Fifteen years ago today, Serbs and Americans commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Halyard Mission rescue operation, a glorious moment in their common history as allies.
This great feat, the Halyard Mission rescue operation, was officially noted in all of the releases and information disseminated by the World War II Commemoration Committee in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. That committee, chaired by Colonel Kenneth A. Plummer and overseen by the United States Department of Defense, organized a weeklong celebration in Chicago, Illinois in conjunction with special events taking place throughout the world to commemorate the milestone anniverary. This five-day D-Day 50th Anniversary commemoration celebration in Chicago opened with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the successful 'Halyard Mission' rescue operation. This mission was a combined project of the American Strategic Services (O.S.S. - precursor of the C.I.A.) under the command of General William J. Donovan, Lieutenant George (Guv) S. Musulin, of the O.S.S., an American of Serbian descent, and General Draza Mihailovich and his Serbian chetnik freedom fighters in the former Yugoslavia. For different reasons, and always less than noble ones, the Halyard Mission rescue operation that took place over the course of the Summer, Autumn and Winter of 1944 in the German occupied Serbian areas of former Yugoslavia, was kept hidden from official public recognition and covered up, to the point of being left out of the historical texts relating to the World War II era altogether. The Halyard Mission became a casualty of political supression but through the tireless efforts of those who knew the history and the significance of this great event, many of them personally who had lived it and are now deceased, this epic heroic story is now increasingly seeing the light of day.
The 50th Anniversary celebration of the Halyard Mission began at the Swiss Hotel the night of Monday, May 30, 1994 with a reunion of the Allied airmen who had taken part in the Ploesti bombing missions and subsequent Halyard rescue operation A private party was held for the war veterans and U.S. liaison officers and personnel, such as Captain Nick Lalich and Major George Vujnovich, and J.B. Allin, who had come to Chicago to attend the celebration, and the party provided an opportunity for the old buddies to reunite and reminisce. Present also was the honorable Edward J. Derwinski, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs. With all the talking and laughing, it was easy to forget for a moment the historical significance of this reunion and the event that had inspired it. Memories were shared, and the younger people present had the opportunity to witness the bond these men still shared after so many years and miles apart.
14 year old Chervonne Johnson sang a beautiful and rousing rendition of the American National Anthem. Colonel Plummer then asked the Serbian Orthodox priests sitting among the American airmen to give the invocation. After the moving blessing, he brought Major Richard L. Felman and Captain Nick Lalich to the podium. Both men, veterans of World War II, acknowledged the great feat and sacrifice embodied in the Halyard Mission rescue operation, with Major Felman issuing a heartfelt “Thank You” to the Serbian chetniks who had saved the lives of the American airmen who had survived the war to be present at the festivities that day, 50 years later.
With the emotional opening ceremony finished, all present were asked to step outside to the Eternal Flame for the laying of the wreath to memorialize those American fliers who had lost their lives in the bombing missions over the Ploesti oil fields in 1944. Major Felman laid the wreath at the eternal flame. Major Felman was wearing the full uniform of the U.S. Army Air Corps that he had worn in combat 50 years before. Among those standing by the flame was O.S.S. officer Major George Vujnovich, who held his hand over his heart As the wreath was quietly laid many of those who had gathered there shed silent tears for all the patriots who had been sacrified for the noble Allied cause.
Featured speaker Hershel Gober, then Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. came to the podium and expressed that this was an emotional meeting of the saved and their rescuers. He thanked both the Americans and the Serbs for their extraordinary service to mankind, and stressed the significance of this celebration for its influence on the younger generation of Americans, many of whom were in the audience that day.
Colonel Plummer then announced that Mr. Voja Mihailovich, the grandson of General Draza Mihailovich, who had traveled to Chicago from Serbia, was in the audience. Voja was greeted with spontaneous applause as the audience rose to give him an ovation. For most in the room, this was the only opportunity to see in person one of General Mihailovich’s living legacies.
Following his speech, Major Felman presented the George S. Musulin Award, established in 1994 for the first time, to symbolically honor those airmen who had left on their mission to secure the end of WWII and never returned. Colonel George S. Musulin, an officer with the O.S.S. in 1944, was the man primarily responsible for initiating and bringing to fruition the Halyard Mission Rescue operation. The award was presented to Colonel Musulin’s daughters who were present to receive it. The event reunited a number of members of the Musulin family who had not seen each other for quite some time. For the George S. Musulin Award presentation two portraits done by Aleksandra Rebic that had been covered by the American flag were uncovered. One was a portrait of O.S.S. Colonel George Musulin and the other was a portrait of a young woman and her two children, a boy and a girl, looking wistfully to the skies as planes flew overhead, waiting for her husband, and their father to return from his mission, hoping in their hearts that they would seem him come back to them alive.
"Lieutenant George S. Musulin was an American officer who went above and beyond the call of duty in 1944 when he parachuted behind enemy lines to help save the lives of hundreds of American and Allied airmen who had been shot down over the Ploesti Oil fields in Romania while carrying out one of the most dangerous missions of World War II - taking out the Nazi Army's main supply of fuel at the time. For his valor, Lt. Musulin was awarded the Legion of Merit, due to his assistance and courage. The single greatest rescue of American lives from behind enemy lines in the history of warfare was completed in Serbia with the help of the Serbian Chetnik forces under the command of General Draza
In honor of his memory, the GEORGE S. MUSULIN AWARD has been founded this day, May 31, 1994, in commemoration of the HALYARD MISSION RESCUE OPERATION, to be given to that individual or group each year who has made an outstanding contribution to America.