2016-11-09 / Top News

Thank you for your service

BY GLENN MILLER • FLORIDA WEEKLY CORRESPONDENT

AS WE OBSERVE VETERANS DAY NOVEMBER 11, let us celebrate the service of all U.S. military veterans. Let us remember with gratitude those who made the greatest sacrifice, their lives, for our freedom and democracy. Let us openly and genuinely extend our appreciation to those in our families, our communities and around the country, who have given of themselves so that we may live in a better country. ¦

The last combat mission of WWII

JERRY YELLIN RECALLS THE STENCH OF thousands of dead bodies on Iwo Jima and massive fires consuming Japanese cities and people.

Such sights and smells are not easily forgotten. The men who fought and won World War II are fading away but Mr. Yellin, who is 92, remains and can talk about it with a distinctive claim to fame.

The Orlando area resident grew up in New Jersey and flew the final American combat mission of the largest war in human history. It was on an Aug. 15, 1945 strafing mission over Japan, as Mr. Yellin focused his P-51 Mustang’s guns on Japanese airfields, that the final American fatality of the war was recorded. Mr. Yellin knew him.


Retired U.S. Army Air Corps Capt. Jerry Yellin flew the last combat mission of WWII. 
U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO Retired U.S. Army Air Corps Capt. Jerry Yellin flew the last combat mission of WWII. U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO That man was 19-year-old first lieutenant Philip Schlamberg, who was Mr. Yellin’s wingman. The pilot was on his first combat mission, Mr. Yellin recalled.

“First and last mission,” Mr. Yellin told Florida Weekly. Mr. Schlamberg is more than a statistic and historical footnote to Mr. Yellin.

“He was committed and extremely intelligent,” Mr. Yellin.

He added that he was told that his wingman reportedly had the highest IQ recorded of all 16 million Americans who served in the military during the war.

Although he resides in central Florida, Mr. Yellin occasionally travels to Naples for veterans’ events. He’s a dynamo with a website, captainjerryyellin.com. He raises money and travels the world as a speaker


Robert Hilliard as a young man in the 9th AF, 2nd disarm wing, Kaufburen Germany, 1945. 
U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO Robert Hilliard as a young man in the 9th AF, 2nd disarm wing, Kaufburen Germany, 1945. U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO A statement on his website says, “Jerry Yellin is willing to go whenever and wherever he is able to make a difference in peoples lives. His story of peace and compassion was shaped by suffering and sacrifice. He hopes that in sharing his story, others can find ways to forgive, unite, and avoid the atrocities of war.”

A campaign is underway to raise money for a feature-length documentary about his story, “The Last Man Standing.” He’s also written four books.

After all he witnessed and endured during the war, Mr. Yellin battled post-traumatic stress disorder, something that didn’t have that label back then. What he and millions of other veterans dealt with was called shell shock or battle fatigue.

“It never goes away,” Mr. Yellin said.

It’s something most people don’t know about it on a first-hand basis. “It’s hard getting over killing people.”

On missions over Japan he watched as B-29 bombers dropped their payloads onto cities. The death toll from one such raid over Tokyo may have been more than 100,000, according to some estimates.

The smoke from firestorms was clearly visible to Mr. Yellin in his cockpit.

“Not once did it occur to me there were human beings down there.”

The war was astoundingly nasty. Mr. Yellin recalls landing his plane for the first time on Iwo Jima, a 9.16-square mile spit of land in the Pacific. On that island, about 6,800 Americans and nearly 22,000 Japanese died. “It was horrific.”

The island is roughly the size of Captiva, which is 10.5 square miles.

Although surrounded by death, Mr. Yellin said he couldn’t allow himself to think about dying. “If I thought about dying I wouldn’t be able to fly a mission.”

His final strafing mission came nine days after an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and six days after one was dropped on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered the day after his final mission.

Mr. Yellin believes the atomic bombings were necessary to end the war. “There is no doubt in my mind. The purpose of war is to kill your enemy.”

Part of Mr. Yellin’s reasoning is that the Japanese death toll would have been higher if conventional bombing of the country would have continued. “No question about it.”

Mr. Yellin considered suicide in the decades following the war. What he witnessed and smelled and heard stayed with him. Sixteen comrades were killed.

“Why did I live and why did 16 of my friends die?” He was haunted by what he had experienced.

It wasn’t until he tried transcendental meditation in 1975 that he found relief. How soon did it help?

“Instantaneously. I stopped talking to the guys at night. I stopped thinking about suicide.”

It helped in two primary ways. “It just removed the stress in my head and body.”

He still does it twice a day and it has been literally a lifesaver.

“I doubt I’d be alive,” Mr. Yellin said of the impact transcendental meditation had on him.

Although he is Jewish, Mr. Yellin said during the war he didn’t prefer to go to Europe to fight Hitler.

“They weren’t my enemy,” Mr. Yellin said, summing up his thoughts as a young man during the war. “They didn’t attack my country.”

It was the Japanese, of course, who bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, launching America into the war. Hitler declared war on the United States a few days later.

Ironically, after the war ended, Mr. Yellin wanted to stay in the service but felt the sting of anti-Semitism.

“I wasn’t welcomed as a Jewish officer.” He moved on with his life and remains active. He’s an avid golfer who often shoots around 90.

“Most days I break my age,” said Mr. Yellin, whose wife of 65 years, Helene, died last year. He also swims or runs every day.

What does he want Americans to think of the men who fought World War II?

“I’d like them to know that we were committed to save our country and willing to sacrifice our lives for our buddies.”

Now, 71 years since his final mission, he knows he has far fewer tomorrows than yesterdays.

“Yesterday is a canceled check. Today is money in the bank you can spend. Tomorrow is a promissory note.” ¦

Their letter campaign helped save lives

ROBERT HILLIARD, 92, LIVES IN A LOVELY home surrounded by trees on a dirt road in a sub-tropical paradise of plenty and serenity known as Sanibel Island.

His walls are decorated with artwork and movie posters and old photos, including ones of Ebbets Field and baseball legend Jackie Robinson sliding into home plate.

A lifetime ago, though, Mr. Hilliard was a United States Army private stationed in Germany in the days after World War II ended in 1945. What he saw and what he heard has never left his mind, not even after nearly three quarters of a century.

The charnel house system of concentration camps had just been liberated when the private, writing for an Army publication, covered a liberation concert staged by Holocaust survivors at the St. Ottilien Displaced People Camp.

That’s where 71 years and six months ago the private, who had worked as a sportswriter before being drafted into the Army, first witnessed victims of the concentration camps. He has borne witness ever since.

“I got there as a self-described 19-year-old tough ex-infantryman and I saw those people and most of them unable to walk or stand,” Mr. Hilliard said, sitting in his living room on a sunny fall day. “Those who could walk, walking like slow-motion robot stick figures, and there I was a tough ex-infantryman sitting there and I cried.”

Mr. Hilliard had fought in the Battle of Bulge, the largest engagement in U. S. Army history, a battle where he was one of 610,000 Americans who participated in a ferocious and titanic encounter with the Nazis. Mr. Hilliard was wounded and earned a Purple Heart.

Now, a few months after that battle, Germany had just surrendered and the tough young private was crying.

“I tried to hide my tears. I remember dabbing at my eyes with my handkerchief trying not to appear like I was crying.”

He still recalls what he thought that day. “These people are dying and what can I do?”

He and a friend, another Army private, Ed Herman, wrote a letter that reached the desk of President Harry Truman. Mr. Hilliard said he and his friend risked facing court martial by writing the letters.

He and Pvt. Herman did not mince words.

“Accusing the American people of genocide and asking for help for the survivors,” Mr. Hilliard said.

The president read the letter. He was angry, Mr. Hilliard said. But the commander in chief wasn’t angry with two obscure privates. He was angry that more wasn’t being done to help the survivors and he ordered Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to get it done.

“To change the entire policy of our army,” Mr. Hilliard said.

President Truman’s anger was directed at the military’s highest-ranking officer. “He chastised Eisenhower and Eisenhower sent a colonel to see Ed Herman and myself and threatened to send us to the Aleutian Islands.”

They weren’t sent to the Aleutian Islands. They continued writing letters. Their campaign reached the front page of The New York Times and other newspapers.

Something had to be done then. And now, Mr. Hilliard believes, something needs to be done to help others. He sees parallels between what happened during World War II and what is happening today with Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees.

“I see the same thing,” Mr. Hilliard said. “These pitiful people to me are the same faces. Yes, they look different. The same faces, the same feeling as the World War II survivors, begging to come here, begging to come to other countries, just to begin their lives. When I see politicians say we got to keep them out, I think what kind of evil people, what kind of hard hearts they must be to not want to save humanity.”

Over all these years the lesson he learned from that letter-writing campaign still resonates with Bob Hilliard. It’s one he’s hammered away at in books, documentaries and speeches.

“We’re two privates,” Mr. Hilliard said. “No power. No contacts. And we stuck our necks out and by doing so we changed policy that helped save thousands of lives. And any person now in this country who sees something going on in the neighborhood, in the world, if they tried to do something about it, they may be able to effect a change that will save people’s lives.” ¦

A hero named Chicken

¦ Grace Chicken is now 101 but the former Army Air Force nurse clearly remembers flying the second batch of American POWs out of Japan shortly after World War II ended.

The men on her flight were survivors of the Battle of Corregidor and the Bataan Death March, brutal 1942 events in which thousands died. Yet, she said, they never gave up hope even after years of imprisonment and privation.

“The boys said ‘we knew you’d come after us,’” Ms. Chicken said.

The “boys” weren’t rescued until after the Japanese surrendered in 1945, three harrowing years after the battle, the March and initial confinement in the Philippines.

“They never lost faith,” Ms. Chicken said, sitting in a large room at South Port Square in Port Charlotte.

Ms. Chicken was born in 1914, the year World War I started and served widely during World War II as a registered nurse in the Army Air Corps.

Her duties took her during the war to the Azores, Scotland and Hawaii and onto the second air evacuation plane sent to Japan in the days after V-J Day.

Ms. Chicken ended up serving 26 years in the military and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Those days returning and nursing the former POWs remains vivid in her memory after more than 70 years.

“As an (evacuation) nurse we could bump a general off a flight,” Ms. Chicken said.

— Glenn Miller

Breaking codes at Bletchley Park

¦ Bletchley Park is now a fabled place in world history where some of the brightest - people in the British Empire broke the German Enigma code during World War II. During the war, and for many years after, its existence remained top secret.

It was the setting for a popular 2014 film, “The Imitation Game,” which focused on a British math genius named Alan Turing at Bletchley, his work breaking the German Enigma code and his homosexuality, which was a crime in England at the time.

A Cypress Cove resident named Margaret Carrall Reeves, an English native, was employed at Bletchley for a while during the war. “There were so many homosexuals there from Oxford and Cambridge,” Ms. Reeves said.

Ms. Reeves, who is from Leicester, was 18 when she went to work at Bletchley Park. “I had a year of German in school,” Ms. Reeves.

That’s why she was assigned to Bletchley.

And she didn’t know everything that was going on either with the work or off-duty habits of some personnel.

“I was too young and naïve,” Ms. Reeves said.

She worked there for about six months and was what the British referred to as a WREN. That stood for Women’s Royal Naval Service. “It was very exciting,” Ms. Reeves said of that time.

She later married an American and moved to the United States in 1977.

— Glenn Miller

>> These and more stories ran in the special Florida Weekly WWII veterans edition published Nov. 11, 2015. To see many other published stories, and hundreds of photos of veterans in Florida, see: http://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/news/2015-11-11/Top_News/HONORING_OUR...

Parades, ceremonies, special thank-you’s mark Veterans Day

¦ The annual Cape Coral Veterans Day parade honors the (Dec. 7) 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It’s from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 11. The route is eastbound from 8th Court to 15th Avenue on SE 47th Terrace in downtown Cape Coral. The Veterans Day Celebration is a cooperative effort of the city of Cape Coral Parks and Recreation and other local supporters.

To register for the parade, see www.capecoral.net/Updated%20application. pdf. For more information, call Linda Biondi, 246-1157.

¦ Two new monuments will be dedicated at the Veterans Memorial area at Eco Park in Cape Coral on Veterans Day. From 1:30-2:30 p.m., the Korean Society of Southwest Florida will dedicate a Korean War monument and a flagpole. The designation of Cape Coral as a Purple Heart City will be memorialized with the dedication of a monument and flagpole from 4 p.m. until sunset.

¦ The River District Alliance presents the third annual veterans parade Nov. 12 in downtown Fort Myers. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. at the American Legion at Jackson Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and proceed north to First Street. It will then go west to the end of West First Street adjacent to the Marina at Edison Ford. If interested in participating, email riverdistrictevents@gmail.com.

¦ Hodges University’s Dr. Peter Thomas Veterans Services Center will host its annual Veterans Day ceremony at 1 p.m. Nov. 10. The event will be held in the Kleist Community Room on the Fort Myers campus, 4501 Colonial Blvd.

The 30-minute ceremony will include Dunbar’s JROTC’s Color Guard, a flag-folding ceremony by two of Hodges’ student veterans, as well as guest speaker Nolan Connell, who is a Hodges student and commander of the John Ebling Memorial at Hodges University American Legion Post 397.

Hodges will receive a gift of $10,000 from the Heritage Palms Veterans Association, a Fort Myersbased organization dedicated to supporting veterans in need who are living and/or recovering in Southwest Florida. The donation will benefit the veteran scholarship program at Hodges. For more information, contact cmanson@hodges.edu or call 938-7735.

¦ The city of Bonita Springs, Bonita Springs Fire-Rescue District, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Veterans Advisory Committee invite the public to attend a Veterans Day Service on Friday, Nov. 11. The service will begin at 11 a.m. at Riverside Park, located at 10450 Reynolds St. in downtown Bonita Springs.

This Veterans Day service will include speaker Curt Watson, an 11½-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. He was selected to join the Blue Angels in 1983 where he flew in numerous flight formations including lead solo. The service also includes remarks from other veterans and officials, musical tributes, Posting of the Colors, a flyover and release of the doves, 21-gun salute and other traditional commemorations.

The service is organized by the all-volunteer city of Bonita Springs Veterans Advisory Committee. For more information, call City Hall at 949-6262.

¦ A fundraiser for Miles Ranch Charity, which provides veterans equine-assisted PTSD therapy, is hosted by Old Soul Brewing and Miles Ranch at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at the brewery. The event will include catered food, complimentary glassware, live music all day, a silent auction, meet-and-greets and brewery activities. The brewery is in central Fort Myers at 10970 S. Cleveland Ave., #402, on the southwest corner of Boy Scout Drive and U.S. 41. Old Soul Brewing is a veteran owned/family-owned brewery, and Miles Ranch is a nonprofit facilitating equine-assisted therapy, pro bono, for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. For more information, see www.facebook.com/OldSoulBrewing or www.facebook.com/milesranch.

¦ The Midpoint Madness Veterans Day 5K will draw hundreds of runners and walkers for Fort Myers’s nighttime 5K. Participants may still register the day of the run/walk, from 5-6:30 p.m. at Royal Palm Square, 1300 Royal Palm Square Blvd. The run/ walk begins at the square at 7 p.m. This year’s theme includes a glow run. Come dressed in your best glow gear and get ready for a fun event that ends back at Royal Palm Square with music, food and family friendly activities.

All race proceeds benefit the Fort Myers YMCA. Entry cost varies by date. For registration or more information, see www.swflymca.org or the Fort Myers Track Club at www.ftmyerstrackclub.com. Midpoint Bridge will be closed for the event from 6-9 p.m. Motorists are encouraged to use the Cape Coral Bridge or the U.S. 41 and Business 41 bridges as alternate routes. The Lee County Department of Transportation will put message boards out to alert and remind motorists.

¦ The annual Veterans Day Ceremony presented by Military Heritage Museum and the Charlotte County Veterans Council will be from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, in Punta Gorda in Laishley Park, for the first time in the vicinity of the Southwest Florida Vietnam Wall. The keynote speaker is Vietnam POW Cpt. Wayne O. Smith and his topic is “The Taste of Freedom.” The U.S. Paratroopers’ Honor Guard will be bringing in the colors, and the Suncoast Statesmen and Marcella Brown will be performing a selection of songs. This event is free and open to the public. Please bring your own chair. For more information, call (941) 575-9002.

¦ The Punta Gorda Elks Lodge 2606 presents the annual Veterans Day Parade in downtown Punta Gorda beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. The parade will begin at Charlotte High School and continue down Taylor Road beginning at 10 a.m. For more information, call (941) 637-2606 or see www.elks.org/lodges/contactus.cfm?Lodge Number=2153.

¦ Action Automatic Door & Gate is accepting gently used cell phones and other mobile devices as part of its Veterans Day campaign with Cell Phones for Soldiers Inc., a national nonprofit providing troops and veterans with free communication services and emergency funding.

Cell Phones for Soldiers’ “Minutes That Matter” movement uses funds from recycled devices to buy prepaid phone cards to help service men and women connect with their families.

Through Friday, Nov. 18, people can donate devices to showrooms at 11360 Metro Parkway, Fort Myers, 768-3667, and 275 Airport Road N., Naples, 643-3667.

Phones that cannot be sent out to military personnel are broken down into components.

Most cell phones will net $5 in recyclable parts, which provide 1,500 calling cards each week.

¦ Edison & Ford Winter Estates is offering free admission to veterans and their families on Veterans Day, Nov 11. Free admission includes an audio tour of the historic homes, gardens, laboratory and museum. Veterans will also receive a 10 percent discount on Edison Ford membership and items purchased in the Museum Store, Ford Cottage Shoppe and Edison Ford Shoppe at Bell Tower Shops.

To receive free admission, veterans must present a VA identification card or their DD214 papers. Current servicemen and women presenting an active military ID always receive free admission to Edison Ford throughout the year.

¦ Naples Botanical Garden says thank you to active and retired veterans by offering them free admission from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11. Guests must present a military ID in order to obtain free admission. For more information, visit www.naplesgarden.org.

¦ On Veterans Day, Olive Garden restaurants will offer a free entrée from a special menu to active-duty military and military veterans. The special menu features six of Olive Garden’s most popular items. Entrées are served with unlimited homemade soup or famous house salad and warm, garlic breadsticks.

Also, Longhorn Steakhouse will offer a free appetizer or dessert (no purchase required, no restrictions) to anyone showing proof of military service. In addition, Longhorn Steakhouse will offer 10 percent off for guests who dine with veterans on Nov. 11. ¦

Free meals, discounts

>> In addition to Olive Garden restaurants, scores of other local and restaurant chains offer gratitude to veterans by giving them free meals or discounts on Veterans Day. Just a few are Bob Evans, Applebee’s, Golden Corral and Red Robin.

>> Find lists of restaurants and other Veterans Day offers for veterans at the non-government websites www.militarybenefits.info and www.offers.com/blog/post/veteransdayfreebies/.

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