Forgotten WWII vets to get their due at UT
Homecoming event to fete alumni heroes
The Toledo Blade
By MEGHAN GILBERT-CUNNINGHAM
BLADE STAFF WRITER
OCTOBER 9, 2009
Art Jibilian has been an American hero since 1944, but until recently he’s lived his life in northwest Ohio without any recognition.
The University of Toledo alumnus is now getting the kudos he deserves and is drawing attention to a misrepresented part of World War II history.
Mr. Jibilian, 86, born and raised in Toledo and now living in Fremont, was nominated by Rep. Bob Latta in July for the nation’s highest military award – the Medal of Honor – for his part in rescuing more than 500 downed Allied airmen in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia.
This weekend, he will be honored locally as a featured guest at UT’s homecoming festivities, “Homecoming of Heroes.”
“This has been one hectic year for me. So much has happened. I’ve been on a ride, so to speak,” Mr. Jibilian said. “This has been just a roller coaster, and then to come to the homecoming of heroes, that was just another loop in the roller coaster.”
Along with Mr. Jibilian, UT is recognizing Harold Brown of Columbus, who flew with the famous Tuskegee Airmen as the first black U.S. military pilots and crew to fly combat missions.
The Tuskegee Airmen provided the air cover needed for Mr. Jibilian, a radio operator during the war, and others to rescue what turned out to be 513 airmen in “Operation Halyard.”
The successful rescue mission was kept quiet because of political affiliations in World War II and a civil war in Yugoslavia.
Gen. Draza Mihailovich, the leader of the Chetnik guerillas in wartime Yogoslavia, and his men helped the downed American fliers until they could be rescued.
“I always emphasize that the Americans have no concept what this cost the Serbian people,” he said then. “The land had been raped by the Germans and ravaged by the civil war. They didn’t have two nickels to rub together and to feed all these Americans, many of them wounded, was a terrible hardship on them.”
General Mihailovich later was captured by the Partisans, accused of collaboration with the Nazis, and executed.
Mr. Jibilian has tried for the 60 years since to change history to accurately portray General Mihailovich as the man who helped so many Americans who fought against the Nazis.
Now his voice is being heard, in large part because the 2007 publication of Gregory Freeman’s book, The Forgotten 500, was a big step in correcting the historical record.
“I don’t have to push it anymore, it’s got its own momentum going,” Mr. Jibilian said. “We’re on the road now for justice to be done, and if it’s possible to change history by clearing his name, I think we will.”
Mr. Jibilian had attended UT for a year before joining the military. When his service was over, he returned and went back to school where he met his wife, Jo, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1951.
Students pick the homecoming theme each year to honor alumni like Mr. Jibilian, and the hero honors were really embraced by the UT community, said Dan Saevig, associate vice president of alumni relations and executive director of the UT Alumni Association.
“I want them to walk away from this evening feeling proud to be associated with the University of Toledo,” he said. “And most importantly, I want the folks in attendance to be proud of what they accomplished, as most Americans should be.”
There will be 513 flags outside the Student Union during the homecoming gala this evening to represent those rescued by Mr. Jibilian.
He and Mr. Brown also will lead the annual homecoming parade that starts at 2 p.m. tomorrow.
While Mr. Brown, 85, arrived overseas a month too late to participate in Operation Halyard, he served during the war and stayed in the military for 23 years.
He said it’s fantastic that the university is honoring them as veterans.
“I think it’s all well-deserved because these guys are putting their life on the line,” he said. “And anything anyone can do to recognize it and say thank you is a wonderful thing.”
Contact Meghan Gilbert-Cunningham