The Final Combat Mission – 15 August 1945

Captain Jerry Yellin flew the last combat mission of WWII on the morning of August 15, 1945, out of Iwo Jima.

Cruising above the Pacific under the morning sun, the Americans had approached the Japanese coastline without incident. Jerry wondered how many more missions like this he would have to fly. They’d all thought the war was over, but now, here he was again, heading to strike a stubbornly resistant enemy.

But down below, in the nation they were about to attack, a philosophical battle was raging on whether to surrender or fight on. The “Big Six”—the six military officers running Japan—had been split by a vote of 3-3 on when and how to end the war with honor. In general, hard, passionate divisions of opinion existed among the Japanese military: some of the older officers wanted to surrender to prevent the destruction of Japan, while others wanted to fight on to the death and kill as many Americans as possible.

The previous night, while another 300 American B-29s strafed Japan again, a group of rogue Japanese officers had started a coup against Prime Minister Suzuki and Emperor Hirohito. The officers burned the prime minister’s office and surrounded the Imperial Palace, hoping to kidnap the emperor, all in an effort to prevent Japan’s leadership from thinking about surrendering. For these officers, and for so many of the Japanese people, surrender was not an option. There was glory in death, but only shame in surrender; Japan, for its part, had never been invaded or lost a war in its history.

Capt. Jerry Yellin, 78th FG

Fortunately for the rest of the world, the coup did not succeed. A group of senior Japanese officers talked the insurgents off the ledge, convincing them that there was nowhere to go. But while the revolt ended, the war did not, and so, with the shoreline of the enemy territory coming into view and Phil Schlamberg, his dear friend and fellow pilot, on his wing, Jerry knew it was time to go back to work.

On Jerry’s order, all the planes in his squadron dropped their eternal fuel tanks over the ocean, then started familiar aerial trek over the great, snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji. As of yet, there had been no radio signal with the word “UTAH,” signaling the end of the war.

As the Americans approached the Japanese capital, they began to identify targets. Within minutes, they swooped down over airfields and attacked despite heavy ground fire. Tracer bullets flew up from the Japanese guns as the 78th made multiple passes at each target.

After strafing the last airfield, Jerry checked his fuel gauge and saw he was still in good shape. But when one of the pilots radioed that his tank had reached the ninety-gallon mark—the amount a Mustang needed for the return flight—it was time to pull up and begin plotting the course back to Iwo Jima.

78th Fighter Group

Jerry looked over at Phil, who was still on his wing, and give him a thumbs up.  Phil looked back and returned the gesture.

With the battle of Tokyo complete, Jerry set his course back out to the ocean and banked to the south. The three other Mustangs in Jerry’s squadron returned with him. A few moments later, as they approached the coast where they would rendezvous with the navigational B-29s, they neared a cloud cover in front of them, often the case when approaching the atmospheric temperature inversions near the coast. With Phil still tight on his wing, Jerry led the four Mustangs into the cloud bank. Flying at an altitude of about 7,000 feet, Jerry focused his eyes on his navigation instruments, as the interior of the white, puffy clouds blocking his view of everything else.

But when the Mustangs emerged on the other side of the clouds, a devastating reality soon surfaced. Phil was gone. Most likely, he had been brought down by antiaircraft bullets fired into the clouds. There was no sign of him.

Jerry was devastated. When he landed at Iwo Jima, meanwhile, he learned something else: the war was over. The emperor had announced Japan’s surrender three hours earlier.  The code word UTAH had been broadcast to U.S. aircraft over the country, but the word had not reached the planes of the 78th until they landed.

Capt. Jerry Yellin

It was a surreal feeling as Jerry climbed out of his plane and jumped down to the airfield, standing on a once-bloody Pacific island. Now, suddenly, it was a world at peace. The men of the 78th had a saying, “Alive in ’45.” That had been their goal, and now it was their reality.

As Jerry walked away from his plane, another realization hit him: he had just flown the final combat mission of the war, and Phil was the final combat death of the great war. One day, after Jerry had time to collect his emotions and his thoughts, the great historical significance of the mission he’d just flown would sink in. But for now, one thought consumed his mind.

At last, it was time to go home.

I previously did an article about Captain Yellin when he was still helping to teach us about WWII.

Captain Jerome Yellin – 15 February 1924 – 21 December 2017

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Zach Brown – Chehalis, WA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. C/457th Artillery/11th Airborne Division

Allan Carson – Nelson, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 421317, WWII, pilot

From, Anna, Maiden On The Midway

Robert DeBusschere – Detroit, MI; US Army, WWII, A/B

Marvin ‘Curly’ East – Denver, CO; US Army, WWII, ETO, 110th Antiaircraft Artillery

Joseph Goodman – New Boston, PA; US Navy, WWII, USS Benson

Elizabeth (Meadows) Huey – Homer, LA; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Jesse James – AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Willard Lantz – Mapleton, MN; US Navy, WWII, Seaman 1st Class, USS Elkart

Wayne Pomeroy – Mesa, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, B-24 tail gunner

Doris Ward – ENG; British Army ATS, WWII, ETO

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on April 22, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 117 Comments.

  1. Your like of my post, “Israel 14 – Shabbat – God’s Words To The Jews,” is greatly appreciated. Thanks for being a friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a hell of a damn story gp, and what a monumental mental legacy for Captain Jerry Yellin, to carry for the rest of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great post GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sad, but still a beautiful story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So sad… Yet I can’t help thinking what better way to remember the last sight of a good friend: thumbs up…

    Like

  6. I don’t think I shared before that I met (and fell a little in love with) Captain Yellin at the 75th World War II Anniversary events at Fort DeRussy. He was an absolutely engaging person and following those commemorations, we became Facebook and email friends. I reviewed three of his books on my site–all thought provoking, including The Last Fighter Pilot that he wrote with Don Brown. Thanks for bringing him to the forefront of my thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The phrase “the fog of war” is often used, but in this instance, that fog was literal, in the sense of the cloud bank. It must have been awful to emerge from both the experience and the cloud, and discover that his friend was gone. We just never know from minute to minute how events will overtake us.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. An amazing and evocative post, GP. It hits a lot of different emotions. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. People must be content the war was over but than comes the moments people knows there a lot of friends they lost there life and never come bach.It was gives a lot of pain

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great feeling to know the war was over, but how sad to have lost a friend in battle when there was no longer a need to be there. Shows how important good communication is in almost every situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just might get one of Capt. Yellin’s books to find more details. My theory is that they were in radio-silence at the time, but that is just a supposition.

      Like

      • Guess that would be one reason for lack of communication. I had a friend tell me of a real find they made. A lady had collected a WWII Scrapbook of clippings from our newspaper of all the local guys and gals who were pictured there. My friend has scanned them online so they can be kept forever as the pages were getting rather tattered.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. A happy and sad story all at once. Thank goodness the fighting ended.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Truly a bittersweet conclusion.
    Lest we forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Poor Phil Schlamberg!! And what inefficiency to broadcast such an important message and have some aircraft not receive it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You made an interesting type-o in here : ” eternal gas tank ” ( instead of external ). I know some pilots who would like eternal gas tanks .

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Those ends and beginnings are often very poignant. My uncle was killed in Nth Africa on the first day of the first battle that Australians fought in the European Campaign. All that training gone within the first hour.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. ..I found your posts on the WASPS and Women in WW2 but didn’t see a way to comment– so I want to say here, that I appreciate the attention & respect you gave for women in the war efforts, often overlooked or trivialized in history.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Phil was the last KIA of WWII, there were other deaths as a result of the war but strictly speaking Phils death must surely have been the last KIA!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. well expressed!
    the thrill of handing over the fighter plane’s keys
    yet, losing someone dear 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  19. There must have been a fair few who died in the last day, the last moments. I don’t suppose it’s much easier for the families of those who died earlier, but the poignancy is heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Michael Yellin

    Mr. Cox, thank you for remembering my father. He was a remarkable man who lived a remarkable life. He was deeply scarred by his war experience, having flown combat missions on Iwo Jima and then 19 very long range missions over Japan, and suffered from the loss of 16 of his squadron team. My dad was particularly close to Phil Schlamberg. Phil was from Brooklyn, NY, and when my dad visited Phil’s mother after the war, trying to convey his sympathy and regret, he was told that “it should have been you who died.” He lived with PTSD for the rest of his life, and only learned to cope with it after learning transcendental meditation in the 1970s. And his hatred for his former enemy turned to love when my brother moved to Japan in the 1980s, married a Japanese woman, and my dad and mom were blessed with 3 wonderful, loving Japanese-American grandchildren. He wrote about this in his autobiography, Of War and Weddings, and he traveled the country talking about his war experiences, trying to help other veterans with PTSD, and spoke elegantly of his conviction that beliefs divide people, and that, in his words, “we are all connected by nature” and we must avoid going to war. He left a great legacy. I think about him every day and miss him so much.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Mr. Yellin,
      I greatly appreciate you contacting me and telling more of your father’s story. I had previously published a post about your father and his travels to promote the learning of history and help for veterans. I was very sorry to hear of his passing.
      Although this website is dedicated to my own father and his unit during the war, the 11th Airborne Division, I have tried to instill the need of learning history in my readers and to try and remember that generation that gave so much for us to have the freedoms we enjoy, (and sometimes abused by many),today. We are losing them all at an alarming rate and that saddens me.
      I am with you in feeling the loss of a father every day, I lost my own, Smitty, in 1988. I believe we can pay homage to them best by showing others the example they set for us.
      Thank you once again for contacting me – I am honored.
      GP Cox

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Believe it or not I do read you when I´m able…….not to much lately, thank you for all the information

    Liked by 1 person

  22. How very sad that Phil died so close to the end and peace. Even though the war ended, many went on to die from injuries sustained and how many others suffered mentally or physically for the rest of their lives as a result of it. A real moment of mixed and confusing emotions for those left behind.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. An excellent story, well told. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Poor Phil must have been be the unluckiest man indeed. Such a tragic irony that the war was over when the others landed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Wow! There’s a tory I’d never heard. I wonder if Phil would have made it had word been received in time.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. This really does make the war, close-up and personal. Great post, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. A sad, yet glorious event, because it meant the end of the war in the Pacific theatre!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. That must have been a mixture of emotions, particularly with the loss of his friend. It also seems that that’s the last time a war came to a definitive end.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. These kinds of situations are always gut-wrenching. A fellow Marine in my company was killed-in-action in March 1968. He was a “short-timer” with only three days left until he was due to rotate back to the “World.” He should’ve been in the rear waiting for his flight home, but we had taken heavy casualties and every able body was needed at the time. So very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. What a sad affair, to lose a friend in those circumstances.
    Thank you for the mention of mother…much appreciated.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Ticks me off; Why not bank for a due south heading, and climb OVER the clouds? Some things will never be answered…

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Amazing story, GP. I can imagine what Jerry felt with the loss of his friend. The internal conflict in Japan could be blamed for Phil’s death and many more. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Great/sobering post, as always, GP. The late Jerry Yellin was the father-in-law of someone I know in Montclair, New Jersey, who lives nine blocks from me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As you can see here, I have done 2 posts on Capt. Yellin. When you speak to your friend, please relate that I did so admire him. His upstanding character during the service was carried over into civilian life and you don’t always see that.

      Liked by 2 people

  34. Wonderful story, GP. And what a saying, “alive in ‘45”.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Excellent article Sir, I am going to reblog this one for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Indeed, the loss of one more pilot because of a failed communication is regrettable, but I suspect even more so for all the Japanese killed in the same unnecessary engagement.

    Thanks for the reminder that many in the Japanese military were still eager to kill Americans and die gloriously. Estimates of American deaths in the first wave of amphibious landings begin around 100,000.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Sad that Phil Schlamberg died when the war was practically over. Remind me of Pfc Henry Gunther who died on Nov. 11, 1918 with one minute remaining before the WWI armistice would end all conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Very interesting as always, GP. Thank you. I had read elsewhere that Sgt. Anthony Marchione became the last American killed in WW2. on August 18. This would appear to indicate that Phil Schlamberg holds that dubious honor.

    On another note, I wonder what course the war would have taken, if not for the nutjobs in Japanese Imperial Army leadership. Civilian and Naval authorities appear considerably more moderate. You had recommended a Japanese author who writes on their side of the story a while back, and I can’t seem to recall his name. To you happen to remember?

    Liked by 1 person

  39. That’s sad that it happened then. But life is sometimes so random.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Such contrasting feelings

    Liked by 1 person

  41. An extra agony for his loved ones, for sure

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Awful that yet another death occurred – Phil – at so late an hour, but what a releif it must have been for the others to be alive in 45!

    Liked by 2 people

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