Retired Capt. Jerry Yellin keynotes 2016 Veterans Day ceremony

by Olivia Baxter, Special to The Simpsonian

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Simpson College students and Indianola community members filed into Smith Chapel on Wednesday to hear retired Capt. Jerry Yellin speak about his military career and his fight with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Filling up all of the chapel pews for the early celebration of Veterans Day, veterans, students and Indianola citizens rose for the 93-year-old as he walked up to the stage. The former fighter pilot chronicled his experience of training to be a pilot, his fight with PTSD, his grandkids and his change of heart.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Yellin heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That same day, he decided he would enlist and become a fighter pilot.

With only 20/30 vision, he was unable to pass the eye exams for the military and had his mother sneak them. He memorized the charts and learned to fly. In August 1943, Yellin graduated from flight school and joined the 78th Fighter Squadron.

The captain flew 19 combat missions over Japan during his time in service. He flew in the first land-based fighter mission over Japan in Iwo Jima.

“I smelled the horrible smell… of 21,000 Japanese bodies in a mass grave,” he said.

In August 1945 in Tokyo, Yellin heard of the hydrogen bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Not aware the war was ending, he and other members of his squadron were instructed to fly one more mission. He flew in the final combat mission of World War II on Aug. 14, 1945, and lost his wingman in the flight.

“When we came out of the weather and into the clear skies, Schlamberg (his wingman) was gone,” he said.

Yellin’s wingman was the last man to die during a combat mission in WWII.

For the next 30 years, he suffered, undiagnosed, from PTSD. The captain attributes his addiction to golf, his family’s frequent moves and his wife’s attempted suicide to the PTSD.

In 1975, Yellin learned of transcendental meditation and beat his disorder. After gifting his son a trip to Japan as a graduation present, he and his wife traveled there in 1988 to witness his son’s wedding to the daughter of a former Japanese kamikaze pilot.

The couple has three grandchildren in the United States and three in Japan.

“I am the grandfather of three of my enemies,” he said.

According to his website, Yellin said this experience took him from a place of hate to love, and that “we are all human beings.”

The retired captain ended his speech by thanking the crowd for honoring him with a chance to return to Iowa. The 26-year Fairfield, Iowa, resident concluded the Veterans Day ceremony by saying: “I’m an Iowan not by birth. I’m an Iowan by choice.”

More information about Yellin can be found at his website,