Arthur Jibilian, 86, speaking at the "Forgotten 500 Reunion"
'Lest we Forget' Halyard Mission commemoration
Michigan June 17, 2009
Photo by Aleksandra Rebic
American airmen and OSS personnel with General Mihailovich,
standing in the center of the photo with his hand
over his heart, 1944. Arthur Jibilian is kneeling in the front
row in front of General Mihailovich and Captain Nick Lalich.
Photo courtesy of Arthur Jibilian.
Back of photograph with personal message from
General Mihailovich to Arthur Jibilian in 1944.
"To Mr. 'Jibby' Jibilian, an ally and friend in these difficult days
in the battle for freedom."
Photo courtesy of Arthur Jibilian.
Aleksandra's Note: This year, 2015, the world will be marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, the era of the "Greatest Generation." For me, one of the measures of a man who dies is how deeply the loss is felt in the hearts of those who knew him, and if they didn't know him personally, were affected by his work or by his existence on this earth in a positive way. OSS radioman Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian was short in stature but a giant of a man in the hearts of all of us who were fortunate and privileged enough to know him. I was one of those people, and though it's been five years since his death, I can still remember exactly what his voice sounded like, and he is as alive for me today as he was for all the years we kept in touch. In one of our last conversations over the telephone, it was obvious that he had been weakened by the leukemia that had struck him late in life. I made a simple request - "Arthur, please don't die." He liked that I called him "Arthur", though most of those familiar with his remarkable life story endearingly called him "Jibby". He chuckled warmly and said, "I'll try not to." I know he tried his best, but finally succumbed and died peacefully on March 21, 2010 in Ohio. Although it was inevitable, the news of his death was taken hard. I really thought we'd have him just a little while longer.
Today, April 30, 2015, Arthur Jibilian would have been 92 years old. I'd like to celebrate his birthday with you by telling you just a little bit about him. You can find out much more by searching the internet. Please take the time to do so today. It will be worth your time and attention.
Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian was directly involved in the great WWII Halyard Mission Rescue Operation of 1944 in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, both in Serbia and in Bosnia. He was directly responsible for saving the lives of over 500 American airmen stranded on that territory who were considered MIA and virtually left for dead for a good length of time before they were rescued.
Perhaps even more significant was that for Arthur Jibilian, coming home to America after the mission was successfully completed and every American and Allied airman was evacuated safely didn't mean leaving the past behind. Instead, he made it one of his life goals to vindicate the Serbian commander who made the multiple rescues of the stranded Americans and other Allied airmen possible. Arthur never forgot the legendary Serbian General Draza Mihailovich, whom he was fortunate enough to have met personally while in Serbia and Bosnia. After the war, and to his dying day, Arthur devoted his energy and his heart and soul to seeking justice for the General and righting the wrongs of the historical record with regards to Mihailovich, his Chetnik forces, and the Serbian people loyal to them. It was a huge task and an uphill battle. That did not deter him. Most impressively, Arthur Jibilian wanted nothing for himself and everything for Mihailovich and the Serbs who had saved the lives of the Americans in the former Yugoslavia during World War II. Arthur's efforts were not in vain. The historical record is now a more truthful one, a more just one, because of him.
Fortunately, Arthur had the opportunity to return to Serbia and the areas that were so pivotal in his life story twice before he died: the first time in 2004 for the 6oth anniversary of the Halyard Mission and then the following year, in 2005, when the Mihailovich Legion of Merit Medal was returned "home" to Serbia.
When Arthur died on March 21, 2010 I felt the loss in my gut. His daughter Debi Jibilian called and left a voice mail message to call her back. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had been out running errands. Springtime had finally arrived. She didn't leave any details. Though we had spoken on the phone a number of times about her father and the Halyard Mission and current ongoing recognition efforts, and had met in June of 2009, this time it was immediately clear why she was calling. I remember banging my fist on the kitchen counter in frustration. Then the tears came. To this day I continue to feel the loss in my heart. I selfishly wish Arthur were still here with us, because he was truly such a dear, good man. A good friend. I regret that he did not live to see the Mihailovich Rehabilitation judicial process begin in Belgrade, Serbia in September of 2010. As of this writing, that process continues, as we wait for long-deserved justice to be served in Belgrade.
Arthur Jibilian's remains were interred in Arlington National Cemetery on May 5, 2011.
I hope Arthur Jibilian is watching and reading and listening. I hope he knows how much he is missed. For the Serbs, he was truly the "good American." We have not forgotten.
April 30, 2015
Arthur Jibilian and Aleksandra Rebic
"Forgotten 500 Reunion"
Michigan, June 17, 2009.
Photo: Rebic collection.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra,
please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org