The legacy of a WWII fighter pilot
Jerry Yellin, who once flew from Iwo Jima dies at 93
Then Lieutenant Jerry Yellin (left) in front of his fighter plane on Iwo Jima
Across the perimeter road from Andersen AFB is a somewhat neglected memorial to the 315th Bomber Wing, whose 143 B-29 bombers took off on a mission from nearby Northwest Field to finish the job in Japan, though there wasn’t much left to do after atomic bombs had seared and destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a few days earlier.
As the B-29s returned from their successful mission, they learned that President Harry S Truman had declared the end of World War II.
On the same day, Lieutenant Jerry Yellin was leading an attack on Japanese airfields by four P-51 Mustang fighters from his Iwo Jima-based 78th Fighter Squadron, as American airstrikes on Japan continued. The aircraft pounding Japan were to receive a coded signal from their bases if a Japanese surrender came, ordering them to halt their missions and turn back. Though Emperor Hirohito’s surrender was announced as Yellin headed toward Japan, the signal never came through.
Before Yellin, his fellow fighters and the B-29s began raining death and destruction on Japan, he had already seen plenty first hand when arriving on the just-seized Iwo Jima. In his own words:
“On March 7, 1945 our squadron landed on Iwo Jima on a dirt runway at the foot of Mount Suribachi. I looked out at the landscape as I taxied my Mustang to our parking area and saw huge piles of dead Japanese soldiers being pushed into mass graves, the sight and smell indelibly imprinted on my mind. It was a shocking sight for a young man just entering his 21st year to see. Our squadron area was next to a Marine mortuary where hundreds of dead Marines were being readied for burial, a sight that continued until the remains of nearly 7000 American Marines were buried in the cemetery. The fighting was fierce on this eight square mile Island 650 miles from Japan. Twenty one thousand Japanese soldiers lost their lives there and nearly 7000 Marines were killed.”
This experience and others that followed taught Yellin, discharged shortly after the war’s end as a Captain, the hard lesson that combat veterans invariably learn. Just because the war is over, doesn’t mean that it can be easily forgotten. Yellin’s experience with what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was suffered by untold numbers of World War II vets, but was not as recognized as a medical disorder as it is today.
“Life, as it was for me from 1945 to 1975 was empty. The highs I had experienced in combat became the lows of daily living. I had absolutely no connection to my parents, my sister, my relatives or my friends. I listened to some of the guys I knew talk about their experiences in combat and I knew they had never been in a battle let alone a war zone. No one that I knew who had seen their friends die could talk about it. The Army Air Corps had trained me and prepared me to fly combat missions but there was no training on how to fit into society when the war was over and I stopped flying.”
Yellin got back in the cockpit later in life
Fortunately for Yellin, he was able to bounce back after discovering and practicing the techniques of Transcendental Meditation and for the rest of a long and successful life he advocated this approach to treating PTSD.
“If I am an example of a recovered PTSD veteran, Transcendental Meditation should be offered to all veterans as an option. The cost per veteran for a lifetime of health is just one-fourth of the annual projected cost to the VA for one year of treatment. Why aren’t we pursuing this 5,000 year old modality to help our young veterans and their families recover from the profound affect Iraq and Afghanistan has had on our military?”