Major George Vujnovich of the 1944 Halyard Mission
revisits Pranjane, Serbia in September of 2004
Photo courtesy of OSS Radioman Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian
FROM MR. NENAD MILINKOVIC:
Attached is the actual entry into the Congressional Record of the U.S. Congress submitted by Rep. Dan Burton (IN) this week on behalf of the award of THE BRONZE STAR MEDAL to Maj. George Vujnovich.
Please feel free to share this wonderful news. Please also note that the formal medal award ceremony for George Vujnovich will take place at the parish hall of Saint Sava's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City on Sunday, October 17th, at 3:45 PM. The medal will be presented to Maj. George Vujnovich by Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY).
Representative Joseph Crowley (NY)
We hope you can join us for this truly special occasion when we will honor one of America's greatest heroes.
Thanks and Best Regards,
President of Executive Board
Saint Sava's Cathedral, New York
The St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in New York is located at:
20 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10010
Honoring Captain George M. Vujnovich
Extension of Remarks
Submitted by Rep. Dan Burton
September 28, 2010
Member of Congress
Madame Speaker, as co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Serbian Caucus, I rise tonight to honor an outstanding Serbian-American, Captain (Ret.) George M. Vujnovich, who was recently awarded the Bronze Star Medal, for his heroic actions during World War II.
The Bronze Star is awarded to military service personnel for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service. When awarded for bravery, it is the fourth-highest combat award of the United States Armed Forces. Captain Vujnovich’s participation in the planning and execution of Operation Halyard – one of the most successful air force rescue missions in history; and an operation so secret that the records were only declassified in 1997 – certainly exemplifies the heroism required to receive this prestigious military honor.
Captain Vujnovich served with the Office of Strategic Services; the predecessor of the modern Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the wartime organization charged with coordinating activities behind enemy lines for the branches of the United States military. Operation Halyard evolved in wake of the Allied bombing campaign to destroy Nazi Germany's vast network of petroleum resources in occupied Eastern Europe. The most vital target of bombing was the facilities located in Ploesti, Romania, which supplied 35 percent of Germany's wartime petroleum. Beginning in April 1944, bombers of the Fifteenth Allied Air Force began a relentless campaign to blast the heavily guarded facilities in Ploesti in an attempt to halt petroleum production altogether. By August, Ploesti was virtually destroyed — but at the cost of 350 bombers lost, with their crews either killed, captured, or missing in action.
The assault on Ploesti forced hundreds of Allied airmen to bail out over Nazi-occupied eastern Serbia, an area patrolled by the Allied-friendly Chetnik guerrilla army. When the Chetnik commander, General Draza Mihailovich, realized that Allied airmen were parachuting into his territory, he ordered his troops, as well as the local peasantry, to aid the aviators by taking them to Chetnik headquarters in Pranjani, Serbia for evacuation.
General Mihailovich's attempts to alert American authorities to the situation regrettably initially failed to produce action. Fortunately, fate would have it that when Mirjana Vujnovich, a Serb employee of the Yugoslav embassy in Washington, D.C., heard of the trapped airmen, and immediately wrote to her husband, Captain Vujnovich, stationed in Bari, Italy. As an American, descending from Serb parents, Vujnovich knew the region intimately and also knew how to escape from Nazi-occupied territory: he had been a medical student in Belgrade when Yugoslavia fell to the Axis powers in 1941, and he and his wife spent months sneaking through minefields and begging for visas before they finally escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe.
Captain Vujnovich made it his personally crusade to get the airmen home. From the outset though, Operation Halyard encountered opposition from Allied leaders — from the U.S. State Department, from communist sympathizers in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), even from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself. It was an operation that seemed condemned from the start, but Captain Vujnovich’s persevered rather than let the mission die. His persistence not to be in vain, eventually he won out. Even thought the operation endured from August 9, 1944 through December 27, 1944, within only the first two days, Operation Halyard successfully retrieved 241 American and Allied airmen. By the time the Operation was officially ended, Vujnovich's team had airlifted 512 downed Allied airmen to safety without the loss of a single life or aircraft — a truly impressive accomplishment.
Captain George Vujnovich’s recognition as a hero and valued asset to this country and the United States Air Force is long over due. Frankly, had the records of the operation not remained sealed until 1997, I feel certain Captain Vujnovich would have received this honor years ago. Nevertheless, the decades do not and cannot diminish the valor and patriotism of this extraordinary man. I ask all my colleagues to join me now to honor this Serbian-American hero, to thank him for his dedicated service to our country and to congratulate him for winning the Bronze Star. Captain Vujnovich, I salute you.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org