Sgt. Curtis Diles, 89, with a photo album sent to him by Serb patriot Sasa Jovanovic with current photographs from Pranjani, Serbia where the Halyard Mission rescue operation took place in 1944. Sgt. Diles received this photo album from Serbia shortly before his death. Thankfully, it reached him on time.
Photo courtesy of daughter Diane Diles Hammond.
Aleksandra's Note: As we remember and honor our military veterans this November of 2014, many of us have had the privilege of knowing such men personally and calling them "friends." My life has been deeply enriched by having become acquainted with American, Allied, and Serbian WWII veterans who were living witnesses to history. These men walked the walk. Many of them are no longer with us in their mortal form here on earth, but their spirits will never die.
The following is a letter I received from one such witness to history, American Air Force Sgt. Curtis "Bud" Diles of Ohio, who I was blessed to meet in person at the Halyard Mission 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago in May of 1994. We remained friends for the next 20 years, until his death on September 10, 2014. In my mind and in my heart we remain friends and always will, for as long as a person is remembered, they will always be with us. This piece of personal correspondence, dated January of 2007, reveals a lot about the man that Sgt. Curtis Diles was, as does the 2005 interview given to the The Plain Dealer Ohio newspaper that is also posted here.
What seems to be a common denominator among the Allied veterans of the great 1944 rescues in WWII Yugoslavia by the Mihailovich Chetniks and Serbian people loyal to them, is that they maintained their sense of honor and duty long after their service in the military was finished.
God Bless them all. And Curtis, you remain as alive to me today as you were back in May of 1994. Thank you for your service. For your loyalty. For your dedication to a cause you truly believed in - that of vindicating General Draza Mihailovich and his Chetniks. For your unwavering belief in the goodness of the Serbian people. And thank you for your friendship.
My sincere hope is that you have been reunited with your brothers in arms and with the good General and that you will continue to fight the good fight.
Something to think about: At the time of his death on September 10, 2014 at the age of 89, the total number of the Sgt. Dile's descendants - children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren - was 26. Due to just one man being saved by General Mihailovich and the Serbian Chetniks in those fateful days of 1944 in Serbia, 26 good people are alive today.
November 11, 2014
Sgt. Curtis Diles and his 26 descendants-children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren - 26 people alive today because Sgt. Diles was saved by General Draza Mihailovich and the Serbian Chetniks in WWII. Collage by his daughter Diane Diles Hammond for her father's 89th birthday, July 15, 2014.
Personal letter from Sgt. Curtis "Bud" Diles
January 5, 2007
Personal letter from Sgt. Curtis "Bud" Diles
January 5, 2007
Dear Sandy (Aleksandra),
...We, my wife Inez and I, moved to a different location in August of 2004, about one mile from our home of thirty years. No couple who has been happily married for fifty-eight years buys another home and starts over, but we did!...It's been exciting but almost overwhelming. We are yet unpacking boxes which contain a life-time of memorabilia...stuff. The rest of that story I'll leave for another book.
"My Story" has to do with my favorite people, Serbians. After more than sixty-three years of bonding, Serbians have become a major influencing factor in my life. I would almost describe the Serbians as being my calling, in this life-time.
At my church a few weeks ago, the lesson had to do with "little things distracting one from major goals in life." Needless to say, I felt I had not done as much for Serbia as I might have. (If I needed to excuse myself, it would have been '...Look, I have four beautiful children, fifteen wonderful grandchildren, and now two great grandchildren.' How much can one crowd into one lifetime? Excuses?? You be the judge.
I have never been quite sure of your connection with Serbians, though you made it quite obvious that the connection was sincere...
...In reading your Srbobran praise for Major Dick Felman a few months ago, I picked up on your comment, 'I wish I could have met General Draza Mihailovich.' Well, I did, and I consider that chance meeting to be the single most important event of my wartime combat experience. I have written more than once...'If Churchill and Roosevelt had known The General before the war, the outcome may have been different.'
I did not know at the time, anything about the politics of war...in fact, I was not aware there was a connection between politics and war. I was nineteen and my most important priority was survival. But today, after reading, watching, listening, and studying, I find the two cannot be separated.
I have been aware of recent efforts to produce a movie about the War in Eastern Europe and as predicted, it never got "off the ground." Postponed indefinitely!! Oliver North touched on the subject a few months ago on the History Channel, but he only mentioned the abandonment of the Serbians, not the cause of abandonment. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
I still have my subscription to American Srbobran and Serb World, but have not contributed anything recently. My credentials are well displayed on "Yahoo" under my name, Curtis Diles.
I wrote a story to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper which was published (copy enclosed.) I also visited Cleveland's St. Sava Cathedral with Col. Charlie Davis during April of 2006. Col. Charlie Davis was also a member of the Halyard Mission...
Sandy, I have strong convictions of the need to write a book vindicating the Serbians of WWII wrongdoing, but truly I don't believe most of what they have been accused of. I feel they have been victimized by the world events of those days. David Martin wrote in one of his books "Ally Betrayed"...If the Serbs were betrayed as he claimed, then also the American Airmen were betrayed, because these Airmen were not allowed to tell their story to a world audience.
My local Greek friend advised me to create a "talking book" and have a professional do the writing. If I am allowed to live that long, the title would be:
SIXTY YEARS OF DEAFENING SILENCE.
January 5, 2007
AIRMAN WON'T FORGET THOSE WHO RESCUED AMERICANS
By Robert Sberna
Building Bridges Among People
A special monthly advertising section of The Plain Dealer Tuesday October 18, 2005.
At age 80, Curtis Diles says he's come to the realization that his days may be numbered. But Diles, a Dayton-area resident, says he doesn't plan to slow his 60-year campaign to pay homage to the Serbian soldiers and villagers who saved him from German troops during World War II.
"I owe my life to those Serbian people," Diles says. "And I'll never forget what they did for me."
On Sept. 8, 1944, Diles was a nose turret gunner on a B-24 bomber that had just completed its mission, bombing a bridge over the Danube River in Yugoslavia. The crew was told beforehand that their mission would be a "milk run"; no anti-aircraft fire was expected.
But shortly after dropping its bombs, the plane was buffeted by exploding flak. The young airman and his crewmembers were forced to parachute from an altitude of 18,000 feet. The men landed in a cornfield behind enemy lines and were immediately surrounded by Serbs who rushed them to a farmhouse, away from the low-flying German aircraft that was looking for the B-24 crew.
"When the Serbian soldiers and villagers surrounded us, we were frightened, " Diles says, explaining, "We had always been told that all Serbians were cooperating with the Germans and they would cut the ears off American soldiers before turning us over."
But the American airmen were found by Serbian Chetniks, a resistance group that was battling the German occupation force as well as Josip Tito's communist Partisans. The Chetniks were led by General Draza Mihailovic, a former Yugoslav Army officer who was loyal to the exiled Yugoslav Royalist government.
Over the next nine days, the Chetniks and Serb villagers protected the airmen, shuttling them among various farmhouses, always staying a step ahead of the German patrols. "If it wasn't for the Serbians, we would have been killed by the Germans or ended up in a POW camp," recalls Diles.
Diles and his crew were among hundreds of American and Allied airmen who were shot down in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia during bombing raids. According to the late Major Richard Felman, who was also shot down in 1944, the Serbs provided American airmen with whatever medical supplies they had, even at the deprivation of their own troops. "If there was one piece of bread in the house or one egg, it went to the American airman while the Serb went hungry," Felman noted. "If there was one bed, or one blanket, it went to us while the Serb slept on the bare ground. Nor risk or sacrifice was too great to insure our safety and well-being."
According to archival documents, many Serbs lost their lives as a result of their actions in saving Allied airmen. Felman noted that an entire village with 200 women and children was wiped out by the Germans because the Serbs would not disclose the whereabouts fo the Americans.
Along with providing safe haven to many of the Allied flyers, General Mihailovic and his Chetniks orchestrated one of the largest rescue missions of World War II, which was known as Operation Halyard. Over a six-month period in 1944, Mihailovic worked with U.S. Intelligence to evacuate airmen who were shot down in the Serbian mountains. The Chetniks made it possible for several waves of C-47s to land at small, secret airstrips and airlift all of the servicemen to safety.
Nine days after his plane went down, Diles and his crewmembers were transported to safety. General Mihailovic, however, was executed by Tito's regime in 1946. Since then, Diles and the other survivors of Operation Halyard have worked to preserve his memory.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the Chetniks and Serbian villagers saved 500 airmen," Diles says. "The Serbs gave their lives for us."
Diles says that the West's seeming indifference to Mihailovic's role in saving Allied airmen has, in part, fuled his efforts to publicize Operation Halyard. He also objects to the negative treatment of Serbia during the recent Balkan conflict.
Diles has traveled throughout the Midwest speaking to Serbian-American organizations about his WWII experiences. Last year , he was invited to Serbia to participate in the 60th anniversary of Operation Halyard. Unfortunately, he explains, he received the invitation too late to attend. As a personal tribute, he placed 500 American flags in his front yard for several months to commemorate the 500 soldiers saved by the Serbs during Operation Halyard.
"I'm a big supporter of Serbs," he says. "They have always been very cordial to me. Some news reports portray the Serbs as being at fault for much of the Balkan conflict. I want the world to know the other side of the story.
"After all, I wouldn't be here without the Serbs or Mihailovic. And not only am I here, but my four children and 12 grandhildren are here."
The Plain Dealer
October 18, 2005
[Note from AR: After this interview in 2005, the number of grandchildren increased and great grandchildren were born in the following years, for a total of 26 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Curtis "Bud" Diles would live another nine years.]
In 2004, as a personal tribute, Sgt. Curtis Diles displayed 500 American flags in his front yard for several months to commemorate the 500 American airmen saved by the Serbs during Operation Halyard in 1944.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Curtis Diles.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra,
please feel free to contact me at email@example.com