In my American Legion article last month, I wrote of the 500 American airmen rescued during WWII by the anti-Nazi guerilla forces of the Serbian commander Draza Mihailovich and the U.S. troops who coordinated with him in what was arguably the greatest but never-spoken-of rescue mission of the war. I am heartened to be able to announce the release on August 28th of a book titled The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II:
An astonishing, never-before-told story of the Second World War, based on newly declassified documents and exclusive interviews. In 1944 the OSS set out to recover more than 500 airmen trapped behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. Classified for over half a century for political reasons, the full account of this unforgettable story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery is now being told for the first time.
About the Author Gregory A. Freeman is an award-winning writer with over 25 years in journalism. He is the author of Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It.
Last month I published two letters from a gentleman who was part of the rescue mission and is featured prominently in the book, Arthur Jibilian. He had written me after reading the Legion article:
Thank you for your article on THE BALKAN BLOWBACK in the July issue of the AMERICAN LEGION! I parachuted into Mihailovich (Serb) territory in August,1944, to evacuate shot down American airmen.
We “saved” over 500 American airmen…..made possible with the help of Gen. Draja Mihailovich and the Serbian people, many who lost their lives protecting and hiding our boys. I have been trying to clear Mihailovich’s name for over 60 year, but no one is willing to listen.
Again, my heartfelt gratitude,
Richard Felman was in the first contingent of 250 Americans evacuated on Aug. 9 and 10, 1944, I believe. I spent almost six months with General Mihailovich, during which time he “funneled” over 500 American airmen to us so that we were able to evacuate them back to Italy.
I was a member of the small contingent that had the honor of presenting the Legion of Merit to Mihailovich’s daughter in May, 2005. VERY little publicity attended this event……it was almost like another one of our OSS secret missions!!!!! In addition, I had the pleasure of presenting her with an album of the Halyard Mission that I had made copies of for this express purpose.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that, had Mihailovich been a collaborator, 500 American airmen, four members of the HALYARD MISSION, and three members of the RANGER MISSION, together with a three member medical team, would have been turned over to the Germans……
As the last survivor of the HALYARD MISSION, and on behalf of those who are no longer able to, I say “thank you, and God bless”.
Arthur “Jibby” Jibilian
Jibilian in 1945
Jibilian in 1999
Jibilian kneeling in front, middle; Mihailovich directly behind him (the shorter one).
How the men of the Halyard and Ranger missions slept
Mihailovich’s daughter, Gordana Mihailovich, accepting her father’s Legion of Merit.
In 1979, California Governor Ronald Reagan wrote the following letter:
Mr. Michael Radenkovich
California Citizens’ Committee to
Commemorate General Mihailovich
Dear Mr. Radenkovich:
Please convey to the California Citizen’s Committee to Commemorate General Draja Mihailovich my sincere appreciation for their kind invitation to attend tonight’s dinner to commemorate General Mihailovich. Unfortunately, prior committments prevent me from being with you.
I believe that the spirit in which you have gathered here to honor the memory of General Mihailovich, the faithful allied commander and the first anti-Nazi leader in Europe, is shared by the great majority of Americans.
The ultimate tragedy of Draza Mihailovich cannot erase the memory of his heroic and often lonely struggle against the twin tyrannies that afflicted his people, Nazism and Communism. He knew that totalitarianism, whatever name it might take, is the death of freedom. He thus became a symbol of resistance to all those across the world who have had to fight a similar heroic and lonely struggle against totalitarianism. Mihailovich belonged to Yugoslavia; his spirit now belongs to all those who are willing to fight for freedom.
Thus, the fate of General Mihailovich is not simply of historic significance — it teaches us something today, as well. No western nation, including the United States, can hope to win its own battle for freedom and survival by sacrificing brave comrades to the politics of international expediency.
Your dinner therefore commemorates something more than the legacy of patriotism and heroism that Mihailovich left us. You commemorate the principles for which he fought and died. And you remind our nation that abandonment of allies can never buy security or freedom. In the mountains of Yugoslavia, in the jungles of Vietnam, wherever men and women have fought totalitarian brutality, it has been demonstrated beyond doubt that both freedom and honor suffer when firm commitments become sacrificed to false hopes of appeasing aggressors by abandoning friends.
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