Thursday, October 21, 2010

A recognition long in coming - George Vujnovich is awarded the Bronze Star for rescuing over 500 American airmen in WWII - by Tomislav Stevo Djurdjevich

Left to Right: Halyard Mission veteran American airman
Tony Orsini,
George Vujnovich receiving his bronze star medal, and
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D. NY) presenting the award.
Photo by Tomislav Stevo Djurdjevich Oct. 17, 2010
Pictured in the glass frame is General Draza Mihailovich.

Left to Right at the head table are:
New York State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker
Fr. Djokan Majstorovic, Halyard veteran American airman
Tony Orsini,
Bronze Star Recipient George Vujnovich, the guest of honor,
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D. NY), Mr. Nenad Milinkovic,
Serbian Consul General of New York Branko Radosevic,
and standing at the podium is Xenia,
the daughter of George Vujnovich.
Photo by Tomislav Stevo Djurdjevich, Oct. 17, 2010

Left to Right: Halyard veteran American airman Tony Orsini,
Tomislav Stevo Djurdjevich, and
Guest of Honor George Vujnovich
New York, October 17, 2010
Photo courtesy of Tomislav Djurdjevich

An Event to Remember...

95 year old George Vujnovich of Jackson Heights, Queens, NY received the Bronze Star for the rescuing of 512 American Airmen in WWII. His Congressman, Joseph Crowley, presented the award at St. Sava's Serbian Orthodox Church in New York City on Sunday, October 17, 2010. He was born in 1915 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of Serbian parents.

Mr. Vujnovich was a OSS (CIA precursor) officer during WWII. Mr. Vujnovich organized "Operation Halyard" which involved rescuing 512 Allied (mostly American) airmen making night time flights into Nazi occupied Yugoslavia. The 512 Allied airmen had been shot down by German forces while flying over Yugoslavia. Serbian resistance forces, the Chetniks, led by General Draza Mihailovic, sheltered the downed Allied airmen and played a crucial role in "Operation Halyard". The Chetniks built a runway in a corn field where planes from Italy came to pick up the airmen.

Little was known about these men, the Forgotten 500, until recently because crediting Serbs was politically incorrect. The Allies had supported both Mihailovic's Chetniks and Tito's Communist Partisans until 1943. Churchill have favored Tito and cut off aid to the Chetniks in 1943. But, the Chetniks continued to fight against the Nazis and Croatian Ustasha. Led by Captain Vujnovich, Mihailovic and his Chetniks rescued every one of the 512 airmen from Serbia to Bari, Italy. This rescue is critically important because these airmen were "on bombing runs to the Romanian oil fields that supplied the Germans" by Corey Kilgannon of the New York Times.

Serb resistance was critical to defeating Nazi Germany as Hitler had to dedicate several SS divisions to Yugoslavia. Hitler was delayed in getting to the eastern front in the former Soviet Union and his supply lines were stretched. This enabled the Soviets, Americans, and other Allies to launch D-Day and other offensives to defeat the Nazis.

Churchill later regretted supporting Tito over Mihailovic. President Truman awarded Mihailovic the "Legion of Merit" in 1948 at the recommendation of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, President Truman had to award it in secret as to not offend Tito. Mr. Vujnovich and other veterans presented it to Mihailovic's daughter in 2005.

66 years is a long time. There are many who deserve credit for making this day happen. They include Mr. Vujnovich, Draza Mihailovic and his Chetniks, Mr. Vujnovich's family. Others include Congressman Crowley's office, LTC Steven Oluic, Fr. Djokan Majstorovic, Nenad Milinkovic, Aleksandra Rebic, Assemblyman Michael G. DenDekker.

For more on the Forgotten 500, please visit this link

For more about General Mihailovic, please visit this link

For more on St. Sava's Serbian Orthodox Church, please visit this link

Tomislav Stevo Djurdjevich
October 17, 2010
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at

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