Feature

George Vujnovich, 1915–2012

The mastermind of a daring World War II rescue

To his neighbors in New York City, George Vujnovich was a mild-mannered businessman in the aircraft industry. He never spoke, even to his closest friends, about his secret role in organizing Operation Halyard—the daring World War II rescue of more than 500 Allied airmen from Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. “There was a strict rule in the [Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA] not to talk about these things,” he said. But in October 2010, Vujnovich finally broke six decades of silence after being awarded a Bronze Star for his military service. “Better now than never,” he said.

Born in Pittsburgh to Serbian immigrant parents, Vujnovich was studying medicine in Belgrade when the Germans overran Yugoslavia in 1941. He fled to Egypt and soon joined the U.S. Army, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Spotting his experience and language skills, the O.S.S. recruited him to help organize resistance forces in the Balkans. While stationed in Bari, Italy, he learned that Yugoslavian guerrillas were sheltering hundreds of Allied airmen shot down during bombing missions and began plotting an audacious rescue mission. In August 1944, a three-man O.S.S. team—taught by Vujnovich how to blend in with the local population—parachuted into Serbia and helped the airmen and villagers carve a 700-foot-long landing strip in the mountainous terrain. 

The mission “proved flawless,” said The New York Times. A total of 512 airmen, most of them Americans, were airlifted to safety from under the Nazis’ noses, without a single casualty or lost plane. “We owe Vujnovich big-time,” said Charles L. Davis III, a former U.S. bombardier navigator rescued during the operation. 

Recommended

10 things you need to know today: June 22, 2021
Ebrahim Raisi
Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 22, 2021

Philippines' Duterte warns he'll jail people who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on a visit to China.
that's one idea

Philippines' Duterte warns he'll jail people who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine

Iran's president-elect says he won't meet with Biden
Ebrahim Raisi.
all eyes on iran

Iran's president-elect says he won't meet with Biden

Olympics to allow up to 10,000 Japanese spectators
Olympic Rings
Tokyo Olympics

Olympics to allow up to 10,000 Japanese spectators

Most Popular

Covering for Trump?
Merrick Garland and Donald Trump.
Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper

Covering for Trump?

7 toons about the Dems' Joe Manchin problem
Political Cartoon.
Feature

7 toons about the Dems' Joe Manchin problem

Bernie Sanders wants to know if cannabis reporter is 'stoned' right now
Bernie Sanders.
Sounds dope

Bernie Sanders wants to know if cannabis reporter is 'stoned' right now