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Landing on Iwo for the first time

I hope you never sleep another night

Strafing a train


Jerry Yellin was born on February 15th, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey. He graduated from Hillside High School in June of 1941. He moved a lot growing up. He went to 7 different grammar schools. It was the end of the depression and money was tight. He started working at 11 years old. Yellin was enrolled at Ryder College for the Spring of 1942, but Pearl Harbor ended up changing his plans. He made up his mind that he wanted to fly fighter planes. On February 15th, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Yellin did not have 2 years of college, but passed the entrance exam, but failed the physical because he had 20/30 vision. His mother was a member of the draft board, so she brought him a copy of the eye test and he memorized it and passed it. Yellin was living in an apartment house at the time of Pearl Harbor. He went downstairs to buy the Sunday newspaper and everyone was crowded around the radio listening to reports. At night it was all over the radio. It was a shocking day and a shocking event for Yellin. He started building WWI model airplanes at 6 years old. This is how his interest in flying grew. He read as much as he could about the aces from World War I. As he got older he built models that could fly. He had never been in an airplane before he enlisted. Yellin saw the Hindenburg when it flew over New York. He was listening to the radio broadcast when it happened. He and his family drove to see the remains of the Hindenburg a few weeks after. Yellin recalls that a lot of military traffic was flying around and that helped spurn his interest. He knew he wanted to fly. Yellin and some of his friends went to Fort Dix [Annotator's Note: Fort Dix, New Jersey] first. They were issued bedding, heavy boots, and uniforms. Yellin was assigned to a tent that had cadets in it. He recalls learning all of the basic skills that were required of a soldier. He got his first ride in a Mitchell [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell] in New York. Yellin recalls getting leave, he was on for 24 hours and off for 48. The USO gave them tickets to sporting events. His first job was as a cook. He went to the Stage Door Canteen in New York City. Yellin saw a Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium. Yellin was then sent to Nashville, Tennessee. He went through classification in Tennessee. These tests determined who was going to be a pilot, bombardier, or navigator. Yellin qualified for all 3 and chose to become a pilot. He went to Santa Ana, California for pre-flight training. His class was 43H, scheduled to graduate in August of 1943. During ground school training they familiarized themselves with Morse code and radar and the essential ground operations that were required to put men in the air.


In January 1944, Yellin was sent to Thunderbird Field in Arizona. That was where he took his primary training. He was able to get a lot of flight time in. He soloed on February 22, 1943. Yellin had the most time at that point, so he soloed first. The entire class was in front of him. He had 65 hours as a steer man. He was then sent to fly on all sorts of aircraft. He recalls that he gradually became a better flyer. They were then separated based on who was going to fly bombers and fighters. He flew his advanced training at Luke Air Base in Phoenix. He did gunnery training and simulated bomb runs. Yellin was given another physical in Phoenix. He was told at one point he was going to be a transport pilot but protested. He sat down in front of a Colonel and the Colonel obliged saying, "Any man who has the guts to come in here, sit down and talk to me, can be a fighter pilot." Yellin was then sent back to Newark for 2 days. After those 2 days he went back to Phoenix, and then he went to Pittsburg, California to await departure to Hawaii. Yellin was put into the 78th Fighter Squadron. He got 10 hours in a P-40. He only flew with 1 squadron and that was the 78th. He was the athletic officer for the fighter group. They had a softball team. They played against the officers. Yellin learned maneuvers that would prove to be vital in combat. They flew 1 called mutual support during exercises in December [Annotator's Note: December 1943] and 2 of the planes collided and 26-year old Bill Sutherland was killed. Yellin then moved to Stanley Field. On March 10, 1944, he was doing an overhead pass on a tow target. There was water in the trip pan from the rainy season in Hawaii and it fried the electricals in his plane. He had to bail out at 5,000 feet. Yellin landed in the ocean and was able to get his one-man life raft floated. His prior experience as a Boy Scout lifeguard helped him with his landing. He sat there for 9 hours before a rescue craft got to him. He had sores from the parachute.


Yellin had to fly the next day after he bailed out in the ocean. He notes that the P-40 was a great airplane. There was a tremendous amount of torque involved when the plane took off. Yellin loved the P-40. He did not know about the P-51 yet. He was called to the flight line by Captain Jim Tapp. He was an extraordinary pilot. One day Tapp flew with Yellin. He told him to follow him the entire way. Tapp took him for a ride. Yellin recalls Immelmann loops and buzzing a destroyer. It turned out Yellin was putting on a show for President Roosevelt who was on his way to meet with top brass in the Pacific. Tapp only informed him of this after he was on the ground. Yellin received P-47's on Hawaii. They nicknamed the plane "Jugs." They were told to practice 4-5 hour flights because they were going to help in the retaking of the Philippines. Yellin goes on to describe the different intricacies involved in flying a P-47. He recalls seeing one of his friends going down in training. The invasion of Truk was called off and Yellin was sent to train with P-51D's. He recalls the P-51 being very unique. It was a dream airplane. Yellin recalls Bob Ferris's brother blowing up in a training run while Ferris's brother was standing next to him. Pulling up sharply could cause the plane to explode because the wings would sheer off. Yellin met with the 15th Fighter Group at Ford Island. He was called into the situation room on Ford Island and shown a relief map of Iwo Jima. No one had ever heard of it. Yellin was informed that the Marines were going to land on Iwo Jima and that his group was going to be the first group of fighters to provide support around Iwo Jima. He landed on Iwo Jima on March 7, 1945. He taxied off of the runway onto a dirt side area and saw mounds of Japanese bodies piled up.


Yellin taxied and saw mounds of Japanese bodies [Annotator's Note: on Iwo Jima]. Bulldozers were pushing the bodies into the huge ditches. He notes that the smell of burnt and decaying flesh sticks with him to this day. It never occured to him that they were people. Behind him was the Marine mortuary. The dead Marines were laid out. Yellin notes that at one point there were over 90,000 men, Japanese and American, fighting on Iwo Jima. 3,500 died per square mile. His first mission was on the 8th or 9th of March, 1945. The Marines would put down dye markers. He would take his plane up to about 2 or 3,000 feet and then strafe for the Marines. They filled their external fuel tanks with Napalm and then dropped them. When the Napalm liquid would disperse, a Marine would light it up with a flamethrower. On April 7, the 16 top pilots from each squadron went to a briefing. They were told that they were going to escort a flight of B-29's. It was going to be an 8 hour flight in a P-51. Their external wing tanks helped greatly. Yellin recalls that it was hard to navigate over the water. He flew on a wing of a B-29 specifically assigned to them. The B-29 would orbit off of the coast of Japan as Yellin and the fighters went in to take care of any enemy fighters. He picked up a signal from the B-29 and was able to fly based off of the signal. On the first mission there were over 120 B-29's headed towards Japan. A group of the B-29's would lay down incendiaries in a square pattern to create a wall of fire, then other B-29's would bomb the inside of the square, making a huge fire. Yellin notes that never once did he think that there were human beings on the ground; it never occured to him. He saw several B-29's go down over Japan on that raid; he saw men bailing out. When he got back to Iwo Jima, he was only 21 years old, he remembers not being able to stand up after sitting in a cockpit for 8 hours. The relief of being on the ground was almost too much. They were sent to a briefing and given a beer. Jim Tapp, Yellin's wingman on that mission, shot 4 Japanese planes down on his first trip. They were completely debriefed by intelligence and by their flight surgeon. Yellin recalls having to help some of the younger guys. He recalls taking different drugs to help him with flying. One of the drugs was called "Benny" [Annotator's Note: Benzadrine]. He would come back, get debriefed, take a shower, have a beer, and get rubbed down by a masseuse. Yellin would always get a day or 2 off. His missions alternated between long range and short range. His second mission was flown on April 12th, Tapp shot down his fifth plane on the second mission. Yellin notes that they had submarines off of the coast of Japan. Tapp's wing man for that mission had his plane shot out from under him, he bailed out but his chute did not open.


Yellin recalls strafing runs on Chici-jima which was about a hundred or so miles from Iwo Jima. Yellin strafed the runway and dropped 500-pound bombs. One of Yellin's wing mates was shot down, but bailed out in the water. The man inflated his one-man life raft and floated. Yellin and the other pilots protected the man as best as they could. They then radioed for help and a B-17 flew over and dropped a life boat. The boat drifted towards the shore and was hit by mortar fire from the Japanese. The pilot in the boat was killed. Yellin recalls that they got replacements alphabetically. One of the replacements crashed in Japan on a mission; he was captured by the Japanese and put into a prison camp. In July of 1945 Gordon Scott was captured when he crash landed his plane in Japan. One of the replacements had the feeling that this was going to be his last mission. His premonition was correct. On July 8, 1945, Yellin was over Japan. They were strafing airfields in Japan, Sherron called in over the radio that he was hit. Sherron said he could not see and that was the end of him. Yellin lost his classmate and tent mate on July 8th. On August 6, 1945 Yellin landed back on Iwo Jima. He had been on a strafing run. Yellin had just landed and someone jumped on his wing and told him that it was all over, that we had dropped a huge bomb on Hiroshima that wiped out the city. Yellin thought that everyone would be safe from this point on, and that no one was going to die. This was not going to be the case. On August 13th a mission was put onto the board. The mission was for August 14th. One of the men asked why they had to go on a mission. The flight commander informed them that they had to keep the Japanese honest and that if they heard the codeword "Ohio" over the radio then that meant the war was truly over. Schlamberg was one of Yellin's men. Schlamberg told Yellin that he did not think he was going to make it. Yellin told Tapp what Schlamberg said, but they were not able to find any replacements. They took off on the morning of the 14th. They got near the point where they had to drop their tanks, but they had not heard "Ohio" over the radio yet. Yellin notes that they continued on to Japan and proceeded to strafe. Yellin needed 90 gallons to get back to Iwo Jima. When someone called out "90 gallons" they headed home. Yellin gave Phil Schlamberg the thumbs up and they went into a cloud bank. When Yellin cleared the clouds, Schlamberg was no where to be found. When they got back to Iwo Jima, they found out the war had been over for about 3 hours. Yellin believes he was the last active fighter pilot killed during the war. Yellin stayed on Iwo Jima until October; he was then sent to Guam. From Guam, Yellin was sent to California where he went AWOL so he could go see the girl he named his plane after, Doris Rosen [Annotator's Note: Yellin's plane was the "Dorrie R."]. On May 30,1945, Yellin and his wingman Mathis shared a kill on a Zero. When they landed on Iwo Jima, Yellin had a toothache. Yellin saw the dentist and was grounded. On June 1, Yellin was supposed to escort a flight of B-29's. Danny Mathis was then given command of Yellin's group. Yellin was briefing him on what to do. The B-29's led them into a weather pattern that got 25 pilots killed. 11 guys Yellin knew were killed in that one incident.


Yellin went to see Doris, but his name was called to go on an airplane back to New York. A Lieutenant Colonel gave Yellin his bars so he could go home on his orders. In December 1945, Yellin went to Brooklyn, New York to see Phil Schlamberg. Schlamberg's mother did not want to see Yellin, but his Schlamberg's sisters were willing to meet him. Yellin had Schlamberg's Lieutenant's bars and wings. The sisters were curious as to what kind of fighter their brother was. Yellin explained to them as best as he could. When Yellin was leaving his mother said, "Captain, it should have been you who was killed, not my son, Phillip. I hope you never sleep another night in your life like I can't sleep." Yellin recalls that it was snowing and he sat on the stoop of the porch for awhile, unable to move. Yellin began his civilian life from that point on and his life was very tough. There was no diagnosis available for PTSD [Annotator's Note: post-traumatic stress disorder]. Yellin felt like a different person. He could not keep a job; he had no interest in working. Yellin had no escape in any vices. Yellin's only escape for awhile was getting on the golf course. On Good Friday 1949, Yellin went on a blind date and fell in love with a lady. They were engaged and married in October 1949. Their 1st son was born on November 6, 1950. Their 4th son was born in 1960. Yellin gave everything he could to his family. He held over 20 jobs. Yellin was not much of a person. In 1975, Yellin learned how to do transcendental meditation. It was the beginning of his new life as a human being. Yellin worked steadily in his own business as a consultant for real estate and banking. In 1983, a bank in Japan called Mitsui wanted to look at investing money in the American real estate market. Yellin did not want to visit or get to know Japanese people. October 1983, Yellin and his wife went to Japan. They landed in Japan, then took a 3-hour bus ride to where they were staying. They slept late the next morning and then went out. For the first time Yellin realized that the Japanese were people. He recalls looking up into the sky and imagining hundreds of B-29's flying over dropping bombs and the enormity of the situation finally hit him. It was a terrible thing. Yellin had to get away from the city; he had wonderful experiences with the local people. Yellin got lost once and was helped by a bunch of local high school kids. The kids told their teacher that they were going to show Yellin around. The boys showed them around, took them to a museum. Yellin bought them ice cream. Yellin notes he would not go up to high school boys today, but he felt safe in Japan. On another trip they went to view the maple leaves; it was beautiful. They were heading to a mountain about an hour from Tokyo. A mother had a young child on her lap and Yellin called the boy over and he started combing Yellin's mustache and everyone laughed. Yellin notes he had great people experiences in Japan. They spent a few days in Kyoto. They went out into the gardens the night before and Yellin's wife noted that one of their sons who was a senior at San Diego State would absolutely love Japan. Yellin and his wife offered their son Robert a trip to Japan. Yellin found a 6- week homestay program and Robert went to Japan in the summer of 1984. One of the men associated with the program ended up hiring Robert.


In the fall of 1984, Robert went to Japan for a year. He still hasn't come back [Annotator's Note: Interview was conducted on August 18, 2010] . In the spring of 1987, Robert sent his dad a letter saying that he wanted to show him the Japan that he knew and how it was different from the Japan that Yellin fought against. All Yellin had to do was pay his airfare and Robert was going to pay the rest. Yellin went to his apartment and there was a young lady there. She made Yellin tea. Yellin did not have any thoughts about her, but was curious as to how old her father was. It turned out he was in the war and served in the Imperial Air Force. Robert came home and the 4 of them went to a restaurant. The restaurant was lined with fish tanks. Robert asked if they wanted sushi. Yellin agreed. The last night of the trip Robert told Yellin that he and Takata wanted to get married. The 15 men Yellin knew who died flashed before his eyes. Yellin was not going to object to the wedding, but was curious about what Takata's father thought. He hated the Americans. It took Takata 6 months to get permission from her father to meet Robert. Mr. Yamaka came and immediately began to ask questions about what Robert's dad [Annotator's Note: Mr. Yellin] did. Families are important in Japan. A meeting was arranged between Yellin and Mr. Yamaka. They asked everything about the family. Mr. Yamaka found out how old Yellin was and asked if he served in the war. Once Mr. Yamaka found out that Yellin flew P-51's over Japan the meeting was essentially over. Everyone in the meeting left. Mr. Yamaka said however that any man who was brave enough to fly a P-51 over Japan had blood good enough to go through the veins of his grandchildren. Yellin went to Japan and a day or 2 before the wedding the entire family went to a Chinese restaurant. Mr. Yamaka and Yellin met for the first time at that restaurant. The wedding was traditional Japanese. As a family his sons became their sons and their sons became his sons. 2 or 3 days later Robert had to work, so Mr. Yamaka and Yellin sat down with a translator and toured a few places. They were there a half hour before Yellin and Mr. Yamaka went into a hot bath with the translator and talked for 3 hours about Japan and America. They wanted to know what flying was like. Mr. Yamaka had 6 hours in a Zero. In June of 1944, the Japanese stopped training fighter pilots. They took all of the fighters, except Mr. Yamaka and 2 others, and they were trained to be kamikazes. Yamaka then went to China to service Zeros. Yamaka was the only man to live from the squadron that he had trained in. After talking they had to go to dinner. Yamaka turned to the translator and expressed his surprise about the previous conversation and how he had no idea that people in America could have the same feelings on things as people in Japan. Yellin felt the same way.


Yellin's first grandson was born in Japan. His name is Ken. Yellin recalls meeting him for the first time. Ken wanted Yellin to buy him a toy. Yellin promised Ken he would get him a toy if he finished his homework. Ken looked up and asked, "Show me the money, Grandpa." Ken is now 21 and a senior at Hokkido University, a science school in Japan. Ken has an 18-year old brother, named Simon, who graduated from an English private school. Robert's daughter is named Sara. Yellin loves them to death. The only difference between the families is the language they speak. Yellin recalls digging a foxhole his first night on Iwo Jima. Yellin recalls the mortar fire landing on the runway and adjacent areas. Yellin recalls not being able to sleep well that first night because of the mortar fire and gunfire. Yellin had seen movies of the guys flying in England and it seemed very glamorous. Yellin notes it was not glamorous at all. Yellin did what he had to do, and there was no other thought. March 7th to August 14th [Annotator's Note: 1945] Yellin was on Iwo Jima. Not a day went by that Yellin did not think of his friends and family back home in the United States. Yellin fought for his buddies. A day does not go by in Yellin's life today where he does not think about Iwo Jima and his combat experience. It is a heavy impression. The only people who do not remember the battles were the people who were killed. Yellin never told his family one thing about the war until after his son's wedding. That was 43 years later. It was a long time to live with the pain.


Yellin recalls that the Japanese were in the caves. One person described that the Japanese were not on Iwo Jima, but that they were in Iwo Jima. Yellin notes the amount of bombing that preceded the invasion. Yellin estimates all of the bombing maybe did 6 dollars worth of damage. [Annotators Note: Yellin is being sarcastic, but his point is legitimate.] Yellin has respect for General Kuribayashi. Yellin went back to Iwo Jima and got a picture with General Kuribayashi's grandson. Yellin notes that Iwo Jima is only open 1 day a year. Yellin notes how one of his buddies from the war cannot recognize his own children any more but he is able to recall everything from Iwo Jima. Yellin feels that everyone should go to the museums at Hiroshima and Iwo Jima. Yellin notes that 5,000 years ago David killed Goliath with a slingshot and a small pebble. Yellin says the only thing that has changed in 5,000 years is the size of the slingshot and pebble. War is a horror. The B-29's played an epic role in the destruction and bombing of Japan. In November, December, January, and February of 1944/45 the B-29's took heavy losses. The B-29's conducted night incendiary raids from about 5,000 to 6,000 feet and these raids destroyed at least 60 percent of every major Japanese city. On March 10, 1945 a night raid killed 100,000 Japanese civilians. On the 60th anniversary of that event, Yellin was asked to go to Japan by a Japanese TV station. One of the reporters asked why Yellin was interested in creating peace. Yellin describes a scary dream he had that made him want to open a dialogue about continuing peace. Yellin's son Robert went to a mountain in Japan where every year a ceremony takes place to honor 23 American B-29 aviators.


Yellin went to witness the ceremony in 2006. He met a few different Japanese soldiers and American military personnel as well. Yellin was inspired by the ceremony and he came back and wrote a book called "The Black Canteen". Most of the details of the story are factual, but Yellin created some fictional characters and dialogue. [Annotators note: Yellin describes the fictional characters from his book.] The actual events the characters participate in are true, but the dialogue is fictional. Yellin recalls that at the ceremony the names of the 23 American airmen were not on the mountain. Yellin was able to get a tablet made that had the names of the 23 Americans on it. That tablet was dedicated at the site where the ceremony takes place in 2008. Yellin flew 19 missions over Japan, all daytime raids. Since they were instrument flying they could not fly at night. The P-61 was a 2-man plane that could night fight a little bit. Yellin recalls that on his first mission back they hit a headwind which was part of the jetstream and it ate up a lot of their gas. Yellin had 7 gallons of gas left in his tanks. Fuel and weather were big factors. Many missions were called off because of weather. It was cold and rainy on Iwo Jima until May. They ate K rations. One time Yellin saw a 6-striped Marine wandering around the P-51's. Yellin asked him what he was doing and he informed Yellin that he was taking a break. The Marine said he had to take a break from the cave fighting. Yellin asked the Marine if he would like to see what the fighting looked like from the air. Yellin signed out an SBD [Annotator's Note:Douglas SBD Dauntless] and took the Marine up to show him what Iwo Jima looked like from the air. The Marine then took Yellin to grab a good meal. They paid for the meals with souvenirs. The Marine then cooked steak and eggs with butter for Yellin and some of his men. 30 minutes later they could not find the latrines fast enough. Yellin lived in a foxhole until the island was taken. Tents were erected after the island was secured.


Yellin is not sure if he was fired upon during landings and take offs from Iwo Jima. Yellin recalls that one of his buddies had gotten some lumber and fortified the inside of his foxhole. The same guy called out one night that he had been hit during a mortar barrage. The medic came over and started laughing and said, "You were hit by baked beans." Mortar fire had exploded the beans on him and in the darkness all he felt was warm liquid and figured he had been hit. They all got a good laugh out of it. The man's nickname after that was "Beans". When Yellin flew escort missions his job was to protect the bombers by engaging the enemy fighters. Sometimes during their strafing runs they shot planes, factories, and other essential factories. Yellin had 6 rockets, 3 on each wing. All targets were targets of opportunity. Yellin approached a train once and was able to shoot it successfully. The kill was captured on his gun camera footage. The train hit a curve and went off the tracks. Yellin had 3 probable aerial kills. Somehow all of the gun camera footage disappeared. When the guys were killed it was as if they were being transferred. Most of the time they did not get the body back. Yellin felt as if they would see those men again, but they never did. Yellin notes that it was important to be able to distinguish between enemy combatants and friendlies. Yellin recalls that everything seemed to be in slow motion when he was maneuvering. Yellin feels as if he was, "in the zone." Yellin was able to tell who was lacking the intuitiveness that allowed them to become part of the airplane. Yellin lived and breathed the airplane. He always felt that the other guy was going to get it and not him. Yellin had the confidence that he was going to make it. He knew nothing was going to happen to him. He characterizes himself as being a loner. He did not want to get to know someone who was just going to get killed.


Yellin recalls how he had a close call with a fellow pilot. From that point on Yellin did not trust that man and would not stay next to him in combat. There were different instances in training where Yellin made mental notes of who was flying the plane. Yellin needed to be mindful of these things. The 78th Fighter Squadron was the best in that area at the time. Anytime there was a tough mission the 78th handled it. Yellin notes that these men were his brothers. Every time they lost someone, either during the war and sometimes after, it hurt Yellin and caused him to think about it. It is still hard to think about these things 65 years after the war. Yellin has been practicing meditation twice a day since 1975. This meditation has proved invaluable. Yellin recalls a story when a neighbor asked him to come over and arrange her son's medals on his uniform because he had just committed suicide. It caused Yellin to think heavily about the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder [Annotator's Note: PTSD]. Yellin has donated to and helped organize different programs across the country that help people deal with PTSD. Yellin has also helped with spreading the knowledge of transcendental meditation to different groups so that people with PTSD can get help. Yellin believes strongly that soldiers need to get help when they come back from stressful combat situations. Going back to Iwo Jima was a great experience for Yellin and it helped him immensely in terms of getting over it.

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