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NEWS | Aug. 2, 2022

World War II pilot receives long-overdue medals, recognition

By Olivia Mendoza Sencalar 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Gerald “Gerry” Teldon was born in The Bronx, New York, and in 1944, he had hopes of becoming a pilot.  

Originally, it seemed that his dream of becoming a Naval Air Force pilot was not meant to be. He was turned down, twice.

“I could not think of anything more exciting than landing an airplane on a boat that’s bobbing up and down in the ocean,” he said.

Teldon went through the interview process for the Navy and was told he passed all the requirements, but they could not accept him.

That didn’t deter him. He walked across the street to the U.S. Army Air Corps recruiter.

He once again passed all requirements and was sent for an examination by a physician, who stated Teldon’s ear drums looked punctured, possibly from when he was a child, and that he would be sensitive to changes in pressure due to altitude changes.

Teldon eventually found a way around that hurdle and became a fighter pilot.

He flew P-47 Thunderbolts in World War II over Italy and the Balkans with Twelfth Air Force’s 79th Fighter Group, 85th and 87th Fighter Squadrons, and was honorably discharged in 1946, without fanfare or recognition.

Five years later, he was called back to flying during the Korean War.

On July 29, 2022, Teldon was finally recognized for his heroic service during a ceremony at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in San Antonio.

“Lt. Teldon flew 62 combat missions over a period of two years in the European theater and, while he should have been recognized for his service when he was honorably discharged, I’m thankful that he will finally get that recognition in front of so many friends and family members,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Stein, commander of the 502nd Operations Support Squadron, who pinned on Teldon’s Air Medal.

“These medals are an important reminder of the sacrifices Teldon, and so many others like him, made in the cause of freedom and liberty,” Stein said. “I’m very humbled and honored to be able to contribute some small part to finally presenting him with the medals he richly deserves after all these years.”

Chaplain (Maj.) Mendy Stern, a Jewish chaplain at Joint Base San Antonio, was also on hand to recognize Teldon.

“It is my honor to participate in recognizing and honoring a hero, a member of the greatest generation who answered the call to serve our nation in its time of need,” said Stern, brigade chaplain for the 106th Signal Brigade. “Teldon’s valorous actions are an inspiration to me as a fellow Jew and a Soldier, and I will share them further as I continue serving in our armed forces defending the delicate freedoms we cherish.”  

Teldon’s five grandchildren were also there to pin on additional medals for the American Campaign, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, the World War II Victory medal, National Defense Service medal, and the Distinguished Unit Ribbon.

During the ceremony, Teldon recalled growing up with his sister, Phyllis, and his parents, Henry and Dorothy. His father was a wealthy man who moved his family from a Bronx apartment to a house in Long Island, where the wealthiest people lived. But after three years, the family found themselves homeless and penniless, he said.

His family had to move onto someone's back porch, and he and his father shared a bed while his mother and sister shared another. Teldon said that when he was 15 years old he decided he wanted to fly.

“I won a prize for selling the most subscriptions for the Newsday Newspaper,” he said. “The prize was to fly around New York City. I was so amazed and excited, flying around the city, that I decided that I wanted to become a pilot.”

Teldon’s family members were excited to see him finally recognized.

“We are proud of his service to our country and preserving democracy in such a brave and exemplary fashion,” said his oldest son, Rabbi Tuvia Teldon. “This ceremony provides an opportunity for us to show our thanks to him, to our military, and to God Almighty for keeping him alive during the war and today.”

The veteran himself was also overjoyed on the occasion.

“I’m not an emotional person, but I’m so thankful for my family to want to learn more about me as to who I was that led me to be who I am today,” the elder Teldon said. On Aug. 28, Teldon will celebrate his 98th birthday.