An American Hero – Curtis “Bud” Diles – Halyard Mission veteran
By Francie Weakley
December 15, 2012
Words in the Clouds
There are those people in life that are born unto their destiny, that come into life to be something special. They choose not their path, nor do they accept it willingly, it just is for them, despite their not even seeking it. You cannot create these people; you cannot groom them for their destiny is contained within every cell of their being. They cannot be drawn into a comic book or cast into a made for TV movie and yet they have little glory in their lives, for they choose not to seek out the glory and the recognition for they are not Super Heroes, they are true life heroes and what they accomplish in life as they walk along their path they do quietly with dignity and honor.
One such man has always been a hero to me, long before I realized his contributions to this country during World War II. That man, amazingly good looking, with a smile that lit up every room he walked into, and every heart he touched, is my uncle, Curtis Diles; “Uncle Bud”, as I knew him growing up. As a child I admired him, his laugh and the depth of love he showed his children and his family. My mother’s brother was the man that I wanted as a father; he was a gentle giant in my mind. Always there to ask how things were, to inquire about how things were at home. I still feel his hand on my shoulder, that gentle reassuring little squeeze that let me know he was there. But behind all of that there was something more to this man, something that I would not discover until many years later as I embarked on my journey to obtain a college degree.
As a History Minor I had a set course of studies, which included a semester or two studying the events of World War II. It was through these semesters, a trip to the library and a grab for books that would support my thesis statement that I discovered something about my Uncle Bud; something that would confirm that the man I saw as a hero when I was little was in fact the truest form of the word. For this man, this unassuming, gentle soul was in fact a hero. He was the kind of hero that didn’t make broad statements, proclaim his victories or fly over tall buildings in a single leap, though he was a flyer of sorts it was a subtle flight and it was a dramatic decent that led him to heroism.
You see, my Uncle Bud was a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps after having been drafted in September 1943 at the age of eighteen, an age that we would now consider to be just a baby. But in 1943 times were different, males became “men” earlier in life and they went off to war, they defended this country and their comrades. They were fighters and they were patriots, but not all of them were heroes and though some gave their lives to defend our country, earning the status of “hero” in the process, others came home to teach us by example. My Uncle Bud was one of those, an example and a boy that became a man, a hero and a father in very short order as a Nose Gunner in a B-24 Liberator.
It was on a mission out of his home base in Southern Italy to bomb German Oil Fields, his 17 of 35 total missions, which his B-24 would take a direct hit from the German Anti-Aircraft artillery, forcing its crew to parachute to safety. The safety of terra firma, not the safety of families or even other U. S. troops, for they were escaping a plane that was surely going to crash, all for the uncertainty of what awaited them on the ground that they would eventually rest their weathered jump boots. They had been warned about hostile forces in the area, and more particularly those that may be collaborating with the Germans. With a plane that was doomed to crash there was little choice in the matter for the men aboard that plane, face certain death or hope to elude those that wished to place them into Prisoner of War Camps.
So it was on September 8, 1943 my Uncle Bud was listed as “Missing In Action” by the military. Days later my grandparents would receive that dreaded Western Union telegram which read,
“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Sergeant Curtis Diles Jr., has been reported missing in action since Eight September over Yugoslavia. If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified.”
With this, my grandparents and his brothers and sisters and other family members waited for news, news that he was alive and safe. The oldest son, my grandfather’s namesake was missing and that was all there was to know for times were different then, not everyone had phones, there were not televisions in every home broadcasting the details of the war that raged in Europe, news came slowly in those days the heartache felt by the families as they waited was tantamount to having dental surgery without Novocain. And while his family waited for some encouraging news, to hear their son and brother was alive, this nineteen year-old kid had been rescued by an unlikely group of people.
It was the people that my Uncle Bud had been warned about, the “Serbs”, working under Gen. Draza Mihailovich and The Resistance that would rescue him and keep him from being captured by the Germans. For nearly ten days he would be hidden and protected by this group of Resistance Fighters, they would feed him and provide him with a safe harbor to rest his head and sleep. It would not be long before the unlikely rescuers would contact the United States and arrange for the extraction of the Americans, and that rescue will not include just my Uncle Bud, but hundreds of other Americans that they had saved.
The rescue would not be without risks however, for it required the Airmen that had been shot down to take a dangerous trek through a region that was rife with the enemy forces. There would be no trains, plans or cars to provide these men with transportation to their rendezvous with extraction. They would walk, not a mile or two, but nearly two-hundred treacherous miles, over mountains and through densely wooded areas in frigid temperatures; often times hiding from the enemy and sleeping in barn lofts along the way. The thought of rescue and the hope of their being reunited with their families and other service members far outweighing the ever daunting risk of capture that they faced along the way. Food would be scarce along the way and yet my Uncle Bud and the other Airmen maintained their strength to complete the journey to their rendezvous point.
It would be the Office of Strategic Services, (OSS), having been established just one year prior to my Uncle having been drafted and the precursor to the CIA; that would ultimately lift my Uncle Bud and others to safety. Operation Halyard as it would be known, would ultimately result in the rescue of many Airmen, but it would not have happened had the Serbs and the OSS not worked together to build an airstrip for planes to land on and carry the men back to their base in Italy. It would not have happened had the Resistance Fighters not drawn German Troops away from the American’s hiding places with their own gunfire. Many things came into play to save my Uncle Bud, the help of the Resistance Forces, the charity of Serbian Families and his own tenacity and determination.
Ultimately, Uncle Bud would not go home to The States and spend time with his family like so many others that had been shot down and rescued before and after him. He would receive The Purple Heart and he would continue to fly, as a nose gunner, on many more missions. More importantly he would continue to live out his destiny of being a true American Hero and he would do it with grace, for this was not a choice he made, but what he was born to do, who he was destined to be.
His status as a Hero in my eyes was not based upon his military service, for that knowledge would come much later in my life. He became a Hero to me as I watched him, sitting at my Grandmother’s kitchen table, drinking coffee and watching his wife with eyes that only twinkled with the ultimate “true love”. He was a hero as I watched him with his children, the gentle but loving hand he had with them, the love that he had for his brothers and sisters. It may have been that somewhere, deep inside of him, that there was a sense of gratitude that he was alive; that he survived not only being shot out of the air, but celebrated his rescue by a generous group of people; which in turn fostered his desire to show compassion to others as it was shown to him. Regardless, he could jump tall buildings in a single bound in my eyes; rescue a little girl that was frightened of her own father and show her that there were good men in the world.
He became a Hero to many, including myself, after those days as a member of the Army Air Corps. He was a Hero to my Grandmother that often called him to fix something after my Grandfather had passed away, to his wife, my Aunt Inez, which he gave a wonderful life and together raised amazing children. To his Grandchildren who carry his genetic traits, the embodiments of his life and spirit and to my own Grandson that met him recently for the first time. For it is that sometimes, when you want it the least, when you have no desire to seek it out, your soul and your spirit, your manifest destiny finds you and it guides you to do and be something very special. Uncle Bud is one of those people an American Hero, a Legacy of Honor and Integrity to all those that know him and he will always have that place, that little corner in my heart where I can feel his hand on my shoulder, that gentle little squeeze that tells me he is there and I am safe.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“…He asked that I place the Serbian and American flags side by side. He (Curtis “Bud” Diles) wanted to display his loyalty to both countries.”
Aleksandra’s Note: Curtis Diles, 87, one of last remaining living Halyard Mission American WWII veterans now resides in a nursing home in Ohio. His loving daughter Diane was kind enough to share this amazing photo that he requested be sent to me. These are the images that Curtis “Bud” Diles has chosen to put on his door: A photo of himself as a young man in the American military, an image of the Serbian flag, and an image of the American flag. Diane writes:
“He didn’t like the way I had them positioned initially, and he asked that I place the flags side by side. He wanted to display his loyalty to both countries…He loves the Serbs with every fiber of his being. I have never been around my father when he hasn’t talked about his love and appreciation for Mihailovich and the Serbian people that saved his life. It is because of the Serbs that my dad, his 4 children, his 15 grandchildren, and now 6 (almost 7) great-grandchildren are alive today. For that, we all thank you.”
Curtis “Bud” Diles – one of the “Forgotten 500” and member of the Greatest Generation. Is it any wonder that we want them to live forever?