Thursday, October 03, 2013

Grandson Adam discovers grandfather Curtis Diles, Halyard Mission veteran, in school library book, and the mystery of the WWII Serbian hayloft photo is solved!

Curtis Diles, 88.
September 21, 2013
Photo courtesy of daughter Diane Diles Hammond
Aleksandra's Note:
Curtis "Bud" Diles, is one of the few remaining living American Airmen who were veterans of the grand Halyard Mission Rescue Operation of WWII, saved by General Draza Mihailovich and his Serbian Chetniks from behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied Serbia in the summer of 1944. The following is a great story about his grandson Adam and the now famous photo the boy happened to find in a book he checked out from his school library!
Special thanks go to Milana "Mim" Bizic who posted this story from the American Srbobran newspaper on Facebook.
Curtis Diles is one of our treasures, a WWII veteran who I'm fortunate to call a friend. He never forgot what General Mihailovich and the Serbs did for him and what kind of life they made possible for the American who has spent the last 70 years of his life repaying a debt of gratitude.
Aleksandra Rebic
American Srbobran January 7, 2000
Photo courtesy of Milana "Mim" Bizic

Reprinted from the Dayton Daily News
December 2, 1999
By Jim Babcock
HUBER HEIGHTS – Adam Harlow picked Partisans and Guerrillas - World War II to read with no inkling that his grandfather was immortalized in it as a 19-year-old American flier hiding from German soldiers in a hayloft.

“I just checked the book out for silent reading, in my reading class, because I’m into World War II and my mom is, too,” the 12 year-old Studebaker Junior High seventh-grader recollected last week.

“I took the book home and my mom was reading through it and, really, she’s the one who found it.”

Teresa Harlow made her discovery as she thumbed to Page 188 of the Time-Life book written in 1878 by Ronald H. Bailey. There, in a photograph snapped on Sept. 16, 1944, by LIFE magazine photojournalist J.B. Allin, was the youthful image of her father, and Adam’s grandfather, Curtis “Bud” Diles, now a 74-year-old Huber Heights resident who has retained a lifetime sense of gratitude to the Serbian Chetnik soldiers who hid him and five companions in that hayloft.

“They saved us from the Germans,” Diles said, as he displayed the photo that doubtlessly loosens a flood of memories each time he looks at it.

Curtis Diles and other Halyard Mission Allied Airmen
in a hayloft in Serbia September 1944
Photo by J.B. Allin
“Our bomber was shot down over Yugoslavia on Sept. 8, 1944…We were walking from Belgrade to the place where the aircraft picked us up…We walked 150 miles, though woods and over hills…That barn was right by the airfield, where the C-47 picked us up on September 17, 1944.

Dayton Daily News readers may remember reading about that chapter in Diles’ life in a Nov. 12, 1995, story written by columnist Mary McCarty.

The story told how Diles, then a staff sergeant and nose turret gunner, and his fellow crew members bailed out over Yugoslavia, behind enemy lines, after their B-24 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

One of the men with Diles, a radio operator, was captured by German soldiers. The others, including Diles, were rescued by local villagers and members of the Serbian Chetnik Resistance Army, which, working with U.S. intelligence forces, saved the lives of more than 500 American fliers in a rescue and airlift mission called Operation Halyard.

Diles and four fellow enlisted men—sergeants Howard Ford, Gerald Wagner, Rudy Schmidt and Leland Porter—were led to safety by one group of Chetnik soldiers. The pilot and co-pilot, lieutenants William Rogers and William Crawford, were escorted by another.

“I’ve told that story so often throughout my life it’s become an echo,” Diles said, again recalling the ordeal. “I think my family got bored with hearing it, but when they saw that (McCarty) story in the newspaper, then it was ‘real’ to them.

And reality again checked in when grandson Adam brought his randomly chosen “silent reading” selection home from his school library.

“On that first day, I was just looking through the book, looking at the pictures. But I didn’t recognize Grandpa, even though I did see that picture,” Adam said. “But I did recognize it was him after my mom pointed it out."

“I was really surprised that out of all of the World War II books in the library, I found the one that had my grandpa in it. I told my science teacher and reading, and our librarian also: “That’s my grandpa!”

Adam also shared the information with his classmates, many of whom apparently doubted his word.

“They would taunt him with a response, ‘You’re lying,’” Diles said.

Diles said his granson’s find has added a missing piece to his personal written account of the rescue and Operation Halyard in general.

He had known the hayloft photo existed since his former pilot told him about during a 1987 reunion of old 455th Bomber Group, he said. But he had succeeded in finding only a photocopy of a 2 by 4 inch version published in LIFE magazine on June 10, 1946.

“And it’s so small that you can’t make out any of our faces,” Diles said. “I couldn’t even tell which one was me.”

The much larger Partisans and Guerrillas version clearly shows who is who—although all identities were unknown to the author of an accompanying caption that simply reads:

“American fliers, shot down, catch up on their sleep in a hayloft after being rescued by Chetniks at great personal risk. ‘Our guides told us in all sincerity,’ said one of the fliers, ‘that the Germans executed five of their people for failure to disclose our whereabouts.’”

Diles said only he and his comrades, three of whom are dead now, would know the identities, because the LIFE photographer had no time in the midst of warfare to stop and ask for names.

But the photographer learned the identities when he and Diles actually met during a 1994 Serbian convention in Chicago [Halyard Mission 50th Anniversary Celebration].

“And he was more interested in me than anything else, because of having taken the picture and finally knowing who one of us was,” Diles said.

Diles has, since his grandson’s discovery, managed to obtain his own used copy of Partisans and Guerrillas, which is now out of print. And he enjoys the irony in the way it came into his possession.

“Understandably, it would seem incredible to find, by chance, a photo of your grandfather in a book published 20 years ago, not the mention the fact that the photo was taken 55 years ago,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it after 55 years.”

Jim Babcock
Dayton Daily News
December 2, 1999

The following letter from Curtis Diles was included in the Srbobran story published on January 7, 2000:

American Srbobran
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

It was with extreme anguish that I read Sandy Marquette’s story of Major Dick Felman’s death. Death may have silenced Dick’s voice, but the message of his beloved Serbians will continue for generations. I met Dick at several of our Serb Gatherings at various locations around our country during the past several years and developed a sincere respect for he and his principles.

I was one of the five-hundred airmen who survived with him, as a result of the HALYARD MISSION.

I never miss a chance to praise my fellow Serbs, whenever the opportunity presents itself. That opportunity presented itself again at about the time of Major Felman’s passing.

It was somewhat ironic that at the time of Dick Felman’s death, but yet unknown to me, my twelve year old grandson checked out a book from his school library for a class reading assignment. The title of the book was Partisans and Guerrillas, written by Ron Bailey and published by Time-Life books in 1978.

Curtis Diles
Dayton, Ohio


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