August 19th 2007 04:59:43 AM
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, and 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.
Several paragraphs of my Legion article that so offended a pair of PR soldiers at Camp Bondsteel — because they weren’t being shot at just yet and so their families got worried for “nothing” and because most of the Serb-cleansing had taken place before they got there in November — were devoted to Mihailovich’s fearless deeds on behalf of those 500 Americans. I also drew a parallel between Western powers’ betrayal of the Serbs then and now.
Notably, in their single-minded assault on my article, the Fellenzer-Staggs team easily forgot the Forgotten 500 as well, not deeming this part of the article worthy of any mention — even in a separate blog post. As far as these 500 saved airmen and the American and Serb men in uniform who rescued them are concerned, and to borrow Fellenzer’s words regarding myself: Staggs-Fellenzer “took a large, steamy dump on the troops.”
I recently blogged about Staggs’ visit to the Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo, deservedly jabbing him about some admissions he inadvertently made in the post. As well, he had written, “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see what I consider to be one of the surviving wonders of the world. And yes, I would defend this and other historical buildings like it with my life because I consider it to be that important.”
Of course, as part of the 8th KFOR rotation — assuming he doesn’t insist on staying on in Kosovo — Staggs will be leaving Kosovo within a month or two and making way for the ninth rotation to take over. So more likely someone else will be in the position to have to defend the monastery with his life when things get wild in Kosovo very soon. In fact, he and Fellenzer will be out in the nick of time, and there will be a whole new set of soldiers when all hell breaks loose later this year. The hapless replacements won’t have had enough time in Kosovo to figure out for themselves what my source soldier did in the year he’s been there and tried to warn them about, and they won’t have gotten the real story of Kosovo — just the official one — thanks to our politicians, the dutiful military command, and hacks like Fellenzer-Staggs who buttress the official line.
Because of my sarcastic use of the word “Soldier” before Staggs’ name in the aforementioned blog, he accused me in his comments section of showing disrespect to the uniform. But as I’ve repeatedly made clear, I’m not the one who is an insult to the uniform.
In case there is still any doubt about the stuff hitting the fan very soon, look at the statements that the Kosovo NATO commander quickly retracted after meeting with Commanding General Douglas Earhart of Multinational Task Force-East (Fellenzer’s sector):
…German Lt. Gen. Roland Kather, who commands over 16,000 troops in Kosovo, urged Western and Russian envoys to broker a deal between the independence seeking ethnic-Albanians and Serbia’s officials or risk facing a violent backlash if no agreement is reached.
“Patience is not endless,” Kather said. “They should come up with a decision as soon as possible.”
Kather said the situation was quiet in the province of some two million people but added it was “unpredictable.”
“Certainly the situation will deteriorate after those 120 days,” Kather said. “We have to do everything possible to keep it under control…They need a fuse, and then they might come up with some violent actions. That of course, will cause a reaction … and then suddenly this violence might run out of control,” he said.
I can only hope that whoever and wherever the replacement soldiers are, they’ve read at least some of my work about Kosovo, but especially the two letters from the anonymous soldier there who was sounding a warning before Fellenzer-Staggs had him muzzled.
As to this “patience” that Albanians are running out of in waiting for the independence that they were told by the UN in 1999 they had no claim to and should never expect: the reason their patience has been wearing thin is that we were mere pawns in an elaborate Albanian scheme for a Greater Albania. And we’re holding up the agenda. (One journalist I know was fired from The Washington Post in 1999 after remarking to his superiors, “So how does it feel to be outsmarted by Albanians?”)
But according to Staggs, what accounts for the impatience, and the intolerance toward Serbs, by Kosovo Albanians is that “They’re still a bit miffed because of a plan of extermination carried out against them in 1999.”
Ah. So here we are. At the usual place. The same, ubiquitous Square One we always find ourselves at when it comes to what happened in Kosovo, revealing the void that always underlies ignorance like that being flaunted by the Staggs-Fellenzer PR team. Staggs, like every other last human clone on the planet, naturally didn’t follow the Milosevic trial. How could he? No American news outlet covered it. No one covered “THE BIGGEST TRIAL SINCE NUREMBERG,” as it was billed, dealing with “THE WORST ATROCITIES SINCE WORLD WAR II,” as they’re still billed. Had he miraculously distinguished himself from the bleak sea of cloned humanity out there by following even one day of the “most important” and most ignored judicial proceedings of our time — indeed, had he actually read my Legion article as he claimed — he would know that there was no extermination plan for Albanians. No genocide. No systematic ethnic cleansing, as this Washington Post article in 2000 by Benjamin Schwarz and visiting Cato fellow Christopher Layne bears out:
As a result of its failure to understand, the [Clinton] administration appears to have fallen for some of the oldest tricks in the book. The KLA’s guerrilla campaign was a deliberate attempt to provoke Belgrade into reprisals that would attract the West’s attention. Knowing it could not defeat Yugoslavia without NATO’s military support, the KLA waged a nasty insurgency that included assassinations of Serbian political and military officials. The KLA calculated — accurately — that a violent Yugoslav retaliation would pressure Washington and its allies to intervene. Although U.S. intelligence warned the Clinton administration of the KLA’s intentions, Clinton and his advisers took the bait: Washington placed the blame for events in Kosovo on Belgrade and absolved the KLA.
In this light, Clinton ’s assertion at a June 25, 1999 , postwar news conference that the bombing was a way to stop “deliberate, systematic efforts at . . . genocide” in Kosovo seems either disingenuous or ignorant. Before the start of NATO’s bombing on March 24, 1999 , approximately 1,800 civilians–overwhelmingly ethnic Albanians but also Serbs–had been killed in 15 months of bitter warfare between the KLA and Yugoslav forces. Up to that point, however, there had been no genocide or ethnic cleansing. The Yugoslav army’s admittedly brutal operations had been directed at rooting out the KLA, not at expelling Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population.
Ironically, the U.S.-led NATO bombing precipitated the very humanitarian crisis the administration claimed it was intervening to stop…Not only did the forced removal of civilians result from the NATO bombing, but administration claims of mass killings — made to rally popular support for the war — turn out to have been exaggerated…To date, according to U.N. reports, forensic specialists working under U.N. auspices have exhumed 2,108 bodies. It is far from certain that all of these victims perished as a result of Yugoslav atrocities; some may have been combatants, others may have been civilians caught in the cross-fire between the Yugoslav army and the KLA. Still others may have been civilians killed by NATO bombs…
The war in the province itself never ended. Moreover, despite the presence of U.S. and NATO peacekeepers, once Yugoslav forces left Kosovo the KLA began a new campaign of terror, this time targeting the province’s Serbian and Gypsy populations. This campaign of ethnic cleansing continues unabated. Albright’s assertion March 8 in a speech in Prague that the KLA “disbanded” is a fiction. Politically, the KLA leadership constitutes the backbone of Kosovo’s de facto government. Militarily, it has merely gone underground; the continuing violence against the province’s remaining Serbs bears — according to NATO officers on the ground — the hallmarks of the KLA. Meanwhile, across the border from Kosovo in Serbia proper, the KLA — as part of its effort to carve out a greater Albania — is waging guerrilla war in the Presevo Valley region, which is populated largely by ethnic Albanians…Impartial observers recognize that in postwar Kosovo, the KLA has been the heavy. Until now, the United States and NATO have been hesitant to confront it, fearing — with good reason — the KLA will turn on them.
One hopes that after reading this post, Staggs-Fellenzer has a better sense of the “extermination” myth. And if it does, then we must ask it: What explanation do you have now for Albanians not wanting Serbs to live among them?