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Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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Army Air Corps Captain Jerry Yellin was just 21-years-old when he flew missions over Japan from airfields on Iwo Jima during World War II. Courtesy photoArmy Air Corps Captain Jerry Yellin was just 21-years-old when he flew missions over Japan from airfields on Iwo Jima during World War II. Courtesy photoI was one of the 16 million people who served our country in World War II.

Just 18 when I enlisted, I was 19 when I graduated from flight school at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona, and three weeks into my 21st year when I landed on Iwo Jima.

I quickly became familiar with death.

On March 7, 1945, our squadron landed on a dirt runway at the foot of Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. I looked out at the landscape as I taxied my P-51 Mustang to our parking area and saw huge piles of dead Japanese soldiers being pushed into mass graves, the sight and smell indelibly imprinted on my mind. It was a shocking sight for such a young man to see.

Our squadron area was next to a Marine mortuary where hundreds of dead Marines were being readied for burial.

The fighting was fierce on the eight-square-mile island situated 650 miles off Japan’s southern coast. Nearly 7,000 Marines and 21,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives there.

I flew 19 long-range missions over Japan from Iwo Jima with 11 young pilots; all of them friends, who did not return home. Over the course of the war, I flew with 16 pilots who did not come back.

On one mission, Al Sherren, my classmate from flying school called in, “I’m hit and can’t see,” and he was gone. Robert “Pudgy” Carr also disappeared that day. He was my tent-mate.

Three of those killed were my wingmen. Danny Mathis was lost in a mid-air collision along with 26 other fighters the day my wisdom teeth were pulled and I was grounded. Dick Schroeppel died following me on a strafing run over Chichi Jima, and Phil Schlamberg disappeared from my wing in the clouds on August 14, 1945 – the day the war ended.

All of us knew who we were fighting and why.

Then it was over. One day a fighter pilot, the next a civilian.

No buddies, no airplane, nothing to hold on to, and no one to talk to. Life, as it was for me from 1945 to 1975 was empty.

The highs I had experienced in combat became the lows of daily living. I had absolutely no connection to my parents, my sister, my relatives, or my friends. I listened to some of the guys I knew talk about their experiences in combat and I knew they had never been in a battle let alone a war zone. No one that I knew who had seen their friends die could talk about it. The Army Air Corps had trained me and prepared me to fly combat missions, but there was no training on how to fit into society when the war was over and I stopped flying.

I was not able to find any contentment, any reason to succeed, any connection to anyone that had meaning or value. I was depressed, unhappy, and lonely even though I was surrounded by a loving wife and four sons. That feeling of disconnect, lack of emotions, restlessness, empty feeling of hopelessness lasted until 1975.

The 78th Fighter Squadron, Army Air Corps Captain Jerry Yellin’s squadron, sits on the No. 1 airfield a near Iwo Jima’s Mt. Surabcahi in 1945. Courtesy photoThe 78th Fighter Squadron, Army Air Corps Captain Jerry Yellin’s squadron, sits on the No. 1 airfield a near Iwo Jima’s Mt. Surabcahi in 1945. Courtesy photo

In 1975, I learned a technique called Transcendental Meditation (TM). In just a few months life became meaningful to me and now, at 86 years of living, I can say that this meditation has brought me peace and contentment.

War is always difficult for those on the front lines, but today’s wars are being fought in the countries of our enemies, on their territory, their homeland, and their cities, with no distinguishing uniform. There are no established front lines or objectives to capture. Every citizen can be looked at as “the enemy,” every road is dangerous to travel and every pile of garbage might explode from a hidden IED.

As I write this today, in October 2010, there have been 5,745 of our servicemen and women killed and 86,175 evacuated because of wounds or illness. That’s 21.7 percent of the approximately two million who have seen combat duty.

It has been estimated by some private organizations that up to 25% of those who have served since 2001 may seek treatment for post traumatic stress.

I am a recovered PTSD veteran. Meditation made a difference in my life. Maybe it can work for others as well.

To learn more about Operation Warrior Wellness, please visit www.davidlynchfoundation.org.

This is an excerpt from Jerry Yellin's book The Resilient Warrior.

 

Army Air Corps Captain Jerry Yellin (Ret.) flew P-51 Mustangs during World War II. He currently co-chairs Operation Warrior Wellness and is the award-winning author of four books, including Of War and Weddings.