Diane Diles Hammond gladly complied with the request with the following appeal dated May 12, 2015 that was sent to Belgrade, and her hopes and prayers, like those of so many of us, were finally answered on May 14, 2015.
Her father would have been so proud.
From Diane Diles Hammond
May 12, 2015
On September 22, 2014, the 70th anniversary of the great Halyard Mission Rescue Operation was celebrated in Serbia. My father, WWII veteran SSgt Curtis Diles Jr, was one of the “Forgotten 500” American Airmen, rescued in 1944. At 89 years old, he’d become a frail, old man, yet his voice bolstered and his face lit up as he spoke about General Draza Mihailovich and the Serbian Chetniks, as he so often did during the 70 years after the war ended. He’d planned on writing a speech to be read at the Halyard Mission celebration. By then, he was an expert, having written hundreds of letters over the years to senators, congressmen, the media… anyone that would listen, in the hopes that one of them could help vindicate Draza Mihailovich and right America’s wrong to Mihailovich and the Serbian Chetniks.
On September 5th, 2014, dad fell ill. As the ambulance was on its way, he lay weak and nearly motionless in bed. In an attempt to rouse him, I knew there was only one subject that would get him charged…. Serbia. I said “Dad, you have to get well. You have to write your speech for the Halyard Mission celebration that takes place in two weeks.” He opened his eyes and muttered “You can speak for me”. Dad died on September 10, 2014. I lost a great father, a hero of a man. Serbia lost its staunchest American supporter.
How can I capture in one letter what my dad has been “preaching” for 70 years? “Serbia” was probably one of my first words. As a child, I probably could have told you more about General Mihailovich than the current president of the United States. To his dying day, no matter the subject, somehow dad always had a way of turning it into a pro-Serbia story. How can one ever repay the debt of having their life saved? It can’t be repaid, but dad vehemently tried. He made sure his children, family members, coworkers, medical personnel, waiters, store clerks, and even pizza delivery guys knew the truth about what happened in WWII. We knew it was dad’s mission in life to clear Mihailovich’s name. Dad cheated death on numerous occasions, and we always felt that fighting for the Serbian truth gave him the will to live.
The torch has been passed, and I am now my father’s voice. I can only pray that God gives me the words that dad would speak right now. If he could somehow hear on May 14th that Mihailovich had been rehabilitated, I’m sure he would dance in heaven.
On September 8, 1944, dad’s 17th mission was to bomb a bridge crossing the Danube River in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Their B24 was shot down, and he and the other eight crew members had to bail out. He was sure death awaited him. They were warned by officials that if they landed in enemy territory, their ears would be cut off.
The next paragraphs are excerpts taken directly from dad’s diary, as my words will fall short in describing what followed:
September 8, 1944:
“Fortunately, I had landed in a cornfield, somewhat obscured from aerial observation. A German “JU-87” observation ship was soon overhead, seeking our location. Before I could remove my chute and harness, a group of local natives approached. I was not sure whether they were friend or foe and was not sure how to react. Soon, they were able to recognize me as an American Airman, and instantly I became a hero. I was greeted with hugs and kisses, from both young and old. It was soon established that these citizens of Yugoslavia were of Serbian decent, and their soldiers were “Chetniks”, under the command of General Draja Mihailovich. All combat crews had been informed that Yugoslavia was involved in an internal struggle for political supremacy, which included the Croatians, the Partisans under the command of Marshal Tito, along with the Serbian military. Each of these parties claimed to be anti-Nazi, but each also claimed the other to be pro-Nazi. We were cautioned to attempt identity of our hosts before making any commitment. Any doubts we may have had about the Serbians loyalty were soon laid to rest. We were treated as royalty. We were provided with the best of food, the best of accommodations, along with a military force to protect us from a threat from any direction.”