FAIRFIELD – The story of the life of World War II fighter pilot Jerry Yellin has been made into a documentary called “Jerry’s Last Mission.”
It is directed by Louisa Merino, a woman who got to know Yellin during his time in Fairfield.
In 2015, while Merino was working for David Lynch Foundation Television as a senior editor and story producer, she met a man in the Roosevelt Aquatic Center who was “running” laps in the pool, not swimming. It was Yellin. Merino struck up a conversation with him, and learned about his fascinating life, about how he flew the last mission over Japan in World War II, how he battled post-traumatic stress after the war, and how his view of the Japanese changed when his son Robert married a Japanese woman.
“He talked about his transformation from hatred to love,” Merino recalled. “He was a really charming man, and I was inspired by his story.”
Merino and Yellin became friends and met a few times a week. Merino asked if she could film him for a documentary. Yellin agreed.
It would be the first feature-length documentary Merino would produce.
Yellin later moved to Florida where he lived with his son, Steven. Merino followed him there for interviews. The documentary shows the jovial and heartfelt moments between Steven and his father. Steven even remarked that there were things he learned during the documentary that he never knew before, like how his dad contemplated suicide every day for 30 years.
Merino followed Yellin on a trip to Japan after the death of his wife, Helene, in 2015. Yellin made the trip because he wanted to spread half of her ashes in the country that she came to love. In the last few years of his life, Yellin traveled frequently, giving talks on post-traumatic stress and how to address the problem of veterans’ suicides.
One clip shows Yellin talking to a group of youngsters at an airfield about what it was like to fly a P-51.
Merino said that she did a little bit of scene editing while filming, but the first time she sat down to do a major edit was the week before Yellin died in 2017 at age 93. He called Merino over Skype and told her he was ready to go, and that he wanted her to visit him, with the film, because he wanted to watch it.
Merino hadn’t put the film together, but she spent the next few days editing nonstop, putting together a rough cut of the film.
“It was an hour of film made for Jerry,” she said.
She flew to Florida to show it to him.
He loved it.
Every time a new visitor came by, he showed it to them.
“It was really beautiful to see him watch the film, because he was so moved and so proud,” Merino said.
In 2020, Merino decided it was time to put a bow on the film.
“It had been 5½ years since we started filming,” she said. “At some point, you have to let go and trust it’s ready.”
Merino and producers Ed Cunningham and Melissa Hibbard uploaded the film online for a limited time the week of Veterans Day, during which it was free to view.
Merino said she and the producers are shopping the film to various outlets, both streaming services and television channels for the rights to distribute it.