — or so they be­lieved — en­emy forces so that Al­lies could use the is­land as the launch pad for the fi­nal aerial as­sault on Ja­pan.

“I never thought that these guys were killed, [just] trans­ferred to an­other squadron and that we’d meet again one day,” Mr. Yellin said of the 16 air­men he flew with who were killed in com­bat, in­clud­ing Sch­lam­berg and two other wing­men. “That’s the way I got through the war. The se­ri­ous­ness of the loss wasn’t felt un­til af­ter the war when I came home, and then it was very dif­fi­cult.”

Mr. Yellin, a na­tive of New Jer­sey, will be in the Dis­trict this week­end for The Spirit of ’45 an­nual cer­e­mony com­mem­o­rat­ing the spon­ta­neous cel­e­bra­tions that broke out when news of the war’s end reached the home front. Mr. Yellin will par­tic­i­pate in a wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony at the Na­tional World War II Me­mo­rial on Sun­day.

But even 72 years af­ter cheers broke out as the most de­struc­tive war in the his­tory of hu­mankind came to an end, Mr. Yellin says the names and faces of the friends he lost re­main.

“You never for­get the things that hap­pen when you’re in com­bat,” he said. “I was brought up [be­ing taught] ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and then I was given a uni­form and a li­cense to kill. And we did that — 16 mil­lion of us did that.”

“The Last Fighter Pi­lot” ends with Ja­pan’s sur­ren­der in 1945, but Mr. Yellin’s bat­tle with his in­ner de­mons per­sisted decades longer.

“Ev­ery­body knows to­day what post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der is. I spoke to ‘the guys’ at night. I thought about sui­cide. I couldn’t hold a job,” he said, adding that only his love and de­vo­tion to his wife and four chil­dren kept him from tak­ing his own life.

He even tried to out­run the night­mares: The fam­ily moved 12 times in the U.S. and once to Is­rael in 1966 as the Viet­nam con­flict was heat­ing up.

“I was an op­po­nent of the Viet­nam War. I had four sons and felt that if they were go­ing to fight, they were go­ing to fight in a war that had some mean­ing to me as a Jewish man,” Mr. Yellin said. “So that’s why we went to Is­rael.”

The Yellin fam­ily re­turned state­side af­ter the 1967 Six-Day War. Mr. Yellin’s de­mons came back too. It wasn’t un­til he be­gan prac­tic­ing Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion in 1975, three decades af­ter V-J Day, that a sense of peace be­gan to re­turn to his daily life.

Mr. Yellin has re­turned to Iwo Jima on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, mostly re­cently for the 70th an­niver­sary of the war’s con­clu­sion in 2015, shak­ing hands with for­mer Ja­panese sol­diers and their de­scen­dents. His son Robert even mar­ried the daugh­ter of a World War II kamikaze pi­lot and lives with her in Ja­pan.

Those ex­pe­ri­ences helped Mr. Yellin get past his ha­tred of his for­mer en­e­mies.

“When I landed there on March 7, 1945, there wasn’t a blade of grass. And there were 28,000 bod­ies rot­ting in the sun. The sights and the sounds and the smells of dead bod­ies and the sights of Ja­panese be­ing bull­dozed into mass graves ab­so­lutely never went away,” he said.

But the once bat­tle-scarred is­land now is pop­u­lated with trees — a fit­ting trib­ute to Amer­ica’s peace­time al­liance with Ja­pan.

“The war was a hor­rific mo­ment in time. All of us are sinners, but we’re all hu­man be­ings,” said Mr. Yellin, who hopes to re­turn again to Iwo Jima in 2018. “The fact is we’re all peo­ple. We’re all ex­actly the same in the eyes of na­ture.”

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