Friday, October 29, 2010

TESTIMONY OF MILTON FRIEND, LT. COL. USAF (RET) Before the National Capital Memorial Advisory Committee National Capital Parks Washington, D.C.

U.S. Capitol Building Washington, D.C. / Photo by Ed Brown


National Committee of American Airmen Rescued by General Mihailovich

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 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 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


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