Letter From Aviation History—September 2014

Gerald Yagen prepares to take Jerry Yellin for a ride in his P-51D Mustang.
Gerald Yagen prepares to take Jerry Yellin for a ride in his P-51D Mustang.

On August 14, 1945, two American airmen prepared for their final mission of World War II. One, B-29 radar navigator Richard Almand Jr., would be flying from Guam on a marathon 16.9-hour mission to bomb a refinery at Tsuchizaki. The other, Iwo Jima-based P-51 Mustang pilot Jerry Yellin of the 78th Fighter Squadron “Bushmasters,” was tasked with strafing Japanese airfields near Tokyo. With news of Japan’s surrender expected at any minute, both hoped to receive the recall order before they reached their respective targets—but it was not to be.

At the previous day’s briefing, Yellin’s wingman, 19-year-old 2nd Lt. Philip Schlamberg, had leaned over to him and said, “Captain, if we go, I’m not coming back.” Yellin responded, “What are you talking about?” Schlamberg said, “It’s just a feeling I have.” On the morning of August 14, Yellin told him, “Just stay close on my wing, tuck it in tight, you’ll be OK.” After completing their strafing mission, “Schlamberg was close in on my wing,” Yellin recalled. “I gave him the thumbs-up, he gave me a thumbs-up. I led my flight of four airplanes into some clouds. When I came out of the clouds, he was gone. Nobody heard anything, nobody saw anything. When we landed on Iwo Jima, we found out that while we were strafing, the war had been over for three hours.” Although there would be additional casualties in the coming days, and the war would not officially end until the September 2 Japanese surrender ceremony, Schlamberg was among the very last to die in World War II.

Yellin related Schlamberg’s story during the opening ceremonies of the mid-May Warbirds Over the Beach airshow at the Military Aviation Museum near Virginia Beach. Later that day, the 90-year-old got to fly in a P-51 for the first time in 68 years courtesy of museum owner Gerald Yagen. The smile on Yellin’s face after he stepped down from Yagen’s Mustang spoke volumes.

Today Yellin is actively involved with several veterans support and commemoration initiatives. He is a national spokesman for Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive, a coalition of organizations preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary next year of WWII’s end with major events nationwide, beginning with a mass public gathering in New York City’s Times Square on August 14, 2015 (this year Spirit of ’45 Day is August 10). Yellin is also national spokesman for the WWII Airpower Legacy Project, which is working to mobilize vintage aircraft for a nationwide flyover on August 14-15, 2015. In a message to supporters, Yellin noted, “The purpose of the flyover is to remind America of the pivotal role that airpower played in defending democracy and freedom in the world during the most destructive war in history, and to inspire the public to assure that the warbirds of WWII continue to be a source of education and inspiration for future generations, especially the youth of our country.” The ever-energetic Yellin is also involved with Operation Warrior Wellness, a national initiative to fund Transcendental Meditation training for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Yellin himself suffered from PTSD for 30 years after the war, and says that only after learning TM in 1975 “did any semblance of normalcy return to me.”

For more information about the Spirit of ’45 commemoration and flyover, visit spiritof45.org. To learn more about Operation Warrior Wellness or make a donation, see operationwarriorwellness.org.
 

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