Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lt. Col. Milton Friend, USAF, Halyard Mission veteran, desires American debt to General Mihailovich repaid

"The first meeting with the General was very brief.  Two Canadians, one British airman, and myself were trying to get to the coast to find a way out of Yugoslavia. We were met by Chetnik soldiers and brought to Mihailovich's headquarters. We spoke only to the General's staff members for about half an hour. We told them we were on our way to the coast after having been in their country for over 50 days. We asked for help to get to the coast. It was then that General Mihailovich came into the room. After being briefed by his Staff, he told us that an American escape committee had been formed which was trying to reach the 15 Air Force headquarters in Bari, Italy to notify headquarters about how many airmen were stranded in Yugoslavia. If they were not successful, the General said that he would provide an escort of his soldiers to take us to the coast. That was good news, and we went back to Pranjani to await developments. I remember how warm and friendly and sincere he seemed in trying to help us.

The second meeting was longer, lasting for about an hour. General Mihailovich described his fondness for America and his hopes for the future when the Americans would come to his aid and help his forces free Yugoslavia. He spoke in French and an aide translated his words into English for us.

I remember that I didn't speak too much, I just listened in awe. He ended up being good to his word. I never saw General Mihailovich face to face again after those meetings in 1944, but I won't ever forget him."

Lt. Col. Milton A. Friend, USAF (Retired)

March 4, 2010

General Draza Mihailovich WWII Yugoslavia
Lt. Col. Milton E. Friend, USAF (Ret.)
January 2010
87 years old

Aleksandra's Note: To my surprise and joy, Lt. Col. Milton Friend of the USAF, a Halyard Mission veteran that I met in person in Chicago in 1994 for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Halyard Mission Rescue Operation, got in touch with me recently. I had wondered if he was still living. Indeed he is, and he has a story to tell. When I searched for him on the internet, I discovered that he is not featured anywhere that I could find. I told him that his story needs to be made public and it is my absolute pleasure to share that story with you.
Thank you, Lt. Col. Friend for sharing your story. I know that others will be so happy that you are still with us, and continue to carry the torch for General Mihailovich.
Aleksandra Rebic

by Lt. Col. Milton Friend USAF (Ret.) March 2010

Murray and Milton Friend of the USAF, 1954

My name is Milton E. Friend. My twin brother Murray and I were born on June 25, 1922 in Passaic , New Jersey. I’ll be 88 years old this year. My brother Murray and I enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program in July 1942, prior to being drafted. We were called up from the enlisted Reserve as Aviation Cadets in February 1943 and sent to Nashville, Tennessee for classification as a pilot, bombardier, or navigator. During classification, my brother Murray underwent a minor operation, and I asked to have my classification held up so that we could remain together in Service. However, the request was turned down with the comment that the specialized training we were to undergo could not be delayed. Murray’s healing process took much longer (over six months) than anticipated, and I was classified as a Pilot and sent to pre-flight training in Montgomery, Alabama and then to Primary Flight School at Douglas, Georgia. Unfortunately, I did not progress as quickly as the Air Corps demanded, and was “Washed Out”, but in view of my exceptionally high grades during the academic portion of my training, I was reclassified as a Navigator and sent to Selman Field, Monroe, Louisiana, for navigation training. I graduated on February 8, 1944 from Navigation School and was commissioned as a Second Lt. In the Army Air Corps. Next came training at Aerial Gunnery School in Florida, assignment to a crew on a B-24 Heavy Bomber as a Navigator, combat crew training in Charleston, SC and orders to proceed overseas to Italy with my assigned crew in a brand new B-24.

The crew Milton Friend trained and flew with on his first
combat mission in WWII, to Florence, Italy. 
On his second mission, to the Ploesti Oil Fields, Romania
he would fly with a different crew.

B-24 Liberator

Murray was still in the hospital in Nashville, recovering from his operation, which was not healing properly. Miraculously, just as the Air Corps was about to release him from service, six months after the operation, the wound healed, and Murray convinced the Air Corps that he should be allowed to continue with his training. In those days with the United States at war, no one wanted to remain at home and not participate as an active combatant. Murray was classified as a navigator and completed his training at Selman Field, Louisiana.

My crew and I arrived in Italy on June 1, 1944 and were assigned to the 15th Air Force. I flew my first mission on June 5, 1944, a milk run to Florence, Italy, and my second and last mission on that tour on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Though I still had not completed all the “Escape and Evasion Lectures” given to all newly arrived crew members, I filled in as navigator on my second mission for an experienced crew (not my own) to replace a navigator who had been assigned to the group. My second mission was to the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, the toughest and most dangerous target assigned to the 15th Air Force. The plane, piloted by First Lt. Everett Estep, was selected to lead the squadron, a contingent of 12 B-24 bombers within a total force of over 800 bombers. Approximately 100 P-51 fighter planes were assigned to accompany the bombers to the target area. As the 12-plane formation reached the target area and the B-24s were about to drop their bombs from 19,000 feet, another squadron appeared under the formation at a lower altitude just as the bomb bay doors were opened. Since it is impossible to go back to the IP (initial point) and make another run at the target, especially a target as well defended as Ploesti, the pilot ordered the bomb bay doors closed and asked me for a heading (the course he should take) to the alternate target, which was also in Rumania. The 12 planes left the major formation and left the fighter escort and proceeded to the alternate target in Rumania . The bombs were dropped on the marshalling yards (railroad center) in a small city in Rumania , and I then gave the pilot a heading for home, to the airbase in Italy . I called to the crew on the plane’s intercom at 11:00 a.m. on D-Day, June 6, 1944:

“Navigator to crew. My ETA to base is 1132. We will be in the debriefing room in about 30 minutes. Be alert. Watch out for German fighters.”

Within 7 minutes from the time I alerted the crew, the plane was on fire. The Number 4 engine was burning, and the right wing was starting to burn off and curl up. The plane had been attacked by two German ME-109 fighters. As the lead plane, we were at the head of the diamond formation. German fighters always liked to attack the most experienced crews first. Therefore, they flew under the last plane in the diamond without firing and attacked us in the lead plane. They made one pass and got the Number 4 engine. It was so sudden that only a couple of gunners were able to get any 50 caliber rounds off. Almost immediately, the pilot gave the order to bail out. I calmed down enough to tell the crew that we were over Yugoslavia . I was behind the nose gunner turret in the navigator’s compartment. I waited for the gunner to get out of the turret. He was wearing heavy sheepskin lined flying boots and as he tried to climb out of the nose turret his foot got caught on the turret’s control pedals. He told me of the difficulty he was having, but he eventually broke free and gave me the high sign that he was O.K. I then left the plane through the exit doors in the nose. I, too, had some difficulty, because only one of the two swinging escape doors opened, and I hung in the slip stream for about ten seconds (that seemed like 10 minutes) but finally fell free. The entire crew bailed out at about 16,000 feet, and as I remembered the briefing I had attended, I attempted to free fall to avoid being fired upon by the enemy fighters in the area. I pulled the rip cord at about 2000 feet, and within seconds the two ME-109 fighters who had attacked our plane approached my chute. They came close enough so that I could see the face of one of the pilots, but, fortunately, they only buzzed by me without firing and then flew off. After the noise of the gun fire and the enemy fighters subsided, as I floated lazily toward the ground, everything became deathly still. I looked up at the clear blue sky, and said: ‘Thanks, GOD.’

The German Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 single-seat fighter

Bomb Route from Italy to the Ploesti Oil Fields, Romania
and the fall over Yugoslavia June 6, 1944

Once my parachute opened, I felt confident that everything would be okay. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t worried about what was ahead. I was alive, and that’s what I was thankful for, at the moment. I did not know what was ahead of me, whether the enemy would be waiting for me or whether I could reach friendly forces. At the last escape briefing I had attended we were told that if we landed in Yugoslavia we were to try to find members of Tito’s Partisans. Identify them by the red stars on their hats. They might be able to get us out of enemy territory. We were further told at the escape and evasion lecture that if we landed with the Chetniks, ‘we don’t know what will happen to you’. There were all kinds of rumors back in Italy about the Chetniks. I tried to steer the parachute to an open area (as I was briefed) and away from some trees I saw looming ahead. In spite of my effort, I landed right in the middle of a small group of trees. My chute caught on the branches, and I was hanging in the wind. I banged my right foot on a rock as I landed and I thought it was broken(it turned out to be a bad sprain). Just then, as I was hanging in the tree, I saw three people come over a hill into view. Not knowing if they were friendly or the enemy, as they got closer and I recognized them as two elderly men and a young boy, I yelled ‘Americana!’ When I saw what looked like a smile on the boy’s face, I thought that they might be friendly. When the young boy climbed the tree and cut my parachute down, I felt a little more secure and safe for the time being. It turned out that they were, indeed, friendly. They carried me into a small town nearby, rounded up some more of my crew, fed us, offered us “rackia” (Shlivovitza), a very potent Serbian plum brandy, and told us we were with the Chetniks. About 30 minutes later they told us that the Germans were out looking for us. Some Chetnik soldiers entered the home where we were hidden and said they would escort us away from the town and into the mountains. Only five of us (out of a crew of 11) were together at that time. The soldiers later told us that our nose gunner was hit by the out-of-control airplane and was killed. They found his body and gave him a burial. We traveled for two days, mostly straight up the mountains, until we reached a garrison of about 20 Chetnik soldiers.
The Chetniks told us that the Germans would not come up into the mountains, because they could not bring their heavy equipment, and that we were safe for the time being. They treated us well, fed us with whatever food was available to them - mostly bread, goat’s milk, some berries, and once in a while, some lamb roasted over an open fire. In about five weeks, after many false alarms, we were told that we were leaving the area and being taken to a place where airplanes could land and take us back to Italy . This turned out to be false, and our prospect of getting out of Yugoslavia before the war was over seemed hopeless. At that time, the rest of our crew members were brought to the mountain garrison, and we were joined by about ten other airmen, including two Englishmen and two Canadians. The Canadians, a pilot and a navigator, and the two Englishmen, aerial gunners, were from the same airplane, a Wimpy light bomber, which had been shot down by anti-aircraft while bombing a bridge in Yugoslavia at night. Accompanied by about 15 armed Chetnik soldiers and traveling through German occupied territory, past radar stations and small guard posts, and crossing a bridge controlled by the Germans, we were taken to a small village about 80 kilometers south of Belgrade, named Pranjani. It took seven days of travel by horse cart, on foot, and for short periods, by truck. We traveled by night and slept by day to avoid the German patrols, which, we were told, were still looking for us.

Navigator Milton E. Friend USAF,
standing, 3rd from right,
with Serbian Chetnik rescuers,
Yugoslavia, 1944

When we got to Pranjani we found out that no rescue planes were coming. The Americans, at the insistence of the British and Russians, had cut off aid to General Draza Mihailovich and the Chetniks and had decided to support Tito and his Partisans exclusively. At this time, there were more than one hundred airmen in the vicinity of Pranjani. Since an immediate rescue looked hopeless, the two Canadians, one of the English gunners, and I decided that we would leave the area on our own and try to reach the Partisans who we knew were close to Sarajevo, thinking that they could get us out.

After traveling for three days and nights, while looking for a place to sleep, we came upon three farmers in a field. We tried to explain that we wanted to go on, but they insisted we go with them. They eventually took us to Mihailovich’s headquarters. It was there that I met the General for the first of the two times that I would meet with him face to face. He explained to us that an American Escape Committee made up of downed fliers had been formed and that they were trying to reach the Allies in Italy by ham radio. If they didn’t make contact in the next few days, the General told us he would provide an armed escort to enable us to contact the Partisans.

Fortunately, contact was made. At my second and last meeting with General Mihailovich at his headquarters, members of the escape committee he had told me about at our earlier meeting were present, and we obtained maps of the area to prepare for future evacuation. It was at this meeting that General Mihailovich spoke to us at length (in French, which was translated into English by one of his staff) about his plans after the war for a democratic form of government in Yugoslavia . He told us that when the time came, and the Allies returned to Yugoslavia, his forces would be ready to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, for the American and Allied cause. To this day, I have never forgotten either him or his sincere promise to us all those years ago in a faraway land.

An OSS team, of which radioman Arthur “Jibby” Jibilian remains the sole living survivor, was sent into Yugoslavia and a rescue was planned and we were readied for evacuation. The rescue mission, led by Captain George “Guv” Musulin, who lived in McLean, VA and is since deceased, made arrangements with the 15th Air Force in Italy to send in transports and fighter planes to surround the area and to neutralize the German airfields that were in the vicinity of our “homemade” air strip constructed by the Chetniks there in the hills of Pranjani, Serbia. On the night of August 9, 1944 six C-47 cargo planes landed, and the sick and wounded were flown out first. The remainder of the downed airmen, including myself, was flown out the next day, August 10, 1944, on C-47 transports protected by P-51 fighter planes. A total of over 200 Allied airmen were rescued during those two days. The rescue was called the Halyard Mission. To date, the Halyard Mission remains the greatest mass air evacuation of Allied airmen from behind enemy lines in the history of warfare.

The complete story of the Halyard Mission was first published in BLUE BOOK Magazine in Vol. 83, No. 4, in August of 1946. I still have a copy of that article. It is unbelievable what was accomplished. In all, General Mihailovich was responsible for saving over 500 American airmen through this rescue mission and others that followed through the end of 1944. The sad aspect of this story is that Tito and the Partisans captured Mihailovich after the war, and on trumped up charges and refusing the rescued airmen’s repeated offer to testify at the trial in Belgrade, found the General guilty of treason in what turned out to be a phony kangaroo trial and had him executed on July 17, 1946. Over 25 of the rescued airmen, including myself, formed the “National Committee of American Airmen Rescued by General Mihailovich” and attempted for many years to have a monument erected in Washington, D.C., with our assurance that we would fund the monument ourselves, without requesting Government financing, to honor the General for what he did for us Americans, but without success, mainly because of the politics surrounding the situation in Yugoslavia during and after the war. That no such monument yet stands in Washington, D.C. haunts me still.


C-47 transport planes waiting on the airfield at Pranjani, Serbia
to evacuate the fallen airmen who were rescued during
the Halyard Mission, August 10, 1944. Newspaper source unknown.

Milton Friend at home in New Jersey after returning safe
and sound from Serbia, in August of 1944. He is wearing
his Purple Heart and Air Medal, awarded to him after only
two combat missions.

In the meantime, my brother Murray completed his navigator training. After I was reported “Missing in Action”, he was granted a 30 day emergency leave and then was transferred overseas to the 15th Air Force in Foggia, Italy as a navigator on a B-17. After I returned to Allied control and was debriefed at 15th AF Headquarters in Bari, Italy , I went to Headquarters Personnel and asked if they could locate my twin brother. I had no idea where he might be stationed – in the Pacific, England, Italy, or wherever. In about 10 minutes, the Personnel Officer came out and said that Murray Friend was in Foggia, Italy. The Air Force flew me down from Bari and I went to his squadron orderly room and asked for Lt. Murray Friend. Not knowing that I was alive, you can imagine how he felt seeing me walk into that room. He didn’t know what to do first – whether to cry or laugh or kiss or hug me. We had a great reunion. Murray would tell me that one week before my surprise visit, he’d had a dream where I walked in on him out of nowhere, and he told our mother about it. With tears in her eyes, she had written: “If only GOD would make that dream come true.” Well, it did come true.

Murray finished his 50 missions while I was stationed in San Marcos, Texas as an instructor navigator. He received the first of his three “Distinguished Flying Crosses” (DFC) for heroism in combat, directing his damaged B-17 from a bombing mission over Austria, avoiding further flak damage and enemy fighter aircraft. Both of us were discharged after the war and joined the Air Force Reserves, where we spent six years in the inactive Reserve until the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950 (on my and Murray’s birthday). Within a few months the Air Force realized there was a shortage of pilots and navigators and called up some reserve squadrons and then asked for volunteers. Our reserve unit was not called up, but we thought it was our duty to volunteer. We were then ordered to active duty, with navigator refreshment training at Ellington Field, Texas, combat crew training at Langley AFB, Virginia in B-26 Bombers as navigator/bombardiers, and finally off to Korea for combat. We told our parents we were going to fly weather missions in Japan so as not to worry them. We both finished our 55 night interdiction missions in about 4 ½ months, from May to October 1951. Murray received his second DFC, and four clusters to his Air-Medal. I received the Air Medal and three clusters to the Air Medal and was put in for the DFC, but it was never properly processed. We tried to fly one mission together, one of us as bombardier, the other as navigator. It was my 55th mission and Murray ’s 50th. Everything was set. The Associated Press had sent a reporter from Tokyo to record the event. Just as we were ready to board the plane for the mission, the wing commander sent Operations a message: “Those twins cannot fly on the same combat aircraft during a mission.” His order was a result of the regulation called The Sullivan Act, which was enacted after the five Sullivan brothers all went down on the same ship in combat. The regulation stated that twins/brothers could not be in the same infantry platoon, ship, or airplane during combat. Everyone was disappointed, especially Murray and I. We then flew our mission on separate B-26’s.

Following Korea we were both sent to Westover Field , MA to fly as navigators with the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), later known as “Military Air Command” (MAC). We flew in transports in MATS for about seven years, flying the families of Air Force personnel and cargo to many destinations overseas. Then, for the first time in seven years, we were separated. I received a military assignment at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA and Murray was sent to Europe to fly as a navigator on C-130’s flying communication missions over Europe. After two years at Stanford and just short of a degree, I was sent to Okinawa, Japan as a Data Processing Officer in charge of the AF Processing Center on the Island. While holding a ground job, I volunteered to fly with a Troop Carrier Squadron as a C-130 navigator and flew into Vietnam , from 1962 through 1965, getting combat time for the flights I made into enemy territory. I was the only attached (i.e. not assigned to a C-130 Squadron) navigator to become “combat ready” and be eligible to fly troops and cargo into Vietnam. After three years in Germany, Murray was assigned to March Field in California as a Squadron Commander training Reserve Navigators. From California, Murray was sent to Clark Field in the Philippines to fly on C-130s again, in the late 1960’s. Most of his missions were into Vietnam. Murray was awarded a third DFC in 1968 for a mission to Vietnam in which he dropped supplies to retreating troops while the transport plane was under heavy ground fire.

After Okinawa , the Air Force allowed me to return to Stanford, under Air Force sponsorship. I graduated from Stanford University in June 1965 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering and was then ordered to the Pentagon for duty as a scientific programmer in the Data Processing Division. I retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col. in November of 1969. Murray also retired as a Lt. Col. from his station in California and received a Degree in Psychology within six months of retirement.

In all, Murray was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 12 Air Medals, and numerous combat and theatre ribbons. I was awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal for my mission to Rumania , when I was shot down over Yugoslavia, and the Air Medal and three clusters for my 55 missions in Korea. Together, my brother Murray and I probably have more combined combat flying time, in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, than any other family in the United States.

My brother Murray passed away last year in 2009, just shy of his 87th birthday. I'll be 88, God willing, this June. Though my flying days were over long ago, I continue to remain grateful today for the many things I experienced over the course of my military career in the U.S. Air Force and wouldn't trade any of it for anything in the world. I remain especially grateful to the Serbian people, their beloved General Draza Mihailovich, and his Chetniks soldiers for saving not only my life, but the lives of over 500 of my countrymen.

I think of those days often. I’m proud to have served and will never forget the people in faraway lands that got me home safe and sound to serve another day.

Milton E. Friend

Lt/Col. USAF (Ret.)
March 2010

The 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Halyard Mission
Chicago, IL May 1994
From left to right:
Lt. Col. Milton Friend, Norman Reid (Canada)
Major Richard L. Felman, kneeling and saluting, and
Major George Vujnovich, OSS chief of the Halyard Mission.
Photo by Aleksandra Rebic

Before the National Capital Memorial Advisory Committee National Capital Parks

Washington, D.C.

June 11, 1991

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Committee Members:

My name is Milton E. Friend. I am a retired United States Air Force Lt. Colonel, and I am here today to speak in support of erecting a monument for the late General Draza Mihailovich, who with his Chetnik forces in Yugoslavia, saved over 500 American Airmen who had bailed out or crashed in Yugoslavia during 1944. I was shot down by German fighter planes after returning from a raid on the Ploesti Oil Fields in Rumania, while flying as a navigator on a B-24 Liberator Bomber, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

It is over 47 years since that fateful day. Nothing that has occurred since then will lessen my determination to repay my, and that of my WWII companions, debt of gratitude to General Mihailovich. General Mihailovich was a great leader, a great humanitarian, and an outstanding friend of the United States. The General saved my life, and hundreds of other Americans, and we will forever be indebted to him and his Chetniks.

Immediately upon landing after bailing out of a burning B-24 just after 11:00 a.m. on June 6th, I was picked up by Serbian townspeople, and after the rest of my crew members (nine of the remaining ten – the nose gunner was killed during the fighter attack) were rounded up, we were taken out of the area by the Chetnik soldiers to avoid the German patrols that had seen our parachutes and were searching the area. We were taken into the mountains under the protection of the Chetnik soldiers, hidden and fed, and moved as was necessary to avoid the Germans. When it was safe, we were moved under the protection of Mihailovich’s forces from the mountains to the village of Pranjani in Serbia for eventual evacuation to Italy.

It was at Pranjani that I was fortunate enough to meet the General. When I met with the American Escape Committee at Mihailovich’s Headquarters to obtain maps of the area for the future evacuation, General Mihailovich spoke to us at length (in French, which was then translated by one of his staff into English) about his plans after the war for a democratic form of Government in Yugoslavia. He told us that when the time came, and the Allies returned to Yugoslavia, his forces would sacrifice their lives, if necessary, for the American and Allied cause.

I and over 200 Allied airmen were evacuated from the Chetnik built airfield at Pranjani on August 9th and 10th, 1944. Each of us owes him this debt of gratitude and recognition for saving our lives. We have been pursuing this cause for over 20 years. As we grow older, and our numbers decrease, it becomes more difficult, but those of us who are left will never give up trying.

On March 29th, 1948, President Truman, on the recommendation of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, awarded the Legion of Merit to General Draza Mihailovich in recognition of his service to the Allied cause. Among other things, President Truman’s citation said about Mihailovich:

‘Through the undaunted efforts of his troops, many United States airmen were rescued and returned safely to friendly control.’

But for the first and only time in history, this award of the Legion of Merit was classified and kept secret. The facts about the award were not made public until Congressman Edward J. Derwinski of Illinois intervened in 1967 – almost 20 years after the event – to oblige the State Department to make public the text of President Truman’s citation.

We initially petitioned Congress for permission to erect a monument on public land in 1976 as a way of expressing our gratitude to the man who saved our lives. Legislation has been introduced in ever session of Congress since then. It has twice passed the Senate by voice vote and has had as many as ninety cosponsors in the House of Representatives, but each time it has been turned down by the Department of State, with the argument that the Yugoslav communist government might not like it. Isn’t it time to ask what the 500 rescued airmen and the United States Government might like? Though are ranks are becoming thinner, we will continue our efforts, because we owe an inescapable moral debt to General Mihailovich.

Erection of a monument to recognize General Mihailovich’s rescue of the Allied airmen is long overdue. We respectfully ask for your support in this continuing effort. Thank you very much.

Milton E. Friend
Lt. Colonel, USAF (Retired)
National Committee of American Airmen Rescued by General Mihailovich

June 11, 1991


If you would like to get in touch with Lt. Col. Milton Friend, please contact me, Aleksandra, at


1 comment:

  1. There are so few left from that time, so glad to read such a great story. My husband was in ww11 and would have been 90this year, he passed away in 1979.