On Sunday, Dec. 7 at 11 a.m., at the Air National Guard facility at Toledo Express Airport, Art Jibilian of Fremont received a special Congressional award.
Mr. Jibilian played a vital role in one of the last untold stories of World War II, The Forgotten 500. In a remarkable mission, more than 500 U.S. airmen were rescued from the hills of Yugoslavia. At the time, the area was controlled by the Nazis, who were hunting for the American airmen.
Brave Serbian villagers hid the Americans, even though they faced death if they were caught. Mr. Jibilian volunteered to parachute behind enemy lines and coordinate the rescue. He helped build an airstrip in the middle of the forest. He and his team organized the villagers and the downed airmen, and brought the C-4's into the makeshift airstrip. The airmen were rescued.
Mr. Jibilian's heroism is documented in a book by Gregory Freeman: "The Forgotten 500." It is a fascinating story that is all the more spectacular because it is true.
The impressive facility of the Air National Guard at Toledo Express Airport was full of people, national guardmen, commanders of the national guard, congressmen and a senators of the state of the State of Ohio. Many of the National Guardsmen and Congressmen spoke at the ceremony.
A Serbian delegation, who came from Cleveland, Ohio, also attended the event and was greeted warmly.
Letter to the Tesla Memorial Society of New York from the American Hero and Pilot, Arthur Jibilian, who was saved by Serbs in World War II
Dr. Ljubo Vujovic
Sat, 13 Dec 2008 2:39 pm
Just a note to say "thank you" for sending Dr. Vujovic at the program honoring Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian and the Halyard Mission. On December 7, 2008, at the Toledo Airport, the 180th National Guard honored the rescue of over 500 American airmen by Gen. Draja Mihailovich. He, together with the Serbian people, rescued, fed, clothed, protected and risked their lives on behalf of the Americans. These shot down airmen were "funneled" to the "Halyard Mission" which set up airfields for airlifting the fliers back to Italy. The event was also attended by state and federal government officials which now gives credibility to efforts of Jibby, Lalich,Rajacic and the 513 rescued airmen who have been pleading, shouting, and using any means at their disposal to right a terrible wrong. Mihailovich was labeled a traitor and collaborator and we have been trying for over 60 years to clear his name. Now, with the publication of THE FORGOTTEN 500, the commemoration of the rescue on December 7, 2008, the newspaper and TV publicity, I feel that our mission will reach fruition soon. Furthermore, there is no doubt in my mind that a movie will be made of the "largest behind the lines rescue of American airmen".
I had the privilege of spending sic months with Cica Draja and participating in the rescue of these airmen. I cannot begin the thank the Serbs for the care given our boys. The Serbs hid our boys from the Germans, guiding them from village to village, until they were in the hands of the members of the "Halyard Mission". They were then flown back to Italy and lived to get back to their families and loved ones.
THIS STORY NEEDS TO BE TOLD TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE!! America owes a great big debt of gratitude to the Serbs. On behalf of the American people and the rescued airmen, I extend kudos, gracias, fallah, and thank you to the Serbian people.
Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian (last surviving member of Mission)
8-2-44 TO 12-27-44
Above: Mr. Art Jibilian, WWII Hero, with his wife at the ceremony.
War Medals Awarded to the WWII Hero, Art Jibilian
Above: Located in the center is the Silver Star. On the left is the Medal for WWII. On the right is the Medal for the Eastern and African campaign.
Ohio Senate Recognition Honoring
Above: Audience at the Toledo Express Airport in Toledo, Ohio, when Art Jibilian receive his special Congressional award.
Above: Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General, Tesla Memorial Society of New York gave this photo of the "The Engineer's Club" Plaque (with Nikola Tesla's name) to the National Guard of Ohio.
Above: Commemorative Plaque on Building (32 West 40 Street, Manhattan, New York), "The Engineers Club", was erected in memory of famous American Engineers who helped America transform from a largely agricultural nation to an architectural and industrial empire. Nikola Tesla's name is included on the plaque among other famous Americans.
Above: Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General, Tesla Memorial Society of New York with Art Jibilian at the award ceremony. Dr. Ljubo Vujovic is holding a photo of the 'Forgotten 500'.
Above: In this 1943 photo, Serbian Priest Vasilije Sokolovich's father is shaking hands with an American Commander in Pranjane, Serbia.
Above: Art Jibilian with Father Vasilije Sokolovic at the award ceremony.
Above: Serbian flag show by Milana Bizic, the historian of Serb National Federation in Pittsburgh, at the award ceremony. Milana Bizic had a beautiful lecture about the rescue operation of the 'Forgotten 500'.
As a nation on Sunday paused to commemorate the bombing of …
SWANTON - It was no easy task.
Arthur Jibilian of Fremont, who was a U.S. Navy radioman and a member of the OSS - a precursor to the CIA - had to parachute into the German-occupied territory of Yugoslavia and stay there for months.
He had just turned 20 after being drafted in the Navy in March of 1943.
Because of his efforts, he helped rescue more than 500 American airmen and other Allied Forces soldiers from harms way during the end of World War II. It's one of the untold stories of the greatest generation that is finally receiving world-wide exposure.
"We brought down our 513 shot-down American airmen from behind the lines, and there was little publicity on this," Aurthur said. "The reason why I want to get all this in front of the American people is because it's a story that they deserve to know."
Jibilian's heroic efforts is the basis of a recently-published book called " The Forgotten 500 " by Gregory Freeman. It draws upon declassified documents and intimate interviews that recount a major World War II rescue mission in 1944 near the end of WWII called ' Operation Halyard .'
On Sunday, the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jibilian was recognized for his efforts by former and current Ohio National Guard military members, and federal and state dignitaries. Other special guests that paid honor traveled from upstate New York and Pittsburgh.
"Jibby we are so happy to be here today and celebrate this moment," said U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.
She along with U.S. Congressman Bob Latta and State Sens. Theresa Fedor and Mark Waggoner, gave personal thanks and honored the war veteran. The Ohio Air National Guard recognized Jibilian as a honorary colonel in the state's militia for his efforts.
"We are happy today to witness the great event, and giving the congressional award to this hero of the World War II," said Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General of the Tesla Memorial Society of Ridgwood, NY.
Sunday's event was held in the Lt. Col. Addison Baker Building at the 180th Fighter Wing Base in Swanton, which held equally special meaning to the event. Lt. Col. Baker, a member of the Ohio Air National Guard's 112th Liaison Squadron, which predated the 180th Fighter Wings' 112th Fighter Squadron, received the Congressional Medal of Honor after leading his bomb group on a low-altitude allied bombing mission in 1943 over oil refineries at Ploiesti, Romania.
The bombing runs continued for the next year. During that time those 513 airmen were shot down by Nazi forces, most of which were on their way from Italy to bomb German-occupied oil fields in Romania.
Jibilian, who is dying from Leukemia, is the last surviving member of "Operation Halyard" - a majorly-secret rescue mission that plucked the airmen and other Allied soldiers between August - December of 1944 from under the Nazi's noses.
They did it from a crudely constructed airfield that was cleared on top of a hill in the Village of Pranjani, Serbia, a plateau 55 miles south of Belgrade. The mission was coordinated by the Americans, British and Serbians. The Allied forces worked closely with General Draza Mihailovich, a Serbian guerrilla, to carry out the rescue mission.
Jibilian, who was born in Cleveland but raised in Toledo, said, even after so many years, he can't believe how hard his job was. But it was worth it.
"When I look back on it, I'm amazed at what we have accomplished because we did this all under the Germans' noses," he said. "But we made it, and that's all that counts."
"The Forgotten 500" is currently being disccused to be made into a major motion picture.
(FOX Toledo's Allison Brown contributed to this report)
Above: Presentation by Dan Wiese, EAA, speaking at the award ceremony.
Above: Audience at the award ceremony.
Above: Audience at the award ceremony.
Above: Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur presenting a gift to Art Jibilian.
Above: Art Jibilian receiving a gift from Representative Robert Latta.
Above: Ohio Senator Mark Wagoner.
Above: Art Jibilian receiving a gift from Ohio Senator Mark Wagoner.
Above: Ohio Senator Teresa Fedor
Above: Ohio Senator Teresa Fedor congratulating Art Jibilian on his award.
Above: Major General Harry "AJ" Feucht, Jr., Air National Guard
Above: Major General Harry "AJ" Feucht, Jr., Air National Guard, congratulating Art Jibilian on his award.
Above: Colonel Mark E. Bartman,Commander for the 180th Fighter Wing, congratulating Art Jibilian on his award.
Above: Colonel Mark E. Bartman,Commander for the 180th Fighter Wing.
Above: Art Jibilian speaking at the award ceremony. Jibilian called "Where are the Serbs? Do we have any Serbian people in the room?". After Dr. Vujovic came to the podium, Jibilian said "When you go to Serbia, greet and kiss Serbian people and tell them we American pilots are grateful to the Serbian people because the Serbs saved our lives."
Above: Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, General Secretary, Tesla Memorial Society of New York speaking at the award ceremony. Dr. Vujovic answering Jibilian's call replied: "The Serbian people would like to tell all Americans: We Serbs have always been good friends with America and we will continue to be good friends of America. We Serbs consider todays award to belong not only to American hero-pilots but also to Serbian poeple who saved them during World War II. Serbia gave to the United States the great scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla who came to the United States in 1884. Tesla spent 60 years of his productive life in New York City and his inventions changed the world".
Above: Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, General Secretary, Tesla Memorial Society of New York congratulating Art Jibilian at the award ceremony.
Above: Dr. Vujovic, Art Jibilian and Senator Mark Wagoner at the award ceremony.
Above: Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General, Tesla Memorial Society of New York with Ohio Senator Teresa Fedor holding a photo of the 'Forgotten 500'.
Above: Art Jibilian at the ceremony.
Above: Beautiful shot! Bill David (EAA Newsletter Editor and so much more!) Brian McMahon in a WWII uniform from his brother's collection, and EAA#582 President Bill Hirzel. To the far right is EAA#582 Dan Weise who has become a real student of this operation, and our Honoree, Arthur Jibilian! They all worked so hard to make this affair a success! And it was! (text and photo from Draza and Operation Halyand)
Above: Art Jibilian surrounded by admirers.
Above: Photo from 1943, World War II -Serbian Priest shaking hands with American Commander at Pranjane, Serbia.
Above: Serbian delegation after the awards ceremony, Ohio, December 7, 2008.
Above: Video of the Ohio Ceremony on December7, 2008 by Milana Bizic, the historian of Serb National Federation in Pittsburgh.
Above: In this 1991 photo the banner reads that the 500 American pilots were rescued by Serbs during WWII. This banner was carried by surviving American pilots rescued by Serbs in WWII in the military parade "Desert Storm" in New York City, celebrating the victory over Iraq. In the center of the photo is Major Feldman, American pilot rescued by Serbs during WWII. He carried the banner in the "Desert Storm" parade in New York City, 1991.
Photo by Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, 1991.
Photo of American pilots saved by Serbians in 1944 during World War II
The photos below were taken from the book "The Forgotten 500" by Gregory A. Freeman: