Friday, February 20, 2015

Heroism, Adventure, and Treachery: A Brief Review of "The Forgotten 500”

Gregory A. Freeman has performed an important service by writing a truly unique history.  It is a captivating, critical story that has inexplicably gone without herald, a story that features heroic Allied airmen, daring OSS agents, and Serbian freedom-fighters that have gone sadly unsung.  The book, published in 2007, is The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II.

It is a book that will illuminate, inspire…and, I'm afraid, infuriate you.  And I could not recommend it more highly.

The Forgotten 500 is the story of Operation Halyard, the monumentally daring and resourceful rescue of 512 Allied airmen downed behind enemy lines.  It is a story of adventure, courage, and dedication to liberty.  But it is also a story of cowardice and moral blindness on the part of government officials who were duped by Communist disinformation, made even uglier by subsequent conspiracies, cover-ups, and the failure to publicly recognize one of World War II’s most principled heroes.

It is this ignoble record of American and British duplicity (with special emphasis on the shameful lack of integrity demonstrated by the U.S. State Department) that is why you have likely never heard of this magnificent story.

The rescue was required because of Allied bombers (mostly American) being
shot down over Nazi-controlled Yugoslavia as they returned from unloading on the refineries and factories providing critical support for the German war machine in Romania.  Miraculously, hundreds from these aircrews were able to parachute out of the doomed planes and, with the brave and sacrificial help from freedom-loving Serbs on the ground, survived the frightening, bitter ordeals afterward.

But these men were far behind enemy lines in rugged and impoverished country, threatened constantly by enemy troops who were viciously vindictive towards anyone who provided even basic humanitarian assistance to the Allies.  The only way out was by airplane – lots of airplanes – and for many reasons, that seemed absolutely impossible.

But it was done.

To learn how they pulled it off is, of course, the obvious reason you’ll want to read The Forgotten 500.  But you’ll soon discover several other reasons too that make you very glad you ordered this thrilling 312-page history.

Among those reasons?  Harrowing personal stories of the young men who had to jump into the dark unknown from their crippled bombers.  Testimonies of challenge and endurance and sacrificial compassion on the part of the Serbian people who protected the young airmen. The role of the OSS, especially the intrepid efforts of heroes you’ve not yet heard of but whom you’ll not soon forget.  The incredible tactics used to facilitate the rescue.  And finally, the story of how General Draza Mihailovich (pictured above) was treacherously betrayed first by the Communist thug, Josip Broz Tito, and then by the highest officials from the governments of Great Britain and the United States.

And, believe me, that story is as riveting and important to the challenge we face today as any you’ll read in this careful history.

Best-selling author Gregg Olsen calls The Forgotten 500 “a literary and journalistic achievement of the highest order, a book that illuminates, thrills, and reminds us that heroes sometimes do live among us.  It will take your breath away.”  I completely agree.

Order your copy soon.

Postscript: I must tell you that I was alerted to this book through one of the airmen who was actually involved. Bernie Merwald was a brave and conscientious man who served in the Army Air Corps and was serving in one of the B-24s shot down over Yugoslavia. Claire and I met Bernie when presenting a "When Swing Was King" program at Brookstone Village back in October and, in conversation before the show, we talked of his wartime experiences and he told us about this book. We immediately ordered it and, when we returned for the November program, he wrote his autograph on the front page. We were moved and deeply honored at Bernie's graciousness, he and his wife's delight in the "When Swing Was King" program, and their kindness in talking so long with us on those two occasions.

Bernie Merwald passed away on January 2nd.

Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo.