“MIHAILOVICH and I” by Major Richard L. Felman, U.S.A.F. / A True Story
Aleksandra’s Note: The following memoir was written in 1964 by Major Richard L. Felman of the United States Air Force. It is his personal true story of his extraordinary experiences during World War Two. It is also the story of the great Serbian patriot and Western Ally General Draza Mihailovich and the Serbs who saved the lives of over 500 Americans who were shot down over Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia in 1944. In honor of Memorial Day 2011 it’s worthwhile to revisit this moment in history. As much as his story honors the Americans and other Allies with whom he lived through this unforgettable WWII experience, Major Felman’s story equally honors those patriots on the ground in the former Yugoslavia, the Chetniks, who made this story possible. Richard Felman never forgot his debt of gratitude. His memoir, “Mihailovich and I”, is a tribute that will remain a timeless repayment of that debt and a powerful reminder of what it means to be a true Ally.
MIHAILOVICH AND I
By Major Richard L. Felman, U.S.A.F.
This is an eye-witness, factual, now-it-can-be-told story. While it is of important historical significance, it is also a simple story. Its importance lies in the betrayal of World War Two’s greatest unsung hero; a man that history will record as being responsible for the turning point in the greatest destructive war mankind has ever known. Its simplicity lies in the association of an inconsequential soldier with this man of history and of his attempts to repay a long outstanding, but never-to-be repaid, debt.
On April 6th, 1941 the savage hordes of the Nazi juggernaut invaded Yugoslavia. Its beloved King, Peter the Second, was smuggled out of the country in the black of night and set up an exile government in London. Its poorly equipped army could do very little against the mighty Wehrmacht Panzer divisions. Within a matter of days the Beast of Berlin added another country to its infamous list. Another country, perhaps, but not another people; for remaining behind was Peter’s Minister of War and Commander in Chief, General Draza Mihailovich. Mihailovich quickly assembled his make-shift, slingshot army and retreated to the hills. The first, and by far, most effective guerrilla leader of World War Two had begun operations. In no time, reports coming out of Yugoslavia related of his many heroic raids on German garrisons, acts of harassment, sabotage, etc. Ever since September 1939 when Hitler overran Poland no country or people had been able to offer anything more than token resistance to the onrushing Nazi steamroller. Suddenly, the Allied world had reason to hope and to question the invincibility of this indestructible force. Here was the Twentieth Century version of David and Goliath. Newspapers screamed headlines of Mihailovich and his brave band of Chetniks. Hollywood produced a motion picture of their courageous guerrilla activities. TIME Magazine ran a cover story on Draza Mihailovich on May 25, 1942. Even kids switched from “cowboys and Indians” to playing “Chetniks”. Everywhere, freedom loving people sang out his name hopefully, with renewed strength, in a darkened world.
On July 17th, 1946 a beaten, tired Mihailovich stood before a firing squad of the Federated People’s Republic of Yugoslavia and was executed as a “war collaborator”.
His grateful followers during the war years were shocked. Newspapers, commentators and historians were just as vociferous in their revulsion as they had been in his support. Indignant people throughout the freedom-loving world were asking: “What happened during the intervening years? Is this the same man who fought so gallantly for our cause and gave us our first ray of Hope?” To add to their confusion, top German staff officers admitted that Mihailovich had caused so much embarrassing harassment to the invincible Nazi machine that Hitler transferred 4 Panzer divisions from the Russian front to wipe him out at all costs. These same divisions, they claimed, spelled the difference in the balance of power on the Russian front and changed the tide of the war. Could this be his reward? What weird and distorted mechanisms of international intrigue permit a tragedy of this nature?
While I lay no claim to being a master of global politics, I do have the right to speak out the truth as I saw it and lived it. As an average American citizen I consider myself most fortunate in having been so closely related to this most important part of history and to the man responsible for it. Little did I realize when I saw the movie “The Chetniks” in 1943 that the real life hero portrayed in the film would be saving my life one year later, or that his Commander-in-Chief, King Peter, would personally decorate me with the Royal Order of Ravna Gora, Yugoslavia’s highest military decoration.