I was doing research on my Great-uncle John Yerby (an American who joined the RAF in 1939-40) and found a post on this site by arthurcooper dated 2005 asking for information about John Yerby, among others. The post had this number (116159) associated with it. I think the fellow he referenced may be my Great-uncle. I have pasted below an article written by a friend of John's in the hope that this will be of help to Mr Cooper. The article below was published in The Oregonian.


Thank you, Cheryl Blevins


Johnny Yerby: "His grave was the vast Pacific" 12/30/14, 11:21 AM

Johnny Yerby: "His grave was the vast Pacific" Steve Duin | sduin@oregonian.com By Steve Duin | sduin@oregonian.com
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on December 07, 2010 at 12:14 PM, updated December 07, 2010 at 1:19 PM


The letter from Roland Fisher began as follows:
Your column on Nov. 16, 2010, "Gone to graveyards ..." touched me deeply. I did not know those men resting at that cemetery. But I knew many like them. I think of them often. I honor them.
Perhaps even more sorrowful are those who sacrifice could never be honored with a grave. I knew one such. His grave was the vast Pacific. His remains are now wherever the currents have carried them these past seventy years. Perhaps some part of him has come home to Oregon as a gentle raindrop.
I am in my last years. But I shall continue to spend some of my thoughts on those men buried near Florence, on the many like them under white markers the world around, and on the young men currently risking their lives for our country. And, as long as I live, I will remember my friend Johnny.
I wrote about him. When I read your touching commentary I decided to share him with you.
With Roland Fisher's permission, I share that tribute with all of you:
Just outside the lower entrance to the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, stands a black marble monument engraved with columns of names. Near the bottom of the last column one can read:
JOHN B. YERBY.
If that name is searched on Google, it shows "--- USAAFDATA 0-888674, John B. Yerby, 1L, OR, 26, 6, 1944."
The meaning of that brief expression is: US ARMY AIR FORCE DATA -- John B. Yerby -- Serial Number 0-888675 -- Rank, First Lieutenant -- Home State, Oregon -- Killed in action, 26th of June, 1944.
His name on the marble wall at the Coliseum is a most modest recognition of the costly action to defend our freedom that Johnny Yerby carried out. The Google display does not even begin to accord him the proper honor for what he did.
I met John in London, England on a weekend in March, 1942. We both were pilots in the Royal Air Force but did not know each other.
At the close of 1940, both of us had learned to fly as civilians. We were just out of our teens, born Americans, living in adjoining states. In early 1941, for personal reasons, each of us volunteered to fly combat for Britain. Unknown to each other, perhaps days apart, we traveled as civilians to London, England, where the Air Ministry commissioned us as pilot officers in The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. John was assigned to train in Spitfire Fighters and I to twin-engine operations.


The weekend we met, we had taken leave from our respective units and traveled to London. By chance we met in the recreation room of the American Eagle Club at Charing Cross Road. That day, strangers to each other, something drew us together over a game of checkers and we began to share a quiet, deep friendship. From that first moment we felt comfort with each other in a silent understanding that needed little explanation.
Even in war Britain had outstanding postal service. Upon our return to our units that week we wrote each other and from then, arranged to meet in London as often as we could. We shared like interest. Together we attended the theater, visited museums, explored London and its great history and, quite often, just sat over a game of checkers and talked.
As were most fliers of the time, young men in early twenties, we were in top physical condition, blessed with a youthful appearance, brimming with masculine vigor. John carried his muscular bulk with the ease of an athlete and was graced with classic Nordic looks ...
We talked about why we had joined with the British and about our pasts. I learned he had attended the University of Oregon at Eugene, loved athletics, had been a key member of the varsity football and baseball teams and that his home was in Portland where his parents lived. He had learned to fly in the University Civilian Pilot Training program and had keenly followed the wear in Europe and the drama of the battles between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force. He felt strongly about the menace to democratic principles that the Nazis manifested and he thought he should contribute to resisting them. He loved flying and thus came to a decision to volunteer for the Royal Air Force.
We shared a conviction that the Nazis were a bunch of bad guys and that we were morally correct in being a part of England's brave effort in taking on the mighty Luftwaffe in a decidedly underdog role. And 'though neither of us ever said so, I know we also both felt the thrill of adventure, of flying the best fighting aircraft known, and of the uncertainty and risk of combat ...
Even with these positive feelings about our activities, both of us experienced substantial frustration because after committing ourselves to British service, America had been hurled into danger by the attack on Pearl Harbor, and we were torn with a desire to return to fight for our own country. But the American Embassy, which communicated with us closely, stated flatly that the United States simply was not able to fold us into American defense efforts and that we best would serve our country by continuing with our duty in the RAF. We were told a provision was being made to let us join American forces in the near future. The first evidence of this appeared in September, 1942, when three American Eagle squadrons were transferred as united to the Army Air Force.
But some months before that I was posted to a base in Scotland and John's letters ceased. Then I learned that his Spitfire squadron had been sent to North Africa where the Germans had begun an aggressive offense under Rommel.


In December 1942, I was ordered to The Air Ministry in London, then to Eighth Air Force headquarters where I was simultaneously released from the RAF and commissioned in the U.S. Army, rated as a pilot. In September 1943 I was sent to the South West Pacific Theater and joined the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group of the Fifth Air Force, where I flew night intruder (SNOOPER) missions as a B-24 pilot ....
In the 63rd Squadron, as SNOOPERS, one kind of mission we frequently conducted was to fly a single plane over an enemy base at night, test its defenses and drop bombs. In June, I was assigned to snoop out an important enemy base, Palau, in the Peleliu Islands north of New Guinea. Palau was 2,000 miles northwest of Nadzab, just beyond the range of our B-24s. But the newly taken airstrip at Wakde was 8000 miles from Nadzab and 700 miles south of Palau. So by flying to Wakde in the afternoon, landing and loading bombs and fuel and departing at dusk, I could reach Palau during the dark, carry out my mission, return to Wakde, refuel and return to Nadzab ...
On June 25, I flew to Wakde, landed, and my crew and I went to the 348th Fighter Group mess tent to have some cow while our plane was being serviced, After eating, I left the mess tent to check on our plane and walked past some resident tents. It was just dusk and I glanced at a man standing in an opening with his back to me. His powerful shoulders and neck under a blond crew cut seemed familiar. I approached and touched his back. he turned, and in the fading daylight was a face I had not seen for two years -- my friend, Johnny Yerby!
He was stunned. We both were delighted. We embraced and began firing questions and answers rapidly. We had less than an hour before I had to take off. But in that time he told me that his Spitfire squadron had brief combat in North Africa when they were abruptly sent to Darwin, in northern Australia, to defend against planes that were bombing our bases daily after the rampaging Japanese forces had crushed the Allies through the entire South Pacific ... When his squadron was moved to Wadke, he began flying support missions ...
We could have talked all night but I had to go on my mission. As I sat at the controls of my plane through the long hours of the night, faced the fright of flying through sheets of tracer fire as I lay a load of fragmentation bombs down the airstrip at Palau, and through more long dark hours back, I reflected on the great improbability of meeting Johnny on a tiny speck of land on the other side of the world, two years after playing checkers with him in London. That night, returning to Wadke, I enjoyed not only the relief of still being alive, but the anticipation, the utter thrill of seeing my friend again. I could hardly wait to set that ponderous winged box down and talk to him.
While my crew was eating breakfast, I rushed to his tent area. He was not there, and I assumed he was on a mission. When I asked for Yerby at his squadron operations tent, I saw startled, concerned looks on faces. Then an officer whose shoulders carried rank of authority said to me, "Oh! You're his friend from the RAF. John crashed in the water after takeoff this morning. We found the wreckage from a boat and are still searching for it." He further explained that as John's plane passed over the end of the island, fire was seen to come from under it and it rolled on its back and went in ...
For the second time in 24 hours, I was emotionally stunned, this time with disbelief and sorrow ...


I the days following I learned more about him from his squadron members. But my gladness was gone. John was gone.
In the ensuing years, I have carried in me a gentle com fort with the memory of my friend, Johnny, and of our good times together. I still feel a deep sorrow losing such a friend. But I treasure that memory of events, of such rare circumstances, of our first meeting, of our close friendship, of our separation for two years while we both survived war, of our improbable, happy reunion that was permitted to continue for only a single day.
I miss him. I think about his comments, his beliefs of responsibility that he told me nearly seventy years ago. I honor him for what he believed and for what he did for his country and gave to his countrymen. I know how I feel about it. I'm just not sure quite how to define it. Perhaps what John gave to us is best described by Abraham Lincoln's beautiful words at Gettysburg:
-- "that last full measure of devotion."
Recently there has been a spate of publicity about "what should be done about the Memorial Coliseum." There has been some loose chatter, a cavalier attitude toward veterans' sacrifices and, in some of it, an apparent disregard of the tribute the Coliseum was meant to represent. That should be near sacred to all of us.
I visit that marble wall just to red John's name. Sometimes I just sit on a nearby bench and enjoy the shining memory of my friend, Johnny.


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