NEW YEAR'S LESSONS FROM THE SERBS
JAM VIEWS continuously urges us all to open our minds, see business and the world differently, and find our own truths. This New Year's Eve, I want to tell you an inspiring story for your New Year's Resolutions planning. This true story incorporates so many lessons we strive to teach and instill with our JAM VIEWS Mission: greatness requires risk, question everyone and everything, we are stronger and smarter than we ever imagined, there are amazing adventures out there in business and life if we just get off the couch, and the universe conspires to provide us incredible success if we just keep the faith and finish the race!
During World War II, American B-17 and B-24 bomber crews were ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to undertake risky missions bombing oil fields and refineries in Ploesti, Romania, approximately 35 miles north of Bucharest. This massive complex was producing almost a million tons of oil a month, accounting for nearly a third of the petroleum products that fueled Hitler's tanks, battleships, submarines and aircraft.
Unfortunately for our courageous airmen, Ploesti was protected by the best German fighter pilots in the Luftwaffe. These necessary low-level raids were terrifying and difficult, and getting back home was even more problematic as the German Messerschmitt fighters hunted our vulnerable bombers. A large number of our planes were lost, and another large number of our aircrews parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia when their planes were mortally wounded on the route back to Allied bases.
But the universe would intervene. Serbian General Draza Mihailovich had moved his army up into the hills of Yugoslavia to resist the Germans, and to resist General Josip Broz Tito, the socialist Partisans leader battling to move Yugoslavia into the Soviet communist cradle at the close of the war. [Envision current socialist politicians].
When airmen would land, they would be met with Serbian men, women and children and an outpouring of hugs, kisses on both cheeks, and chants of "Hero Americans!" [Full disclosure; Martinovich is Serbian for "Son of Martin."]. Mihailovich's army and these loyal followers would hide the airmen, nurse them to health, and share their homes, clothes and minimal food. Most importantly, they shared their plum brandy! The General protected all of these Serbians from the raping, pillaging, murdering Germans and, being a lover of America, assigned Serb fighters to protect each individual American. These airmen, who grew into the hundreds, were secretly transported to Pranjane, Yugoslavia, Mihailovich's stronghold, in order to best protect and care for them.
Meanwhile, U.S. and British intelligence had been infiltrated by socialists and communists who obfuscated the truth on the ground and manipulated FDR and Churchill into supporting Tito in Yugoslavia while abandoning Mihailovich's army, falsely labeling them as German collaborators. This fake news was propagated by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursors to MI-6 and the CIA. [Envision Steele Dossier].
Although abandoned by the Allied Government, Mihailovich chose to do the right thing because it was simply the right thing to do. He continued to protect the Americans. He covertly sent telegrams to Washington, alerting them to the great number of airmen who were still alive, but these were ignored by the State Department, as the politics supported the other side. [Envision the Kurds].
The universe intervened again. Mirjana Vujnovich had escaped from Serbia when the Nazis invaded, surviving a wild two-year odyssey through ten countries to make it to America and a job in the Yugoslavian Embassy in Washington, DC. She heard rumors of these downed airmen and sent a letter to her husband in Italy, George Vujnovich, a native of the Pittsburgh Serbian-American community who had left the steel mills for a position with the OSS.
George battled the establishment to save these men but was thwarted by our own government at every turn. British SOE counterparts even sabotaged multiple missions until Vujnovich demanded only Americans going to save Americans. But how would it be possible?
George recruited three teammates, to include George Musulin, a former Pitt offensive lineman, to parachute into Mihailovich's territory to organize a rescue against all odds. The Serbs and Americans hand built a landing strip in the mountains in the middle of Nazi-occupied territory. Vujnovich sent in C-47 cargo planes in the night, and these incredible pilots executed death-defying landings and takeoffs to first save the wounded and most ill. As the word of success secretly spread through the Air Force squadron, more planes arrived, and now with American P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning fighter escorts. The airmen almost froze on the cold flights back to safety since they gave their coats and boots to the Serbians - the only gifts they could return for their lives.
The mission that was authorized to only last a couple weeks went on for six months, during which George and his team rescued 432 American airmen and 80 British, Canadian, French, Italian and Russians. Not one single life was lost in the effort! How is that possible?! Universe.
Once complete, the military and State Department refused to acknowledge this incredible story. All participants were given gag orders with threats of court martial. [see Cato Institute v. SEC, unconstitutionality of gag orders]. The British and U.S. Governments gave credit for these saved lives to General Tito and the communist Partisans, even planting stories in the New York and Washington newspapers [see today everyday].
With this backing, Tito completed his takeover of Yugoslavia and gift-wrapped this territory for Stalin and the communists who destroyed Eastern Europe for several decades. Mihailovich was captured and trial set. American airmen campaigned and protested across the country for the U.S. to save Mihailovich, yet the State Department would only send a letter. [see Afghan & Iraqi interpreters for the U.S. military refused Visas to U.S.]. Two days after the trial, Mihailovich was executed.
Years later as the betrayal leaked, and Churchill admitted his deception by communist moles led by SOE agent James Klugmann, General Dwight D. Eisenhower urged President Truman to posthumously award General Mihailovich the Legion of Merit, the highest award possible for a foreign national. But, again, the government covered this up, and all of the airmen, and the press, were never notified of the award. The State Department was concerned about offending "current Yugoslavia." The medal was put in a drawer in the State Department for 20 years! In 1967 the medal was discovered, and in 1997 the file was declassified. In 2005 the surviving airmen traveled to Yugoslavia to present the medal to Mihailovich's daughter Gordana, and Gregory A. Freeman began researching his book, The Forgotten 500, a gripping tale you won't be able to put down. A JAM VIEWS Book Club recommendation.
So many lessons for us today. Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. In the New Year when faced with a great challenge, just ask yourself, "What would Mihailovich do? What would Vujnovich do?" Take a stand this year. Don't believe what the masses tell you. Take risks. Plan to accomplish a goal you would have thought impossible. Do the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do.
** Thank you to Gregory A. Freeman, The Forgotten 500, Dutton Caliber, 2007.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead