WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.
And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn't think they'd ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.
On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, "If we go on this mission, I'm not coming back."
Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg's feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.
It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn't receive the message in time.
This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.
Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.
Check out Capt. Yellin's flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here: