4 February 2013
WWII Extra Credit
The Forgotten 500 by Gregory Freeman is an untold story of a rescue undertaken by a group of men (the OSS- eventually the CIA), using aircraft to rescue five hundred and twelve downed airmen from the mountains in Nazi occupied Yugoslavia. The airmen had to avoid capture while awaiting a rescue, some for months others for a year or more. With the aid of the Serbian people and General Mihailovich, who loved Americans and resisted Nazi occupation, built by hand a landing strip without alerting the Germans or endangering local Serbs, to bring in multiple C47 aircraft in the largest rescue behind enemy lines in World War II and since, Operation Halyard.
General Mihailovich who once had total support by Allies until Tito’s agents infiltrated British headquarters and presented false documents which showed Mihailovich and his men collaborating with Nazi occupation forces. Ultimately, Allied forces turned their support to communist leader Tito. Operation Halyard was not mentioned for over forty years. Mihailovich and his efforts were erased from history along with the 500 downed American airmen. After British and US betrayal, Mihailovich was captured by the Partisans, given a rigged trial and executed after the war. Many of the rescued airmen and their supporters held rallies on Mihailovich’s behalf pleading for mercy with no avail. Mihaiovich’s daughter was eventually presented the Legion of Merit by President Harry Truman in honor of her father who rescued, protected and returned to safety so many of our downed airmen.