"American-Serbian Defense Partnership: From Operation Halyard to Today"


On Tuesday, March 6, 2024, the Embassy of Serbia to the United States of America, hosted a panel discussion, titled "American-Serbian Defense Partnership: From Operation Halyard to Today", and presented the screening of an historic Serbian film, about the ‘Forgotten 500’ titled, ‘The Heroes of Halyard’. This unique presentation took place in the Congressional Auditorium of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The film, directed by celebrated Serbian director Rados Bajic, and written by legendary playwright Dusan Kovacevic, was screened in the presence of distinguished members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, ranking members of the military, cast members and other dignitaries, among whom was His Grace Bishop Irinej of Eastern America.


The movie, based on Operation Halyard, a World War II operation led by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and members of the Serbian Chetnik Movement, resulted in rescue of over 500 allied pilots that were shot down by Nazi forces in occupied areas of then-Yugoslavia. This movie and its Capitol screening, held in the ‘Temple of American Democracy’ according to Bajic, highlighted historic Serbian American friendship, as well as the importance of cinema and its role in bringing people together in truth and remembrance. Instead of dismissing the constructive history of Serbian American relations, such encounters can serve a focal point for ongoing diplomatic endeavors.


Operation Halyard, conducted on the territory of present-day Serbia, remains the largest rescue operation of American airmen in history. In 1944, American bombers targeted German oil supplies in Romania. While flying over Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, around 1,500 pilots and aviators were shot down. For months, Serbs in the Pranjani region aided these downed Americans. The OSS devised a plan to evacuate American pilots in a daring mission coordinated with the Serbian resistance under General Draza Mihajlovic. By August 1944, more than 500 of them had been safely returned behind Allied lines. In 1948, U.S. President Harry Truman posthumously awarded General Mihailovic the Legion of Merit for his role in rescuing the U.S. airmen downed by Nazis over Serbia.


The event commenced with a panel discussion moderated by retired Colonel John Capello, president of the Halyard Foundation. The discussion included Serbian Ambassador to the USA Marko Djuric, members of the US House of Representatives, and co-chairs of the Serbian Congressional Caucus, Claudia Tenney and Emanuel Cleaver. Also participating were Major General John Harris, commander of the Ohio National Guard, and Nemanja Starovic, State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia.


Congresswoman Claudia Tenney emphasized the significance of remembering Operation Halyard as a testament to the friendship and alliance between the Serbian and American peoples during challenging historical moments. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver highlighted that the shared heroic past should serve as a pledge for the future partnership between the two nations.


Ambassador Djuric particularly underscored that the historical alliance of the two nations in two world wars obligates the continuation of developing their relations based on common achievements and the joint struggle for freedom and democracy.


The screening of ‘Heroes of Halyard’ evoked strong emotions among the audience, which included family members of the real heroes of the Halyard Mission, such as Xenia Wilkinson, daughter of George Vujnovich; Stephanie Adams, daughter of Nick Lalich; and JoAnne de la Vera, daughter of George ‘Gov’ Musulin. All three were American officers of Serbian origin in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and played significant roles in the rescue mission of American and allied pilots from occupied Serbia. His Grace was particularly pleased to once again be in their collective presence, as he personally knew all three of our American-Serbian heroes and the members of their families, to whom a great debt of gratitude is due on behalf of both traditional allies, the United States of America and Serbia. 


Photo Gallery

Photo credits: JRegan

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