NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
The 78th Attack Squadron “Bushmasters” at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, will celebrate their 100th anniversary Feb. 17-19 with multiple events in Las Vegas.
Among former members who are scheduled to attend the anniversary celebration are Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, state senate minority leader Michael Robertson, Maj. Gen. Richard Scobee, Air Force Reserve Command deputy commander, who will serve as the keynote speaker, and World War II veteran Capt. Jerry Yellin, 93, who flew P-51D aircraft as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ 78th Fighter Squadron. Yellin completed the final combat mission of the war.
The 78th Attack Squadron is an Air Force Reserve unit that conducts operations in conjunction with active-duty associates at Creech AFB. Over the years, the squadron has had different names and missions. The centennial committee, which is planning the event, hopes to bring together people who have served in the 78th Squadron for a weekend of camaraderie, networking and honoring tradition.
“Serving my country in World War II with the 78th Fighter Squadron was the highlight of my life,” said Yellin. “I was 18 years old at the time. I didn’t know much, but I knew I had to protect my country.”
Yellin escorted B-29 Superfortress aircraft and flew close-air support missions enabling the Marines to take Iwo Jima.
On Aug. 14, 1945, after two atomic bombs had been dropped in Japan, 16 aircraft were sent to strike ground targets until Japanese forces surrendered. Yellin and his wingman, 1st Lt. Philip Schlamberg, flew the last sortie.
Schlamberg was killed during the mission. When Yellin landed back on Iwo Jima, he learned the war had been over for several hours. He and Schlamberg had been expecting to hear a code word to abort the mission, but never received it.
“Millions put the uniform on and committed their lives to their buddies,” Yellin said. “They called us the greatest generation, but it was our leaders who were the greatest. I was just one guy who flew for the 78th, and I’m very proud to be a Bushmaster.”
The 78th centennial committee is dedicated to highlighting stories like Yellin’s. Its charge is to preserve the heritage of American airpower by capturing the history that still lives within the squadron’s veterans and paying tribute to all those who have served, and continue to serve, with the squadron.
“Nothing sets the United States military apart from the rest of the world’s armed forces more than airpower, and no organization exemplifies the superiority of American airpower more than the 78th Squadron,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Davis, 78th centennial committee president.
“The Bushmasters have taken part in every major American conflict since the first World War, and their tradition of valor in hostile skies is unparalleled.”
Today, the 78th Attack Squadron trains and equips combat air forces to conduct integrated and expeditionary combat operations, as well as training operations. The squadron consists of remotely piloted aircraft pilots, sensor operators and intelligence personnel tasked to increase the skill level and enhance mission effectiveness of the active-duty units within the 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech AFB.
The squadron’s story began Feb. 28, 1918, when it was activated as the 78th Aero Squadron in Texas. It was responsible for training aircrews in the JN-4, JN-6 and S-4 aircraft for other flying squadrons. The unit was redesignated Squadron “A" on July 23, 1918, and was demobilized on Nov. 13, 1918.
On April 1, 1931, another 78th Squadron was activated at France Field in the Panama Canal Zone, without any aircraft. The War Department, realizing the existence of another 78th Squadron, reconstituted and consolidated the squadrons on April 25, 1933, but then inactivated it Sept. 1, 1937.
On Feb. 1, 1940, the squadron was re-designated the 78th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. The squadron's newly acquired P-40 aircraft were destroyed or damaged on the ground in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. After the declaration of war, the 78th PS's principal mission was to train pilots for other combat units in the Pacific Theater.
On May 15, 1942, the 78th PS was re-designated the 78th Fighter Squadron. In January 1943, the pilots flew to Midway, which at the time was the longest overwater flight for Army fighters. There the squadron replaced the 73rd Squadron and continued to provide aerial defense for Midway until April 1943.
Over the next several months, the 78th FS moved to five bases throughout Hawaii, finally arriving at Bellows Field on June 8, 1944. During that time, the squadron converted to P-47s and began training for extreme long-range escort missions. That program continued through 1944 and was marked by the 78th FS's conversion to the P-51 Mustang at the end of the year.
New orders sent the squadron into flying combat patrol missions in support of the Marines on Iwo Jima. On April 7, 1945, the 78th FS flew its first escort missions to Japan. During the remaining months of the war, the squadron flew fighter sweeps against Japanese airfields and escorted B-29s on long-range strikes.
The squadron remained on Iwo Jima until Nov. 25, 1945, at which time it returned to Bellows Field. The 78th FS then moved to Wheeler Field on Feb. 6, 1946, and inactivated on Oct. 15, 1946.
The squadron was re-designated the 78th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron and activated Nov. 1, 1952, at Royal Air Force Station Shepherds Grove, England. The squadron absorbed the members of the 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, an Air National Guard unit, which reverted to state control, and began flying F-86 aircraft.
In April 1954, the squadron, flying F-84s, was re-designated a fighter-bomber squadron. It operated from Royal Air Force Station Sculthorpe, England, from May 1956 until May 1957, when it returned to Shepherds Grove.
The squadron was re-designated as a tactical fighter squadron in July 1958 and began flying F-101 aircraft from Royal Air Force Station Woodbridge, England.
The squadron operated F-4s from 1965 until Jan. 1, 1979, when the 78th TFS began preparing to operate the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog." The first A-10 arrived in June, with the squadron becoming operationally ready that November. The 78th TFS operated A-10s from Woodbridge and forward-operating locations in West Germany.
The squadron was inactivated May 15, 1992. It was then transferred back to the United States and reactivated at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, on Jan. 3, 1994, flying F-16 aircraft.
The 78th TFS was deactivated at Shaw AFB in May 2003 and then reactivated as an Air Force Reserve Command unit at Creech AFB in June 2006. It was designated the 78th Reconnaissance Squadron until 2010, when it became an attack squadron.
For more information on the 100th anniversary event, visit www.bushmasters100th.org.
(Editor's note: Since this story was posted, World War II veteran Jerry Yellin, who was scheduled to participate in the 100-year anniversary, passed away. We extend our sympathies to Yellin's family.)