WWII was technically over, but for three hours after Japan’s unconditional surrender, brave American soldiers fought on in the skies above Japan, flying from Iwo Jima to bomb Tokyo. Capt. Jerry Yellin, a 93-year old combat veteran of this final mission, has recounted his experiences in the new book The Last Fighter Pilot — and in the interview below.
Congratulations Capt. Jerry Yellin on your new book, The Last Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Final Combat Mission of World War II! Tell us about your book.
The Last Fighter Pilot is an accurate description of my—and the 78th Fighter Squadrons—final months of WWII, which ended on August 14, 1945. I, along with my wingman, 1 Lt. Phil Schlamberg, flew the war’s last combat mission on August 14. As we were flying, the war was declared over, but word didn’t reach us in time and Phil would never live to celebrate V-J Day with the rest of his comrades. This book tells of our experiences, the heartbreak, and the sacrifices made at the end of the war. It’s a story that has largely gone untold until now, and I’m grateful to help share it.
Thank you for your service to our country! Tell us about your personal background and how you ended up in Iwo Jima at the end of WWII.
I enlisted in the Army Air Corps on February 15, 1942, my 18th birthday two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. My desire to fly fighter aircraft against the Japanese was fulfilled when I flew the first very long-range mission in a P-51 on April 7, 1945. I had built model airplane from about the age of eight, made flying models later as a young man and my heroes were Lindbergh, Col. Chennault of the Flying Tigers and the British pilots who flew during the late 1930s against the Germans.
Without giving too much away, can you briefly describe to us the final combat mission of WWII that you were personally involved in?
We all thought the war was over after the two atomic bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9. But that wasn’t to be. We all expected the mission of August 14 would be aborted before we reached Japan. We never heard the code word, Utah, so we pressed on with our strafing mission. My wingman, Phil Schlamberg, was killed and when we landed on Iwo Jima we found out that the war had been over for 3 hours when we started to strafe and fire our rockets.
What message would you like to impart on younger generation Americans?
I think the message is simple. We, as humans, are all the equal. We are not what we believe, the color of our skin or the language we speak and that people who are willing to kill other people for what they believe or want—like the Axis Powers I fought against— are evil.