Monday, August 09, 2010

American Richard L. Felman of the U.S.A.F. testifies before the Commission of Inquiry / Remembering the great Halyard Mission Rescue Operation on the 66th anniversary of the August 9th and 10th evacuations of Allied personnel from Nazi occupied Serbia during WWII

Richard L. Felman U.S.A.F.

Aleksandra's Note: The following testimony by Richard Felman of the United States Air Force, a decorated WWII veteran, was given while General Draza Mihailovich was still alive. Mihailovich had been captured by Tito's Yugoslav communist forces in March of 1946, and his trial in Belgrade began on June 10th of that year. On July 15th, after a sham trial, he was "convicted".  On July 16th he appealed the verdict, and the appeal was rejected. On July 17th, 1946, General Mihailovich was executed by the communists in his beloved Belgrade. His murder had a galvanizing effect on the American airmen who had been rescued in Nazi occupied Yugoslavia in 1944 by the Mihailovich forces, on orders of the Serbian general. Major Richard Felman remained actively dedicated to the fight to obtain justice and recognition for General Mihailovich for the rest of his life, to the very end. In the last year of his life, in the spring of 1999, Major Richard L. Felman of the USAF had to watch while NATO forces waged a 78 day bombing campaign against the very Serbian people that he so dearly loved and appreciated and who had loved him in return.

66 years ago today, August 9th, 2010, this young American was evacuated from Nazi occupied Serbia by the Chetnik forces of General Draza Mihailovich. He never forgot the Serbian people who saved his life, and those of us who knew Richard Felman personally and those of us who knew of him and his genuine, passionate quest for justice ever afterwards, will never forget him.


Aleksandra Rebic


On May 13, 1946, the Committee for a Fair Trial for General Mihailovich announced that a Commission of Inquiry had been established in New York for the purpose of taking testimonies of American officers and airmen whose request to be heard as witnesses at the trial of General Draza Mihailovich in Belgrade, Yugoslavia had been refused by the Tito government.


Committee for a Fair Trial for Draza Mihailovich

Commission of Inquiry in the Matter of Depositions of American and Allied Military Personnel

New York County Lawyers Association
New York, May 17, 1946

Met pursuant to adjournment
Present: Arthur Garfield Hays, Esq., and Theodore Kiendl, Esq., members of the Commission of Inquiry; Porter R. Chandler, Esq., and William H. Timbers, Esq.

The following is a transcript of the testimony of Lieutenant Richard L. Felman before the Commission of Inquiry, New York, May 17, 1946

RICHARD L. FELMAN, called as a witness, being duly sworn, testified as follows:


Q: Where do you live?

A: New York City.

Q: Were you a member of the Army Air Corps during the war?

A: Yes, sir, I was.

Q: Were you at one time shot down over Yugoslavia?

A: I was, yes, sir.

Q: What was the date of that?

A: I was shot down on July 9, 1944.

Q: What was your mission on that date?

A: The mission was to bomb the Ploesti oil fields.

Q: Had you completed your mission when you were shot down?

A: Yes, we had dropped our bombs over the target and were returning to our base in Italy when we were attacked by about 15 ME-109’s.

Q: What was your position in the plane?

A: I was the navigator.

Q: And where were you attacked and where did you land?

A: We were attacked at the Yugoslavian, Romanian and Bulgarian border, the three countries meet at that point.

Q: Will you point it out on the map, please?

A: I believe it was somewhere around here; it was on the Danube I know.

Q: Can you point to the spot where you landed in Yugoslavia?

A. I landed in Bresnica.

Q: How far south of Belgrade?

A: I would say that is 60 miles south of Belgrade. That was just outside of Cacak [Cha-Chaak].

Q: How many other members of your crew were with you?

A: We were an 11-man crew; 10 men bailed out safely, one man went down with the plane.

BY MR. KIENDL: Was it a B-17?

FELMAN: No, a B-24.

BY MR. TIMBERS: Tell us in your own words what happened to you when you finally landed in Yugoslavia.

FELMAN: Well, we bailed out at 16,000 feet, and I delayed my jump for fear that the fighter planes might attack us. And when I hit the ground there were about 15 or 20 Chetniks waiting for me. They had seen my parachute open and were waiting on the ground to pick me up. In the distance I heard a few shots, and we started to run for cover. They told me that a few Germans had followed our descent down and were trying to get us. So we took cover in the hills. And then I was taken to Colonel Dragisa Vasic’s headquarters.

Q: Who was Colonel Vasic?

A: Colonel Vasic was a well-known writer and lawyer in Belgrade.

Q: Was he a member of Mihailovich’s Army?

Q: Yes, he was. I believe he was the corps commander in the Chetnik area that I dropped in. [Editor’s note: D. Vasic was a reserve officer and political adviser to Mihailovich, not a corps commander.]

Q: Tell us what happened there.

A: Well, he greeted me very warmly; we sat down and had a drink, slivovitz.

BY MR. KIENDL: An alcoholic drink?

FELMAN: Yes, sir, it is. I believe it is 180 proof.

Q: You have got to be in the Air Force to take that.

A: Yes, sir.

BY MR. TIMBERS: What is it made of?

FELMAN: It is plum brandy. After we had the drink the colonel suggested if I wanted to offer any prayers they had a nearby chapel, it was very small; and he accompanied me up to this chapel on the top of the hill, and I offered a prayer for my deliverance and for the narrow escape.

Then we sat down and talked, and a few Chetniks told me that my tailgunner’s body was carried out of the plane by the Germans. They had gotten to the plane first when it was shot down and they had taken his body from beneath the plane, stripped it of all his jewelry, rings and dog-tags, and had thrown his nude body in a hole. And after the Germans left, the Chetniks recovered his body, and they called in a very religious man, I forget who he was, from Belgrade, to perform the last rites over his body. And there were about I should say seven or eight hundred men who turned out for the funeral. And photographs were taken of the funeral to bring to this particular boy’s parents, as they thought it would afford in some way some consolation from the fact that he was given a decent burial, and they put a marker on his grave with his name, rank, serial number and home address.

Q: Do you happen to know of your own knowledge, Lieutenant, whether those proceedings with respect to the decent burial of the tailgunner of your plane were carried out under orders from General Mihailovich or any of his corps commanders?

A: I do not know that, I could not say.

BY MR. KIENDL: But the 700 at the funeral were either Chetniks or Serbian peasants?


BY MR. TIMBERS: What happened to you that first night in Yugoslavia, do you remember?

FELMAN: The first night I was there I was taken to a farmhouse and given a large bed all to myself, and I was assured by the interpreter, who was a Chetnik, that I could sleep soundly and that there was no fear of Germans, that I should not fear the Germans because they posted a 10-man guard outside of my house. And they told me that should the occasion arise where the Germans would be in the vicinity they would awaken me immediately.

Q: That 10-man guard consisted of Chetnik soldiers, did it not?

A: Yes, sir. I awoke the next morning and looked outside my door, and these 10 men were huddled together outside in the pouring rain. And I asked them how come that they had not come inside the hut for shelter, and they told me that they were afraid that they might awaken me if they did come in, and that according to Mihailovich’s orders they were never supposed to leave any Americans unprotected.

BY MR. KIENDL: How did you speak to them, through an interpreter?

FELMAN: Yes, I did. The interpreter was a student at Belgrade University; and he gave me a small pamphlet from the last war, World War I, with translations.

BY MR. TIMBERS: At this time did you hear anything about a German reward for the capture of yourself or any of your crew?

FELMAN: Yes, I did. On the next day I was informed that the Germans had seen us come down in the area, that they had known definitely that the Chetniks were holding us; and I believe they offered 200,000 dinars reward.

Q: What is the equivalent of 1 dinar?

A: Well, there are 1,200 dinars to one dollar.

BY MR. KIENDL: What was the reward ?

FELMAN: 200,000 dinars. And they told us that they had seen us come down and they knew that we were in the area, and if we were not turned in the Germans, in reprisal, would burn down the nearby village. I took this rather seriously, because I figured they would surely turn me over. But one man said they did not expect to do anything about it. I was informed later that the village was burned down when we had not been returned.

This was rather strange to me, and I asked this particular Serbian who was my guide all the time I was in Serbia, Miodrag Stefanovic—I asked him how come the Chetniks sacrificed the village just to protect Americans who were actually strangers to them; and he told me that as an American flyer I am more valuable and can inflict much more destruction upon the common enemy than 100 or 150 Serbs; he said that was the reason why they did not think anything of sacrificing the town so they can save us and return us to our base to continue our fight against Germany.

BY MR. TIMBERS: That was a statement made to you by a Chetnik?

FELMAN: Yes, sir.

Q: Now eventually you were evacuated out of Yugoslavia, were you not?

A: Yes.

Q: What was the point of your evacuation?

A: I was evacuated from Pranjani.

Q: How far is Pranjani from the point where you landed on July 9?

A: Pranjani was about 10 miles from where I landed, I would say.

Q: How long did it take you to get from the place where you landed to Pranjani?

A: We did not go directly there; we must have traveled I would say at least 300 miles getting there.

Q: When did you get to Pranjani?

A: I got to Pranjani at the end of July, 1944.

Q: During the course of the trip did you have occasion to observe the Chetnik peasants?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: As well as the Chetnik soldiers who escorted you?

A: Yes, I had frequent talks with the peasants, either through an interpreter or just a combination of French, German, Italian, Spanish—they were always sure to understand one language.

Q: Did you see any Germans on this trip from where you landed to Pranjani?

A: The only Germans I saw were three Stukas who came over the area looking for our particular crew.

BY MR. KIENDL: How did you know that?

FELMAN: This was right after the order was issued that either they turn us over or they would burn down the village. And these Stukas came down very low.

Q: You assume they were looking for your crew?

A: Yes.

BY MR. TIMBERS: Did you see any evidence of collaboration between the German occupation troops and the Chetniks during the whole period you were in Yugoslavia?

FELMAN: During my entire stay in Yugoslavia I never at any time did see any signs of collaboration.

Q: Did you look for any?

A: I tried my best to look for what I could, because we had been warned, as the other men have stated, that the Chetniks were collaborating with the Germans and to steer clear of them if we possibly could.

Q: You had been briefed to that effect in Italy before you set out on this mission?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Before you were evacuated did you have occasion to see General Mihailovich?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Where?

A: He came to see us on July 31, 1944.

Q: Where was that?

A: This was at the secret airfield outside of Pranjani.

Q: That was a week or ten days before you were evacuated?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Tell us in your own words what General Mihailovich said and what happened when he was at that place.

A: Well, at first he came up on the field with his staff and he stood in the center of the field and he shook hands with each and every one of the 200 Americans. And if one of the boys happened to speak French he carried on a lengthy conversation with that individual, because he spoke fluent French, but no English. And he signed our short-snorters; and we asked him to pose for photographs, and he posed for photographs with almost every one of the boys there.

Q: If I may interrupt, I show you a paper and ask you if you know what that is.

A: Yes, this is a 500 dinar note, a Yugoslav note, which I had and which General Draza Mihailovich signed.

Q: Does it bear his original signature?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And he signed it at your request?

A: Yes, sir.

BY MR. KIENDL: Which is the General’s signature?

FELMAN: The signature of General Mihailovich is directly in the center of the 500 dinar note.

MR. TIMBERS: I offer it in evidence.

MR. KIENDL: We will arrange to substitute a photostatic copy for that.

(The 500 dinar-note was admitted in evidence and considered as Exhibit 11.)

BY MR. TIMBERS: Tell us what this General Mihailovich said to you.

FELMAN: He also distributed autographed photographs of himself, one of which I have here. I do not know whether you want to accept that.

Q: This is a photograph that General Mihailovich gave to you?

A: Yes, he did.

Q: At the end of July, 1944?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: At your request?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Does it bear his original signature on the reverse side?

A: Yes, it does.

MR. TIMBERS: I offer it as evidence.

MR. HAYS: I do not think it is necessary to put it in evidence; I think the record might show that the photograph was produced. The purpose of the offer is that it confirms the story, and that is sufficient. Do you agree with me, Mr. Kiendl?

MR. KIENDL: Entirely.

MR. TIMBERS: The record will show that such photograph was produced. Now will you proceed?

FELMAN: After this more or less individual reception that he granted each and every one of us he put on a display of strength more or less of all his troops, and I would say there were about 400 soldiers participating in this review and about a thousand soldiers watching the review.

Q: Did General Mihailovich himself say anything to you to the other American airmen there assembled?

A: After this particular review we all adjourned to the side of the airfield, and we all sat underneath a large shady tree, and Mihailovich sat at the center of the group, and all the American airmen assembled around Mihailovich. And a few feet away from Mihailovich stood the interpreter, and Mihailovich spoke to the interpreter, and he translated to us. First, Mihailovich started off by welcoming us to Yugoslavia. And then he apologized for the poor conditions with which he welcomed us and the inconvenience we had to endure while there. After which he gave us a brief history of Yugoslavia, starting with the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany, and the way he took his staff and fled to the hills to carry on his fight for freedom, and “never to surrender” in his words. And the way they carried on sabotage activities against the Germans.

Well, he mentioned the fact that the only thing that kept him from waging a large scale attack against the Germans is the fact that his equipment is very poor and that he has not been given any equipment, and if he did have the proper equipment he would be able to carry on much stronger attacks against the Germans.

Then he started to praise the American government, and he said he had always believed in democracy and he always looked highly at the American government.

And in closing he told us that he will try his utmost to get us back to our bases as soon as possible to resume our fight against the enemy.

He said, 'After the war you can all go back to your great land, our great country,' and he said, 'The Serbian people and myself have considered it a great honor to be of assistance to you.'

Q: Did General Mihailovich tell you on this occasion anything of the precautions which had been taken by him and his provisions to safeguard you and your fellow airmen?

A: Well, on this particular night of the evacuation, August 9th or August 10th, there were 8,000 Chetniks within a 20-mile radius of the airstrip, and they were there so that in case these planes coming in would attract any attention the Chetniks would be able to stall off any German troops that might try to stop our evacuation. These men were stationed within a 20-mile radius of the airstrip.

Q: Did General Mihailovich tell you that, or where did you get that information?

A: I got that from one of his officers.

Q: And finally on the night of August 9th you were evacuated out?

A: Yes, I was evacuated on the second plane, because I was with the sick and wounded who were given priority in the evacuation.

Q: And you went back to Italy?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Were you able to fly again?

A: Yes, I was, but not on any missions, but I was able to fly again.

Q: During the course of your stay in Yugoslavia, and particularly on your way from the point where you landed in Pranjani, did you see any posters around the countryside offering rewards, offering German rewards for the capture of Mihailovich?

A: Yes, I did. We picked up a reward poster sometime in July, for Draza Mihailovich.

Q: I show you a document and ask you if that is the poster you refer to.

A: Yes, it is.

Q: I show you a document and ask you if that is the poster you refer to.

A: Yes, it is.

Q: I show you a second poster and ask you if that is a correct English translation of the poster just shown you.

A: Yes, this is a translation of the poster which I picked up in Yugoslavia.

MR. TIMBERS: I offer both in evidence.

MR. HAYS: They will be received.

(The original poster and the translation were admitted in evidence and marked respectively Exhibits 12a and 12b, May 17, 1946, C.B.)

BY MR. KIENDL: Lieutenant, was the translation made by you?

FELMAN: I had it translated, I believe by a Yugoslav organization on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Q: And you believe they made the correct translation?

A: Yes.

Q: But you do not know of course?

A: Well, I have spoken to a few Serbian people and they have translated it for me, and they have all corresponded.

MR. TIMBERS: I won’t put it in the record unless the Commission desires me to.

MR. KIENDL: You had better call someone who can vouch for the accuracy of the translation.


MR. HAYS: After this witness is through.

BY MR. TIMBERS: I show you a series of seven photographs and ask you if those were taken in your presence while you were in Yugoslavia.

FELMAN: Those photographs were taken on July 31, 1944.

Q: And does each one bear on the reverse side a description of the scene recorded on the other side.

A: Yes.

Q: And were those inscriptions placed there by you?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And do those photographs in general show Chetnik soldiers and Chetnik peasants and General Mihailovich himself?

A: Yes, on July 31st, as I said before, Mihailovich put on this review for the American soldiers , and these photographs were taken on that occasion, on that particular day, by a Serbian officer who gave the roll of film when it was completed to us at our request.

MR. TIMBERS: I offer the set of photographs in evidence as one exhibit.

MR. HAYS: I submit that the photographs be submitted to the Commission. If you make them part of the record it would be necessary to make copies of all of them.

MR. TIMBERS: I think the suggestion is quite proper.

MR. HAYS: Just let the record show that the photographs are submitted to the Commission, and if at any time are desired by any official body they will be produced.

Q. Is there any single photograph there that happens to show General Mihailovich and you in the same view?

FELMAN: Yes, but not a very good photograph of me; I mean that is my back. I was in the picture, yes.

BY MR. KIENDL: You are not very photogenic?

FELMAN: Well, it was the back of my head, sir.

BY MR. TIMBERS: Lieutenant, has any force or duress of any character been exercised upon you in connection with your testimony here this morning?

FELMAN: None whatsoever.

Q. You have given it freely and voluntarily and of your own volition?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And if called upon to do so and given the opportunity would you testify along similar lines at the trial of General Mihailovich for treason in Belgrade?

A. I definitely would.

MR. TIMBERS: Those are all the questions we have.

BY MR. KIENDL: How did you come to know about this and testify here, Lieutenant?

FELMAN: I believe it was in last Saturday’s Times where I noticed a news item saying that an inquiry would be held on Vesey Street.

Q: And you volunteered to the Committee for the Commission to give your testimony?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: During the time that you were in Yugoslavia—and it was about a month altogether, was it not?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: The treatment accorded to you by the Chetniks under Mihailovich was about the same at all times?

A: Yes, sir, it was.

Q: You told us about the fine treatment your received the first night - the food and the guards and things of that kind?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Within their capacities and capabilities did they do everything for you that they could while you were there?

A: There was not anything that they would not have given us if they had it; they did more than they should.

Q: They fed you and housed you and I suppose even clothed you?

A: They did not have any clothes themselves.

BY MR. HAYS: After your month with the Chetniks in Yugoslavia you apparently have come to the conclusion that there was no collaboration between the Chetniks and the Germans?

FELMAN: Yes, sir.

Q: Why do you think you are qualified to form that judgment?

A: I am not much of an authority on international politics, but at least I could observe what was going on there. I figured that if Mihailovich was collaborating I did not see any reason why he should, because he had all the power he wanted. I do not know whether this would be opinion or fact—

BY MR. KIENDL: Could we put it this way - if he were collaborating with the Germans you did not see any indication whatsoever of it?

FELMAN: No, sir, I did not.

BY MR. HAYS: Were you in a position where, if he was collaborating with the Germans, you would know about it?

FELMAN: Yes, I believe so, because the people there are more or less one big family. Everybody knew what Mihailovich was doing and everybody knew what the next person was doing; that is the way they lived.

Q: And they let you go around quite freely?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And your judgment is confirmed partly by the fact that if there had been collaboration you would have heard of it from some of the people you saw?

A: Yes, sir, I spoke with the Chetnik soldiers and women and children and everyone.

Q: From the place where you landed to the headquarters was about how far?

A: To which headquarters, sir?

Q: To Mihailovich’s headquarters or to the airfield.

A: The place that I landed was about 15 miles from the airfield.

Q: Do you mean the place where you first entered Yugoslavia?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: So you only saw a small section of the country?

A: No, we traveled, as I said before about 300 miles, to get to the airfield.

Q: During that time did you have an opportunity to talk to people, to peasants and others?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: So your testimony that you feel that you would have heard something about collaboration means that you had plenty of opportunity to talk with people in a large section of Yugoslavia, does it not?

A: Yes, sir; as I say I covered about 300 miles; directly in an airline it would be about 15 miles.

Q: These airmen I suppose had landed in different part of Yugoslavia?

A: Yes, a friend of mine that I met in Yugoslavia who had also been shot down, he had come from a point about 250 miles away from where I landed.

Q: So that all the airmen I suppose covered in their journeys a large part of the country?

A: Yes, sir, they did.

Q: From your conversations with them do you know whether they had an opportunity to talk with peasants and Chetniks throughout their journey?

A: Yes, sir, their experiences were very similar to mine.

Q: Did you at any time hear any of them say anything that would suggest that they had ever heard a rumor of collaboration?

A: No, sir.

BY MR. KIENDL: Lieutenant, just one thing I could not understand, how you would be able to carry on conversations with these peasants while you were making that 300-mile trip unless you spoke their language.

FELMAN: I do not speak Serbian; once in a while we did have a person who spoke English, but most of them did not. In conversing with them we had a combination of a few languages.

Q: Could you make yourself understood to them and could they make themselves understood to you?

A: Yes, sir; it took a little time.

BY MR. HAYS: With what languages are you familiar?

FELMAN: I can speak German, not very well, I know a few words; and I speak Spanish and I know a few words of Italian, and English.

MR. TIMBERS: Thank you, Lieutenant.



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