Friday, October 29, 2010

WWII US airman [Milton Friend] at court reviewing case of Serb guerrilla executed as traitor by communists [Draza Mihailovich] / The Canadian Press Oct. 29, 2010

The Canadian Press

Jovana Gec (CP)

October 29, 2010

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Milton Friend, center, gestures as he speaks to members of the media, surrounded by sympathizers of the Serbian WWII royalist guerrilla in front of a court building in Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, Oct. 29, 2010. Friend, a retired U.S. airman, has testified before a Serbian court reviewing the case of a Serb royalist guerrilla who was executed as traitor by the postwar Yugoslav communist authorities. Friend was rescued by Gen. Draza Mihailovic's fighters after being shot down over the Balkans.(AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia — A World War II U.S. airman told a Serbian court Friday how he and his fellow-airmen were rescued by the fighters led by a Serb royalist guerrilla, who was later executed as a traitor by the postwar Yugoslav communist authorities.

The former U.S. Air Force bomber navigator Milton Friend, now 88, testified before the court reviewing the 1946 verdict against Gen. Draza Mihailovic.

Friend is one of some 500 American airmen whose planes were shot down over the Balkans during the war and who were rescued by Mihailovic's fighters.

The airmen were hidden in villages by Serbian guerrilla fighters, known as Chetniks, who were led by Mihailovic. The prewar military officer launched the first Balkan resistance against the Nazis in 1941, before turning against the communists led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

The U.S. then organized what became the largest rescue operation of Americans behind enemy lines during a war.

The operation prompted U.S. President Harry Truman to posthumously award Mihailovic the Legion of Merit.

However, in Yugoslavia, Mihailovic was accused of treason by the new authorities and executed after a brief trial in 1946. The Communists said Mihailovic had collaborated with the Nazis and that his troops committed atrocities against non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

Friend vehemently denied this during the hearing at Belgrade's Higher Court. He said that the U.S. airmen had tried to testify in favour of Mihailovic during the initial trial in 1946, but that the then communist Yugoslav authorities rejected this.

"This is why I am here now," he told the judges.

Friend said that back in 1946 he and the other U.S. airmen were "astonished" to hear about Mihailovic's arrest. The airmen chartered a plane and flew to Washington, collecting more than 600 pages of testimonies in favour of Mihailovic.

Friend described Mihailovic as "warm, pleasant and calm." He said that Mihailovic wore no insignia or emblems to mark his military ranks during their two meetings.

The proceedings to exonerate Mihailovic were launched at the request of his followers and relatives who claim the trial against him had been staged and politically motivated.
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