An Open Letter To Our Troops In The Former Yugoslavia From Over 500 MlAs Saved By The Serbian People During World War II
By: Richard L. Felman Major USAF (Ret) (Spring 1999)
“During World War II, we were in the Army Air Corps list as “Missing in Action” in the very same area you are now serving. If we may, we would like to relay to you a frank, soldier-to-soldier message about our personal experience while there – something which politicians who sent you there have not told you and something which you have not read or seen in the Anti-Serb media.
In 1944, the members of our committee were flying bombing missions out of Italy over Southern Europe. During that time over 500 of us were shot down over enemy-occupied Yugoslavia and saved from certain death by the Serbian people. Ours was the greatest rescue of American lives from behind enemy lines in history but has been kept under wraps all these years because of pressure from foreign sources.
While we were there, those of us who were wounded were given 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 airmen while the Serb went hungry. If there was one bed or one blanket, it went to us while the Serb slept on the bare ground. No risk of sacrifice was too great to insure our safety and well being. One experience which is forever seared in my memory is the time a village with 200 women and children was burned to the ground by the Germans because the Serbs would not tell them where they were hiding us. To this day, I can smell the terrible stench of their burning flesh. One does not forget such things.
The most incredible part of our rescue was that before each mission, our bomber crews were briefed by the highest levels of American intelligence that if shot down over Yugoslavia, we were to stay away from the Serbian people as they were collaborating with the Germans and “cutting off the ears of American airmen” before turning them over. Only after we were shot down did we find out the amazing thoroughness with which the truth about the Serbs was being distorted.
Further compounding this deception is the fact that while the Serbs were our allies in WWII, Croatians and Muslims (who we are favoring today) were allies of the Nazis, shooting at us and responsible for killing many of our fellow American fliers. In view of the lies we were told about the Serbs during World War II, we could not help but wonder if our foreign policy there today is the same anti-Serb bias we encountered 52 years ago. Could our career diplomats sacrifice former friends and reward former enemies in the name of political expediency???… Could it be because in the world community there are over one billion Muslims and only 9 million Serbian Orthodox Christians with the same proportionate power in the global economy??? Could it be because the Serbs have no oil wells and no unlimited oil money?
Could it be because the Croatians and Muslims outspend the Serbs 50 to one on lobbyists, media firms and campaign contributions??? … Could this be why, “atrocities” are manufactured to make the Serbs look bad while gaining sympathy for their opponents???… Could this be why the Serbs are branded “aggressors” in land they have lived on for over 600 years???… Could our policy have something to do with the fact there are 540 members of Congress, none of whom are Orthodox Christians???… Could these be the reasons the State Department has covered up the truth of our rescue all these years and opposed our petition to express gratitude for saving over 500 American lives (a petition which is supported by the 8 million veterans of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Air Force Association and which has been approved by the United States Senate.)???… Could it be these are the reasons the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has also denied our petition by saying to us here are “ethnic groups in Yugoslavia” who oppose it???…
Are we mad???… You can bet your next month’s paycheck that we are mad! We did not leave our families, risk our lives and watch our buddies get their arms, legs and heads blown off so that “ethnic groups in Yugoslavia” could tell us what we could or could not do in our own country.
Now that the spring thaw has set in, temperatures and tempers will start to rise in the volatile area you now find yourselves. All we ask is that in your dealings with the local people you be made aware of the eyewitness experience of your fellow comrades-in-arms. By speaking out now we have nothing to gain except a burning moral passion to tell the truth, a sworn duty to protect our national honor, a patriotic desire to express heart felt gratitude to those on foreign soil who save American lives while they are fighting in defense of our glorious country.
Now that you have been sent to foreign soil and asked to risk your lives we feel you should know the truth and not be “suckered in” by the rhetoric of highly paid public relations firms, foreign lobbyists and self-serving politicians who know absolutely nothing of the region’s history.
We might also add that had it not been for the Serbian people, Air Force General Donald J. Smith, our chairman and one our rescued airmen, would not have survived the war and been able to dedicate 40 years of honorable service to his country.
Had it not been for the Serbian people, technical Sgt. Curtis “Bud” Diles, another of our airmen, would not be alive today in Dayton, Ohio, enjoying retirement with his 4 children and 12 grandchildren… There are hundreds of us with stories just like those.
Some of the greatest testimony to the many sacrifices made on our behalf are the many thousands of American children who are alive today solely because the Serbian people saved over 500 of their grandfathers during World War II. Some of them could very well be serving with you today in Bosnia.
(I was one of 3 rescued American airmen who returned last year to the former Yugoslavia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of victory in Europe with the people who saved us and to visit the cow pasture that served as a landing strip from which we were rescued. The most moving experience of our sentimental trip was being cheered by over 50,000 Serbs who gathered at a mountain top to welcome us and who kept chanting “USA, USA”).
As American military men, we have a proud tradition of “duty, honor and country” to uphold and a fierce sense of loyalty to those with whom we fought side by side in combat. We never forget their kindness nor do we return their battlefield sacrifices for us by bombing their women and children.
The Serbian people helped us when we were desperate and in trouble. Now that the situation is reversed we can do no less.
Please keep these untarnished truths in mind as you now serve our country and all it stands for, and may God bless you all as we pray for your safe return.
Well, we didn’t help the Serbian people. We’ve done everything we could to hurt them and we helped the Kosovo Liberation Army, a major European drug cartel. The Serbian people no longer expect justice and honor from the Americans.”
Felman from Plain Dealer Magazine 1990
Richard L. Felman (May 29, 1921 – November 13, 1999) was a distinguished officer in the United States Air Force who flew combat missions during World War II and the Korean War, receiving 27 awards and decorations over the course of his military career.
Felman was born in the The Bronx, New York City. He was the son of American-born David and Dora, a Jewish immigrant from Poland. He had one brother, Irwin, born six years earlier. At the age of 21, Felman enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps on July 24, 1942 and became a master navigator.
In early 1944 he was assigned to the 415th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force stationed in Lecce, Italy as a Second Lieutenant flying B-24s. His “Liberator” bomber, “Never a Dull Moment”, would live up to its name. In July 1944, Felman’s B-24 was hit by German ME-109s and 10 of the eleven-man crew bailed out from 18,000 feet over the Yugoslav hills. Felman was later awarded the Purple Heart for his service during the plane crash.
The Americans, led by Felman, landed in central Serbia. Serbia, at the time, was a Nazi Germany-occupied territory, but controlled by the Chetniks, a resistance movement led by Draža Mihailović. The Chetniks protected them from the Germans, despite the fact the Germans burned the nearby village of Pranjani in retaliation, killing around 200 women and children. Felman and his men stayed safe with the Chetniks, and were airlifted out of Serbia on August 10, 1944. Felman became friends with Mihailović and his Chetniks, as did the other Allied airmen who had been gunned down over Serbia in the same year. Over 500 downed US airmen survived because of assistance from the Chetniks.
At Felman’s stay in Serbia, he was embraced and then carried about 500 yards to a cabin. He was given fruit, flowers and slivovitz (Serbian national drink) which Felman described as “160 proof Serbian plum brandy.” Felman was then offered a crutch and taken to the Serbian Orthodox church in the village by an elderly man. Both men prayed in the small Serbian Orthodox church. Felman described the scene:
“It was their chapel. We both knelt in humble prayer and gave thanks. Though separated by language, country and religion, the brotherhood of man was never more in meaningful evidence.
(B-24 crew with Chetniks Leonard E. Pritchet, Carl E. Astrifan, Israel Meyer, Roland Hodgson, Thomas P. Lovett (killed by Germans), и Preston D. Angleberger. Standing left to righ: Kenneth Munn, Richard L. Felman, James L. Kidd Jr., и Paul F. Mato.)
Felman was personally decorated twice by King Peter II of Yugoslavia. Felman’s friends were Constantine Fotich, Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, Milutin Devrnja, Vojvoda Momčilo Đujić, Slobodan Jovanović, Zvonko Vučković and many other prominent men in the diaspora.
The Chetniks were defeated by the end of the war.
Draža Mihailović was accused by the Partisans in 1946. Felman and 21 others in April 1946 petitioned Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Government to be allowed to go, at their own expense, to Belgrade and present their testimonies to the jury on Mihailović’s trial.
They were denied by the State Department, because the U.S. had befriended the Communist Partisans in the latter stages of the war, and did not want to disrupt their relations with the Communist Yugoslav government that was created post war. Despite Felman’s insistence, he was not able to reach Belgrade. Mihailović was found guilty of high treason, executed and buried in an unmarked grave on July 17, 1946.
Because of his efforts, Mihailović and his organization, on the recommendation of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, were posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit by President Truman for their contributions to the Allied victory and the rescue of American airmen from behind enemy lines. The Legion of Merit is the highest award the U.S. can give a foreign national,
Felman continued arguing that Mihailović and his Chetniks should be honored for their rescue of US pilots. In 1970, he went on the Congressional Record pressing for legislation for a statue on Capitol grounds honoring General Mihailović. In 1976 and in 1977, the bill was introduced into the Senate by Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater. However, the legislation died in the House because of the aforementioned U.S. policy towards Yugoslavia. It was reintroduced over the next decades several times, but failed each time.
Richard Felman retired from the United States Air Force in 1968.
In 1995, for the 50th Anniversary of the VE Day, Major Richard Felman returned to Serbia after 50 years, accompanied by his wife Mary Anne as well as Captain Nick Lalich and Lt. Col. Charlie Davis. He was met on the mountain of Ravna Gora by 50,000 Serbian people who gave him a thunderous ovation.
Felman died at the age of 78. He was survived by his wife Mary Anne and his brother Irwin. He had no children. On November 13, 1999 he was interred at the “All Faiths Memorial Park” in Tucson, Arizona.