I’ll Fly Away – The Carl B. Yerian Story

I first met Air Force Colonel Carl B. Yerian a few years ago when an old friend, Mary Alice Brown, asked me to marry them. He was a retired USAAF combat pilot of WWII with a long history of service to his country, up to and including the Vietnam War. From the very first time we were able to sit down and talk, Carl impressed me as one of those people that you instantly take a liking to; friendly, outgoing, personable, humble, and yet highly task oriented and capable of rising to meet any situation head-on.

Their wedding was a delightful occasion, only one of a handful of weddings where I had married a couple of their advanced years, as both had been widow & widower for a long time.

As Carl and I drew closer in the years after his marriage, I began to learn something of his military career. He had been a B-24 combat pilot, flying 51 missions during World War II with the 376th Bombardment Group. This unit had a long and storied history with the 9th, 12th & 15th Air Forces in the Egypt-Libya and Italian Campaigns. Nicknamed the ‘Liberandos’, the unit’s history has been compiled into a well-documented book by the same name by James W. Walker.

Realizing the significance of Carl’s combat experience, I asked him to speak to my military reunion group at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. He not only gave a very interesting talk on his years of service, he also provided several handouts detailing his combat missions.

After Carl’s unit had been transferred from Africa to Italy, Carl flew his first combat mission on April 3, 1944 to Budapest, Hungary. There were 31 aircraft on this mission. They dropped 500 pound bombs on railroad tracks and an oil refinery. They encountered light resistance from five enemy aircraft, but almost all the planes had many holes from anti-aircraft fire. Then, the very next morning, they were awakened to fly another mission. And so the war went on – mission after mission, day after day, with very little time to stand down, and many narrow escapes, including one crash landing when they were able to repair their plane and eventually return to base.

Carl’s combat record is way too extensive to include all of it here. Thank God others are recognizing the need to interview our WW II Heroes. Just recently, Carl was interviewed in his home town of Mt. Sterling, Ohio and the local NBC station here in Columbus, OH. It is gratifying to know that others value what Carl’s generation did in World War II.

Carl has been diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to write something about this good man while he was still with us. Even at the age of 92, Carl seems indestructible, having faced a life-time of challenges head-on.

I have had the privilege to know many fine veterans, most long retired from their military careers. I have served as Chaplain to some of them, which I consider the greatest privilege of my life. There are others out there who know men and women whose military service we need to celebrate and document. Because I collect stories from WW II pilots and crews, mostly 8th AF, it is gratifying to find more such books & combat flight logs coming to light.

You may know a story about a buddy or associate that has not yet been recorded. If you don’t write it, who will?

Editor’s note: Col. Carl B. Yerian passed away on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to: The 376th Heavy Bomber Group Veterans Association, c/o Kim Hobbs, P.O. Box 662, Hennessey, OK 73742. Online condolences may be made here.

-John R. Gray (TSgt USAF Ret); Pastor, United Methodist Church, West Ohio Conference (Ret) BS BA, MDIV