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    US, Serbians, commemorate 75th anniversary of daring WWII rescue

    US, Serbians, commemorate 75th anniversary of daring WWII rescue

    Photo By Sgt. Alexis Washburn-Jasinski | Wreaths laid by U.S. and Serbian leaders adorn the monument to Operation Halyard after...... read more read more

    PRANJANI, Serbia – American, Serbian, and international dignitaries gathered September 15, 2019 at Galovica Field here in a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Halyard, a daring World War II mission in which Serbians helped evacuate downed U.S. and Allied pilots.

    During World War II, hundreds of American and Allied airmen were shot down over German-occupied portions of Serbia. The Serbian population in Pranjani and the surrounding communities risked their lives to hide and protect those airmen from occupying forces.

    “These Airmen knew extreme risks,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Kirk Smith, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, during his address at the commemoration. “But they had no idea what was awaiting them when they crashed or landed by parachute in the fields, forests and hills of German-occupied Serbia. Instead of being killed by German patrols, the Airmen received a hero’s welcome from brave Serbian families.”

    Operation Halyard was a mission launched by the Office of Strategic Services – predecessor to both U.S. Special Operations Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency – to rescue more than 500 Allied airmen who were scattered throughout the mountainous region of Serbia after their planes were shot down by the Germans. It remains the largest, most successful, rescue of American airmen in history.

    “Operation Halyard is an example of how ordinary people can rise to greatness, of what can be accomplished when we commit to goals which are greater than ourselves,” U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott remarked to the crowd during his speech.

    From August 1944 to February 1945, the Serbian population and a small group of OSS operatives built improvised runways to land U.S. planes from the 15th Air Force to transport the downed airmen to Allied territory. Pranjani was the main collection center where airmen were staged for movement out of Serbia.

    The OSS team involved in Operation Halyard included Army Capt. Nick Lalich, Lt. George Musulin, Master Sgt. Michael Rajacich, and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Arthur Jibilian.

    The main event was a wreath-laying ceremony in recognition of both the partnership between the U.S. and Serbia, and the sacrifices and support the Serbian people made for the Allied airmen. During Operation Halyard, over 8,000 Serbian citizen soldiers surrounded the area around Pranjani, protecting the airmen from German patrols.

    “The event that we commemorated today [is] something that brings us much closer to each other,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in the keynote address. “We speak about the heroic moves from Serbian ordinary people and American, Canadian, and British pilots in 1944. We succeeded to make terrific links between our two nations and I hope that we will be able to renew it and to revive it.”

    The wreath-laying ceremony was followed by a tour of the Church of the Holy Ascension in Pranjani, presentation of educational grants, and a community picnic featuring music provided by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band.

    This commemoration helps to highlight the value placed on the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Serbia – emphasizing how bonds of the past can help shape a common future.

    “These bonds may have been forged long ago,” said Smith. “But they continue to influence our common goal for a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.”

    Smith attended to not only commemorate the shared history between Serbia and U.S. SOF, which continues through with a current training partnership between the Serbian special anti-terrorism unit and U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. Serbia also joined the U.S. State Partnership Program and has partnered with the Ohio National Guard since 2005.

    “This anniversary helps us remember the depth of our relations,” said Scott. “In most of our history, we have been allies, we have been partners. Americans and Serbs stood shoulder to shoulder in World War I, and we stood shoulder to shoulder in World War II. This 75th anniversary is an opportunity not only to recall that past, but also to begin building the foundations for a new future together as we face joint challenges for the 21st century.”



    Date Taken: 09.15.2019
    Date Posted: 09.20.2019 05:04
    Story ID: 342561
    Location: PRANJANI, RS

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