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More than 1,000 gather in Bedford for 73rd anniversary of D-Day

Famed WWII veteran Jerry Yellin served as keynote speaker

BEDFORD, Va. – More than 1,000 people came together in Bedford on Tuesday to honor those who stormed the beaches at Normandy on D-Day 73 years ago.

Among those in attendance at the National D-Day Memorial's ceremony was one of the nation's best-known World War II veterans, Jerry Yellin.

"They can emulate the sights and the sounds in the film, but they can't emulate the smell of death," Yellin said.

That's something Captain Jerry Yellin is all too familiar with, after serving as a fighter pilot during WWII.

"My sister's husband made the first mission onto foreign soil in World War II and I flew the very last combat mission on August 14, 1945, and my wingman was the last man killed in combat in World War II," Yellin said.

A P-51, similar to what Jerry piloted, soared over the memorial Tuesday morning to honor him and his fellow service members.

"I flew 19 missions in Japan with 16 guys that didn't come home. The war ended. I came home. I thought about suicide every day. I spoke to the guys I had flown with every night for 30 years and then I learned Transcendental Meditation and got my life back," Yellin said.

But even then, challenges bringing back memories of war continued.

"1988, my son married the daughter of a kamikaze pilot," Yellin said.

His son's Japanese father-in-law was initially skeptical about the unique relationship, but ultimately came around.

"He said any man that can fly a P51 against the Japanese and live must be a brave man and I want the blood of this man to flow through the veins of our grandchildren," Yellin said.

That taught Yellin tolerance. He shared that message with a crowd of more than a thousand people at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford on Tuesday.

"We are not what we believe. We are all human beings. We're not Catholics or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. We are all people, all human beings," Yellin said.

Although decades have passed, Jerry says his experiences have taught him lessons many people can still learn from today.

"We cannot exist as a world as long as there are people willing to kill other people for what they believe, like ISIS is doing, like Germany did, like Italy did with Mussolini and Germany did with Hitler and the Japanese did. They killed for what they believed," Yellin said.

Jerry now travels the world helping veterans battling PTSD. He hopes future generations will continue visiting the National D-Day Memorial and never forget the sacrifice so many made on that day.