Jerry Yellin, a World War II fighter pilot who flew the final mission during World War II, has died. He was 93 years old.
Yellin, who had lung cancer, died at his son Steven Yellin’s home in Orlando on Dec. 21, 2017, The Washington Post reported.
Motivated to join the military after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Yellin enlisted in the Army Air Forces and became a fighter pilot. He was 18 years old.
Yellin, a captain in the 78th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Forces, led an attack on Japanese airfields with four P-51 Mustang fighters on Aug. 15, 1945.
The week prior, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese surrender was expected to be coming soon.
If Yellin received the code word “Utah,” it meant that Japan had surrendered and he had to turn around and return to Iwo Jima.
That same day, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender while Yellin was leading the mission.
Yellin and the other pilots carried out the mission by strafing, or attacking repeatedly with bombs, despite taking antiaircraft fire in their P-51 Mustangs. After completing the mission, he and the other pilots headed back to Iwo Jima.
Yellen’s wingman, 19-year-old Philip Schlamberg, disappeared during the mission and was presumed dead.
When Yellin returned to Iwo Jima, he learned that the war had ended three hours earlier, despite still carrying out the mission. He had never received word that the war was over.
After the war ended, Yellin became an advocate for veterans who experience PTSD, as he was afflicted with the same disorder, having seen 16 members of his squadron killed while on missions.
Yellin recalled the horrific experience he had landing on Iwo Jima for the first time when “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 told the Washington Times last year.
Yellin said that when he returned home, he struggled for years to keep a job and moved dozens of times. But in 1975, Yellin’s wife introduced him to Transcendental Meditation, which helped him.
In 2010, Yellin co-founded Operation Warrior Wellness, a division of the David Lynch Foundation that teaches veterans Transcendental Meditation.
Yellin was discharged from the military in December 1945 as a captain and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.