In memorim: General Mihailovich

IN MEMORIAM: General Draza Mihailovich July 17, 2009

Friday July 17, 2009, marks 63 years since the life of General Draza Mihailovich was taken. To date, there is still no gravesite.

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Dame Rebecca West

The Hero Whom You Gave to History

Has Not His Like in Our Time

“Twenty years after the death of Draza Mihailovich he is undimmed in his glory as a defender of liberty against the Fascist terror, who defended it also against the Communist terror. He had no moment of weakness, nor of bitterness. I know no instance where he reproached those who were guilty of his betrayal.

Twenty years ago I knew he was innocent of all charges against him, and since then I have had many further proofs of his innocence. His abandonment was a crime, and like all crimes it brought no real profit to the criminals.

I loved your nation before the war, I have loved and honoured it more and more as the years have gone by and I have seen that the hero whom you gave to history has not his like in our time.”

Dame Rebecca West to the Serbs
July 8, 1966

*****
Clare Boothe Luce

“The United States must insist on a fair and open trial for General Mihailovich, anti-Red Chetnik hero, now in the hands of the Communist regime of Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia if our future allies are to have any confidence in our pledged word as a nation.

There is no real question about the fact that General Mihailovich took up arms against the German invaders of his country in April, 1941, at a time when Soviet Russia was an ally of National Socialist Germany.

At that time the present dictator of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz, called Tito, was an expatriate, studying in Moscow as a faithful adherent of the Third International – the Comintern – which had adopted the alliance with Hitler’s Germany as an internal program of aggression for mutual benefit.

For two and one half years, during the darkest days of the struggle against Germany, Italy and Japan, Mihailovich, former minister of war in Yugoslavia, fought on our side.

No question was raised as to his loyalty or valor while there was real doubt about the outcome of the war. Only after our victory was seen as to be certain did other elements in Yugoslavia flock to the well-equipped and well-provisioned ranks of Tito, who then began to receive from the United States and Britain all that had been promised – but not delivered – to Mihailovich.

This request has been categorically refused by Tito, whose supporters in the Kremlin now openly demand that all Tito’s claims be ratified without argument.

From every point of view of American law, customs and instinct, these proposals go against the grain. They contravene our basic conception of fair play, honest dealing and of the right of every man accused to be allowed witnesses in his defense.”

The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce

(R) Connecticut
April 20, 1946
*****

Senator Frank J. Lausche

WHY MIHAILOVICH MATTERS

As an American, I bow my head in shame whenever I think of the terribly mistaken policy which led the Allied leaders in World War II to abandon General Draza Mihailovich and throw their support instead to the communist cohorts of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. It was an unbelievable aberration of policy and of justice perpetrated by the Allies.

Mihailovich was the first insurgent in Europe. It was he who raised the flag of resistance to the Nazi occupier – and by his action he inspired the formation of resistance movements in all the subjugated countries.

He resisted the Nazis at the time when the Soviet Union and the communists were still collaborating with them – and his early resistance, by slowing down the Nazi timetable, was probably responsible for preventing the fall of Moscow.

The contributions of Mihailovich to the Allied cause were the subject of tributes by General Eisenhower, General De Gaulle, Field Marshal Lord Alexander, Admiral Harwood, Anthony Eden, President Truman, and, at later date of President Richard Nixon. For example, on August 16, 1942, three top ranking British officers, Admiral Harwood, General Auchinleck, and Air Marshal Tedder, sent the following joint wire to Mihailovich: “With admiration we are following your directed operations which are of inestimable value to the Allied cause.”

Today, no informed person takes seriously the communist charges that Mihailovich collaborated with the Germans, or the proceedings of the communist show trial in Belgrade which resulted in his execution. The communists made the nature of their injustice clear when they announced in advance of the trial, that Mihailovich would be executed after a ‘fair’ trial. And they also made it clear when they refused to take the evidence of the American officers who served with him or of the American airmen who were rescued by him.

Colonel Robert H. McDowell, chief of the last American mission to General Mihailovich, and perhaps the most experienced intelligence officer to serve with either side in Yugoslavia during World War II, took the time after the War to go through the German intelligence files on Yugoslavia. Not only did he find no evidence that Mihailovich collaborated with the Nazis, but he found numerous statements establishing that Hitler feared the Mihailovich movement far more than he feared the Tito movement.

The communists also feared Mihailovich more than they did any other man. And that is why, when they executed him, they disposed of his shattered body in a secret burial place, so that those who followed him and revered him would not be able to come at night to drop tears and flowers on his grave and tenderly offer a few words of prayer in gratitude to General Mihailovich for his heroism and sacrifice.

But despite all of the abuse and all the precautions of the communists, the truth about Mihailovich – now grown to the proportions of a legend – still persists among the Serbian people. Evidence of this is the remarkable article on Mihailovich which Mihajlo Mihajlov wrote for The New Leader, just before Tito’s courts sentenced him to seven years of hard labor in early March of this year.

I think that it is fitting that we in the free world who are aware of the truth should also do everything in our power to set the record straight and to bring about the ultimate vindication before the bar of history – of one of the noblest figures of World War II.

Draza Mihailovich, in addition to being an outstanding soldier and a great national leader, was a man who stood for everything that we in America believe in. He was a true believer in the rights enshrined in our own Declaration of Independence – the right to think and speak and pray in accordance with one’s own religious, political, economic and social beliefs, without government restraint or repression.

…the United States Congress should accede to the petition of the American airmen that they be authorized to erect in Washington with publicly subscribed funds, a monument which they would dedicate, in gratitude, to “General Draza Mihailovich, Savior of American Airmen.”

Beyond this, there is still a larger debt which the free world owes to the memory of General Draza Mihailovich. It is my hope that this debt will some day be replayed in full through the liberation of his people from communist tyranny.

Senator Frank J. Lausche
Washington, D.C.
March 27, 1975
*****

A Thanksgiving Tribute to the Americans
from the General.
An American Officer Remembers…
”As we proceeded out over the Adriatic my mind flashed back to one incident which will always have great meaning for me. Before I was leaving for my tour of Serbia, the Minister [General Mihailovich] had expressed a desire to do something to honor America saying “Here we have Slava, the day of our patron saint. What is America’s slava? ”

I thought for a moment and said, ‘We have four great days, Christmas, New Year, Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Christmas we love because it is the day of Christ. New Years we enjoy because we look with hope to it, but on its Eve we celebrate, sometimes not too wisely but too well, and often the day itself finds us with aching heads. Independence day would be wonderful except for the sadness of sacrifice and mourning that sweeps the South from the cause of our Civil War. Thanksgiving is our day, our Slava, because that day we give Thanks to God for our founding Fathers and the beginning of our country and freedom.’

Mihailovich replied, ‘Good, we would honor America and on the Eve of that day each mountaintop of Serbia will have a fire lighted by our peasants.’

On Thanksgiving Eve, three Americans standing in a tiny village high in the Serbian mountains, saw a huge fiery “A” come into being. Then another, and one after the other fires appeared until eleven peaks were outlined.

This I remember. A magnificent tribute to America from a truly great man.”

Colonel Albert B. Seitz
American Liaison Officer
with General Mihailovich

Mr. Jibilian remained behind. The rescue scenario was repeated several times until the last of the airmen under Gen. Mihailovich’s protection –512 in all — were evacuated on Dec. 27.

“We asked Mihailovich to come out with us,” Mr. Jibilian said. “In fact, we begged him. He said no. ‘I’m a soldier, this is my country,’ he said.”

Posthumous award

Gen. Mihailovich was captured by the Partisans and accused of collaboration with the Nazis. After a show trial, he was executed on July 17, 1946.

The airmen he’d rescued and members of the OSS vigorously protested the arrest, demanding the right to testify at his trial. But Tito refused, and the State Department offered no help.

Art Jibilian was one of the few OSS members to work with both the Partisans and the Chetniks.

“Having spent two months with the forces of Marshal Tito, and six months with Mihailovich, the contrast was amazing,” he said. “The Partisans shadowed us, never leaving us alone with the villagers. They were always tense, and the villagers seemed ill at ease in their presence.

“On a few occasions we were able to shake our guard and talk to the people,” he said. “One question they always asked us is ‘Why are the Americans backing the Partisans?’ ”

“It was night and day between the two,” Mr. Jibilian said. “When we were in Mihailovich territory, we were free to go wherever we wanted, talk to anyone we wanted. It was clear the villagers loved Mihailovich.”

The official silence about Gen. Mihailovich continued because the State Department was trying to woo Tito from allegiance to the Soviet bloc. Mr. Churchill later told a Belgian newspaper his handling of Yugoslavia was his biggest mistake during the war.

At the insistence of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, President Harry S. Truman in 1948 awarded the Legion of Merit, the highest award the United States can give to a foreigner, to Gen. Mihailovich posthumously. But the award remained secret until 1967, when former U.S. Rep. Edward Derwinski of Illinois demanded it be made public.

In 2005, a delegation including Mr. Jibilian and Mr. Vujnovich went to Belgrade to present the Legion of Merit to Gen. Mihailovich’s daughter, Gordana.

Originally scheduled as a public event with media coverage, the medal presentation was changed to a small affair in a private home, attended by no representatives from the U.S. embassy in Belgrade.

“Embassy personnel told us they couldn’t do anything because the State Department wouldn’t allow them,” Mr. Vujnovich said.

But the historical record was corrected two years ago with the publication of Mr. Freeman’s book.

“I first became aware of this during the conflict in Bosnia,” Mr. Freeman told the Post-Gazette.

“The story was amazing, and so was the fact that it had hardly been told, But I didn’t want to tell it in the context of the violence that was going on then, so I put the project off for five years.”

*****

Jack Kelly can be reached at jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.

Jack Kelly writes a nationally syndicated column, chiefly on national security issues, and covers fitness for the Post-Gazette’s health section. He is a former Marine, Green Beret, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.

 

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