Art Jibilian: A Hero to us all // The Toledo Blade
THE TOLEDO BLADE
March 30, 2010
A HERO TO US ALL
ART “Jibby” Jibilian was a hero whose World War II exploits were buried in the mark of global politics. In recent years, details have emerged of the daring, behind-enemy-lines rescue of hundreds of downed Allied airmen in which he played a prominent role. These details make clear that Mr. Jibilian, who died this month at 86, was indeed one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation.
The Toledo native was a 20-year-old Navy radioman when he volunteered for the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. His mission was to parachute with two others into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia to coordinate the rescue of downed U.S. airmen.
What began as a quick strike to extract a few airmen hiding among Serbian villagers and royalist guerillas turned into the stuff of Hollywood. It included narrow escapes from Nazi forces in occupied Yugoslavia, the aid of resistance fighters under command of a charismatic leader, and a massive airlift using a temporary airstrip carved by hand out of a mountain plateau under cover provided by the famed Tuskegee Airmen. In all, more than 500 pilots and crew were saved as a result of “Operation Halyard.”
That all this derring-do did not end up the silver screen was largely the result of politics. The resistance fighters aiding the Americans were called the Chetniks, who began the war as Yugoslav royalists but had developed into Serbian nationalists.
The Allies, however, had thrown their lot in with a rival group, the Communist Partisans. Mr. Jibilian and other Americans who had come to respect the Chetniks were ordered to keep their stories to themselves.
More than six decades later, their story was told by Gregory Freeman in his 2007 book, The Forgotten 500. Friends, neighbors, and coworkers were amazed to discover the hero in their midst, but that often is the case with members of the Greatest Generation.
America’s World War II heroes are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day. Before many decades, they all will be gone, many with their stories untold. But, Mr. Jibilian’s story did not die with him, and for that we are thankful.
Although he didn’t live to receive the Medal of Honor for which he was nominated last year, he did live long enough for a grateful nation to thank him in person for his service and sacrifice.
Milana “Mim” Bizic successfully confronts mistake made in Jibilian obituary
Below you will find a fine example of how a citizen can make a difference. After you read Milana Bizic’s published “Letter to the Editor”, you will find that the newspaper corrected its original headline to read the way it should have from the beginning. Thank you to Milana Bizic for her vigilance.
Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I thank Jack Kelly for his March 23 obituary on America’s hero, Arthur Jibilian, the World War II Office of Strategic Services radioman who worked with Gen. Draza Mihailovich and the Serbs to save 500-plus U.S. airmen from behind German-occupied lines in Serbia.
I object, however, to the headline on that article, “Art Jibilian: Part of WWII Team That Rescued Airmen in Nazi Yugoslavia.” There is a huge difference between “Nazi Yugoslavia,” as the headline blared, and “Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia.”
Bill David, an Ohio pilot, was in the Boston airport when he learned of “Jibby’s” passing. He wrote this in an e-mail to me:
“Art and his fellow soldiers were honest-to-God real live American heroes, the kind that you would read about in comic books. Over 500 lives were saved during WWII and nobody knows about it. The guys they rescued went on to live their lives, father families, build careers, help make America great. Nobody knows of all of this.
“This is not the news of the day. We as a nation are worse off because of it. It disconnects us from our gallant values and what made us great as a country in the first place.
“Tiger Woods will take center stage for his indiscretions. That is the kind of stuff that is important to us now. Everybody knows who Tiger and Paris are, but nobody knows who Draza Mihailovich was and what he and the Serbian people did for our country, the sacrifices they made so that our boys could live.”
Perhaps if Americans did know, this wouldn’t have been written on the 11th anniversary of the illegal bombing of Serbia by NATO forces.
MILANA (MIM) KARLO BIZIC
Obituary: Art Jibilian / Part of WWII team that rescued airmen in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia
Died March 21, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
During World War II, Art Jibilian was part of a three-man special operations team that helped rescue 513 Allied airmen from Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia.
Mr. Jibilian died Sunday of leukemia at his home in Fremont, Ohio. He was 86.
Mr. Jibilian was the radio operator on the team, which was led by Ambridge native George Vujnovich. The team was dispatched from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA, which joined forces with Gen. Draza Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrillas. The third member of the team was Johnstown native George Musulin, who played tackle on the University of Pittsburgh’s 1936 Rose Bowl team.
The story of Operation Halyard, the greatest rescue of downed American airmen in World War II, was told in the Post-Gazette July 31, 2009. It was hushed up for decades because it was Allied policy to support Josip Tito in his struggle with Gen. Mihailovich, a royalist, over the shape of postwar Yugoslavia. The State Department had even opposed undertaking the rescue mission.
Mr. Jibilian, Mr. Vujnovich and Mr. Musulin and many of the pilots Gen. Mihailovich rescued tried for many years to right what they considered a historical wrong. Even while battling cancer, Mr. Jibilian traveled around the country to speak about the injustice he said was done to Gen. Mihailovich.
Rep. Del Latta, R-Ohio, last summer introduced a resolution calling for awarding the Medal of Honor to Mr. Jibilian for his service in Yugoslavia. That resolution is pending before the House Armed Services Committee.
A spokesman for Mr. Latta said Monday the congressman will press to have the award made posthumously.
Arthur Jibilian WTOL Toledo
WTOL Toledo / “Family and Friends Celebrate Life of Arthur Jibilian”
Aleksandra’s Note: I had the great fortune, ironically due to unfortunate circumstances, of becoming acquainted with Debi Jibilian, Arthur’s only daughter, in July of 2008. Early one morning, I received a voice mail message from her, where she identified who she was then proceeded to tell me that I needed to call her as soon as possible. It was one of those voice mails where you instinctively know it’s not going to be “good news”.
I called as soon as I heard the message, and sure enough, it was bad news. Her Daddy had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, leukemia, and the prognosis on July 1, 2008 was that he would be gone within weeks. Two weeks to live, I remember her telling me. My head spun. Impossible. Not Arthur. Not my friend, with whom I had been in virtually constant contact with since September of 2004. I know that people die, I remember thinking, but not people like Arthur Jibilian.
That was July of 2008. I asked Debi if Arthur was accepting visitors. She said yes. I told her I was going to plan on coming out to visit them in September of 2008, to meet him “live and in person”, to visit with him, before he left us. Our contact thus far had been via postal and electronic mail. We’d never met “live”. She told me that September would be too late. He would be gone by that time.
He lived another 20 months, almost two years, since that July 1, 2008 diagnosis. And what an amazing 20 months it was. He defied all the odds. Arthur in his 80’s was every bit the odd defier that he had been as Arthur in his 20’s in WWII. The richness of his life, all that he did and all that he achieved from July 1, 2008 to March 21, 2010 will forever remain an inspiration to me as to what a person can do, no matter what their affliction, no matter what their age, if they really want to. Arthur Jibilian had a reason to live.
Anybody who thinks the Jibilian “Medal of Honor” campaign is over now that “Jibby” is gone, and who thinks that the Halyard Mission, having lost one of its most essential protagonists, will be relegated to the hidden corners of history once again, has never met his daughter Debi.
My thanks to her and her mother Jo, for being so giving toward Arthur’s friends and for sharing their loss with all of us and allowing all of us to share it with them.
Toledo, Ohio’s Channel 11
WTOL Toledo Channel 11 “Family and Friends Celebrate Life of Arthur Jibilian”
Family, friends celebrate life of Arthur Jibilian
Posted: Mar 28, 2010 5:28 AM CDT
By Mika Highsmith
TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) – Family and friends celebrated the life of Arthur “Jibby” Jibilian Saturday in Fremont, one week after he lost his battle to cancer. Jibby, also known as the “radio man,” helped rescue hundreds of airmen during Operation Halyard during World War II.
“There are his medals,” said Debi Jibilian, Arthur’s daughter, while showing off her dad’s awards. “He has a silver star on top, and he’s a Navy guy that got it, which is unusual in itself.”
Jibilian was an American hero who helped rescue more than 500 downed fighter pilots from behind enemy lines 65 years ago during WWII. He’d been nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given in the military, and his family wants to make sure he gets it.
“I really believe at this point that there are so many politics involved, I don’t know if it will ever come through,” Debi said. “The only reason that the medal is so important is that it will lend credibility to the fight to clear Mihalovich. That’s all daddy wanted the medal for. He wants Mihalovch’s name cleared and the Serbian people recognized.”
Arthur “Jibby” Jibilian’s Final Interview / March 17, 2010 WPRR “Foreign Policy and You”
My sincere gratitude to Mr. Jose Amoros for sharing this radio interview which he conducted with Arthur Jibilian and “The Forgotten 500” author Gregory A. Freeman on March 17, 2010. Mr. Jibilian passed away four days later, on Sunday March 21, 2010.
It was Arthur Jibilian’s last.
From Host and Executive Editor
Foreign Policy and You
José A. Amorós
“I met Mr. Jibilian over a year ago during a visit of his to Grand Rapids, MI. He spoke before the Michigan Company of Military Historians and Collectors.
During that time, as during his recent on the air interview in my radio program Foreign Policy and You, I met with a man with one of the most gentle smiles I have ever seen.
By the way he told the story of Operation Halyard, in which he was instrumental, you would think that he was talking about going camping, with just a little bit of excitement on the side. Never did he give any indication of boasting or bringing attention to himself as he could have done. The word “we” drowned by overwhelming preponderance any allusions to “I”.
The daring-do mission of the rescue of Allied airman in enemy territory, by the Halyard Mission, had all the makings of an epic of the best kinds. Although it would make a great book or film, it was no fiction. The strafing by German aircraft, the risk of being killed during the airdrop, the chances of being caught and tortured by the Gestapo were all too real.
Volunteering for such a mission to save the lives of others at the risk of his own life was “above and beyond the call of duty.” Mr. Jibilian did not receive the honors he deserved while living. Politics got in the way, geopolitics, that is. Our government and our allies decided at one point that it was more expedient to keep that historical event of WWII under covers. It is still not too late.
It was my honor to have conducted his last public interview.”
José A. Amorós
Foreign Policy and You
Host & Executive Editor
Washington & Marshall Institute
March 23, 2010
Arthur Jibilian’s Last Interview March 17, 2010 WPRR
Arthur Jibilian in 2009 / News-Messenger Photo
Local WWII hero Jibilian dies of cancer // The News-Messenger
BY MATT MANNING • Staff writer • March 23, 2010
FREMONT — A local war hero and lone surviving member of 1944’s Operation Halyard has died.
Art Jibilian, 86, has been battling leukemia since July 2008. He died Sunday afternoon.
Jibilian, a radio operator, was nominated for the military’s highest honor for his actions during five months in 1944, helping to rescue hundreds of people from a German-occupied area in Serbia.
Jibilian was one of three Office of Strategic Services agents who parachuted into central Serbia in August 1944 to rescue what he thought was 50 downed airmen.
“We didn’t find 50,” Jibilian would later say. “We found 250.”
Over the next six months, Jibilian constructed a landing strip and coordinated evacuation flights and medical help at night as the people in the Serbian village housed and protected the soldiers under the leadership of Drazha Mihailovich — leader of the Royal Yugoslav Army.
His daughter, Debi Jibilian, said the family plans an event Saturday in Fremont, though funeral plans have not been set.
“It’s going to be a celebration of his life,” Debi Jibilian said. “This is his home, and this is where it’ll be.”
Debi said her father lived for 18 months after doctors said he had two weeks left.
Instead of battling for his life, he fought to clear the name of a man who helped save him and his fellow colleagues in the mission — Drazha Mihailovich. Jibilian revisited Serbia on several occasions, speaking to crowds and praising Mihailovich, who had been labeled as a “collaborator” with Nazis and was executed.
The mission was documented in Gregory A. Freeman’s 2007 book, “The Forgotten 500.”
“With the passing of Arthur Jibilian, our country has lost a true American hero,” Freeman wrote in a statement to The News-Messenger. “Arthur’s brave work in rescuing downed American airmen in World War II must never be forgotten, and I am honored to have known him.
“He was the quintessential American hero — humble, modest, quietly proud, but ferocious in seeking justice.”
Jibilian was set to received the Golden Deeds Award on April 17 from the Exchange Club of Fremont.
He received a congressional honor for his duty in 2008 from U.S. Rep. Bob Latta. Latta on Monday gave a speech on the floor of Congress to honor Jibilian.
“They have yet to receive a military/government recognition for their actions,” Latta said. “I will continue to work on this legislation to honor this exceptional American with the recognition he deserves.”
Freeman said “The Forgotten 500” has been optioned for a motion picture by Dana Maksimovich, who co-produced Oscar winner “Crash” and “In the Valley of Elah.”
“We’re excited about the prospects of seeing ‘The Forgotten 500,’ on the big screen,” Freeman said.
Jibilian also was a strong supporter of making a major film about the WWII story.
“Me and Jibby” – Sam Subotich remembers his friend “Uncle Arthur” Jibilian and the Quest for Truth and Justice
Aleksandra’s Note: I know I’m definitely biased, but that’s okay. I’ve had the great fortune of becoming acquainted with many Serbs in America who reflect the very best virtues of Serbdom. This is the story of one such Serbian gentleman who was born in the United States. If you are looking for a dedicated, giving, patriotic, passionate Serb with a huge heart, and that heart in the right place, you need look no further than Sam “Savo” Subotich of Michigan.
Thank you, Sam, for this wonderful account of your friendship with our mutual friend “Arthur” who has left us both enriched and inspired to continue the quest for truth and justice.
Well, how do I begin? My father, Bozidar (“Robert”) Subotich was in the U.S. Navy in WWII and always talked about General Mihailovich and the gallant Chetniks. He saved many articles, bought books, and, in general, was always looking for answers as to the truth of what really happened back in his country of birth. He instilled that in me, and there started my lifelong quest for answers.
When the communists took control of Yugoslavia after WWII, their lies never seemed to end. I was mystified. These lies continued on all fronts. One prime example was the 1978 movie “Force 10 from Navarone” starring Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford and Richard Kiel. This movie was based on a book by Alistair MacLean. It showed the “collaborationist Chetniks” as being under German control and led by “General Drazak” (note the “k”) portrayed by Richard Kiel (aka: “Jaws” from the James Bond movies), and this really boiled my blood, as this movie even portrayed Chetniks killing American airmen! How could this lie be allowed?!
The “Freedom of Information Act” and the release of previously classified information regarding General Mihailovich’s Legion of Merit Medal, which was posthumously awarded him in 1948 by President Truman, along with the continued outreach by the rescued airmen of “Operation Halyard”, especially Major Richard L. Felman, whom I was proud to call my friend, fueled and aided my quest. It wasn’t until Aleksandra Rebic and her father had an outstanding event in April 1993, at the Congress Hotel in Chicago to honor the 100th birthday of General Mihailovich, that my quest gained a permanent foothold. This is when I knew it was going to be a lifelong goal to pursue the truth and make it known. Even historians with Masters Degrees are not aware of the “Halyard Mission”, the remarkable event in our history which was the essence of this quest for truth and justice. Since then, I have written hundreds of letters to various groups, politicians, and publications in support of the truth and to inspire the establishment of a monument to General Mihailovich in Washington D.C. as a reflection of American gratitude for all that Mihailovich did for the Allies in WWII. The late Senator Strom Thurmond was one of our Senators who really gave his support to the House Bill which was initiated on behalf of this effort, only to be told “No, we already have too many statues.” Bills were initiated on behalf of this cause in both the House and the Senate, but the effort never came to fruition due to “political considerations”.
It was really in these times that I sought out my heroes such as Major Richard L. Felman, Captain Nick Lalich, local Ravna Gora Chetniks, and especially OSS radio man Arthur “Jibby” Jibilian who lived in nearby Fremont, Ohio. Though Art did not attend the Chicago celebration, I knew that nothing was going to stop me from meeting him and welcoming him to the Serbian community here in America. Arthur had a story to tell, and I was going to make sure it was told. So, in the spring of 1993, Art and I corresponded via letters and telephone calls numerous times, but it wasn’t until we met several times at my sister’s restaurant, “Tommy’s”, in nearby Sylvania,Ohio with his lovely wife Jo, that this smiling, gentle man, and my American hero, would be embedded in my heart forever. Later, I know I was in his heart too, as he presented me with 2 gold coins that he received during his trip to Serbia in 2005 to honor General Mihailovich. It was then that they presented the General’s daughter “Gordana” with the “Legion of Merit” Medal that had been awared to General Mihailovich posthumously and “secretly” in 1948. Unfortunately, influenced by our State Department, there was little media attention given to this historical event in 2005 as they did not want to compromise the current talks on Kosovo.
My wife Susan, who is Armenian like Arthur, has a grandmother who knew the Jibilians and thinks her sister dated Art. Grandma is 97 years old. It was then that our Serbian-Armenian ties got even stronger, and the man I had called “Jibby” became “Uncle Arthur”. Both he and his wife “Aunt Jo” said they liked these terms, as neither of them had siblings with children so as to be called Uncle and Aunt, so it stuck. “With pride,” I may add.
During these “early years” in our friendship, I told Arthur about the Tuskegee Airmen and their contributions to the Halyard Mission Rescue Operation in 1944 Yugoslavia. I also met with one of them, Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, author of “Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free”. As a WWII P-51 pilot, Lt. Col. Jefferson was not even aware of the extent of these escort missions, or their assistance in the massive evacuations conducted by the Serbs loyal to General Mihailovich.
Through the years, Uncle Arthur and I would send each other numerous articles. Occasionally, he would send me a Serbian letter for my family to translate. What I cherished most was his photo collection. He would take the time and care to make copies of his photos for me and wrote a narrative on each before mailing them. Many of these had never been made “public” before. I had dreams of writing a book that would include these special photographs, or at least presenting them to the Smithsonian Institute. Thank God, Gregory Freeman wrote “The Forgotten 500”, and it was published in 2007, as this was one of the best things that ever happened for the recognition of the Halyard Mission, next to Arthur!
I wrote about Uncle Arthur to both of our church publications and wrote to numerous historical societies, aviation groups and magazines with limited success. Most of the politicians I wrote to responded quite similarly with, “Thank you for your letters, as we are all for helping our Vets.” It was the Serbian community who really supported, and fell in love with Arthur. Our “Jibilian Legions” grew through the years, but I would like to especially thank two of them: Aleksandra Rebic and Mim Bizic, who are relentless and tireless in their efforts to make the truth known. Their Web sites and persistence are surpassed by none, and every Serbian alive should be grateful they are writing for us. They are my friends, and I love them. Please visit their web sites: www.generalmihailovich.com and http://www.babamim.com/.
One of the biggest highs and also the biggest lows for “Me and Jibby” was in July 2005, when I met Lt. Col. Oliver North at the USS Indianapolis (CA35) reunion. I told him all about the Halyard Mission, Uncle Arthur’s photo collection and his documentations. Lt. Col. North not only contacted Arthur but flew him and a couple of other rescued airmen to the FOX studios in New York to film a documentary segment to be aired on his famous TV show: “Oliver North’s War Stories”. Could this be our big break? We got word of the date that the show would air. How exciting! Both “Uncle Arthur” and I told everyone we could think of! Friends, family, historical groups, etc… As we set our recorders and watched with eager excitement and anticipation, nothing about the Halyard Mission was presented. Art was bitterly disappointed. They said it was a “scheduling problem”, and that the Halyard Mission presentation would possibly be shown that fall. It never was. My guess was that Lt. Col. North was just following the State Department’s wishes like a good soldier…
One of my favorite memories of Uncle Arthur was on Flag Day, June 14th, 2008, at Ohio’s Metcalf Field near Toledo. The Toledo chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the Yankee Air Force, (of whom I’m a life member #2151WR), honored our dear Arthur with a fly-in aboard our beautifully restored B-17 bomber called “Yankee Lady”. With honor guards present and 512 American Flags on the ground for each of “Halyard’s” rescued American airmen who were evacuated from Yugoslavia in 1944, a fitting tribute was given to Arthur with speeches and awards. This beautiful sunny day will live with me forever, as family and friends honored Arthur and the Halyard Mission. Too bad the Yankee Air Force did not see fit to publish an account of this event in their newsletter, but we are all used to that… This was also the first time I met my friend Milana Bizic, the lovely lady known “Baba Mim”, in person!
As letters turned into emails, Uncle Arthur and I continued our mutual fight to honor General Draza Mihailovich. In 2009, in one of the great highlights of his long, incredible life, Arthur Jibilian was nominated for the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor, and we were ecstatic! As Art would often say: “Sam, this is not about me; this is about General Mihailovich and the Serbian people, and if I can get the Congressional Medal of Honor, think of the weight this would bring, although I must admit, I am absolutely thrilled to have even been nominated.” Arthur died on March 21, 2010 with the quest for the medal still pending…
I’m proud of Uncle Arthur for all his efforts and persistence to promote his story and this EPIC adventure called The Halyard Mission. Whether he was speaking at VFW halls, American Legion halls, Air Shows, Reunions, Parades, Radio Shows or the many Veteran events that he participated in, he spoke eloquently, first hand, and always with a smile. I will really miss all his emails informing me of his latest quests, yet, aside from his family and us, his friends, it is the proponents of the Halyard Mission and the Serbian people who will really feel the loss.
May God Rest Your Soul Uncle Arthur! Your life’s work is done and you can be proud. You have my promise that your “Jibilian Legions” will carry on your gallant fight for justice!
Sam “Savo” Subotich
April 24, 2010