SAN DIEGO - A surprise for a local World War II veteran's 90th birthday on Saturday brought him some much-needed closure, decades after losing his wingman in battle.
It was a birthday celebration 90-year-old Jerry Yellin will not soon forget. The retired WWII Army Air Corps pilot was surrounded by friends and loved ones aboard the Berkeley where he shared stories about the last mission he would fly in August of 1945.
"My wingman, 19-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, Philip Schlomberg leaned over to me and said, 'Captain, if we go, I'm not coming back.' And I said, 'What are you talking about?'" said Yellin.
Yellin says his wingman disappeared in flight during their mission. He said that when he reached out to Schlomberg's family, they wanted nothing to do with him. Decades later, that would all change.
Schlomberg's niece made a surprise appearance for Yellin's birthday. It was the first time the two would meet after both families were separated for years.
"I think we were both like crying our eyes out for one thing," said Melanie Sloan, Schlomberg's niece. "I mean … it was just relief ... relief and release."
Sloan said she found Yellin online through a veteran's group in Florida. She says knowing the sacrifices her uncle and Yellin made for our country not only makes her proud but brings her a sense of peace.
It is a feeling echoed by Yellin.
"It's closure for me," he said. "I flew with 16 guys … that didn't come back and it never bothered me during the war but after the war, it was terrible to think I have no purpose of life."
But on his 90th birthday, that purpose was renewed as he celebrated another year with a special, new person he now considers family.
Yellin had met with Sloan's children before meeting her for the first time Saturday night.
He says his only birthday wish is for harmony among everyone.