The Forgotten 500
The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II
(New American Library, August 2007)
By Gregory A. Freeman
One of the last untold stories of World War II is also one of the greatest - a story of adventure, daring, danger and heroics, followed by a web of conspiracy, lies, and coverup.
THE FORGOTTEN 500 is one of the greatest rescue and escape stories ever, but hardly anyone has heard about it. And that's by design. The U.S., British, and Yugoslav governments hid details of this story for decades, purposefully denying credit to the heroic rescuers and the foreign ally who gave his life to help allied airmen as they were hunted down by Nazis in the hills of Yugoslavia.
THE FORGOTTEN 500 tells the story of Operation Halyard in 1944, the largest rescue ever of downed American airmen. More than 500 U.S. airmen were rescued, along with some from other countries, all right under the noses of the Germans, and mostly in broad daylight. The mission was a complete success - the kind that should have been trumpeted in news reels and on the front page. (By comparison, the famed escape of allied prisoners from a German POW camp portrayed in the movie "The Great Escape" involved 200 men, and only 76 were successful.)
It is a little known episode that started with one edge-of-your seat rescue in August 1944, followed by a series of additional rescues in the following months. American agents from the OSS, the precursor of the CIA, worked with a Serbian guerilla, General Draza Mihailovich, to carry out the huge, ultra-secret rescue mission.
THE FORGOTTEN 500 weaves together the tales of a dozen young airmen shot down in the hills of Yugoslavia during bombing runs, and the five secret agents who conducted their amazing rescue. These are the stories of young men who were eager to join the war and fight the Germans, even finding excitement in the often deadly trips from Italy to bomb German oil fields in Romania, but who found themselves parachuting out of crippled planes and into the arms of strange, rough looking villagers in a country they knew nothing about. They soon found out that the local Serbs were willing to sacrifice their own lives to keep the downed airmen out of German hands, but they still wondered if anyone was coming for them or if they would spend the rest of the war hiding from German patrols and barely surviving on goat's milk and bread made with hay to make it more filling.
When OSS agents in Italy heard of the stranded airmen, they began planning an elaborate and previously unheard of rescue - the Americans would send in a fleet of C-47 cargo planes to land in the hills of Yugoslavia, behind enemy lines, to pluck out hundreds of airmen. It was audacious and risky beyond belief, but there was no other way to get those boys out of German territory. The list of challenges and potential problems seemed never ending: the airmen had to evade capture until the rescue could be organized, they had to build an airstrip large enough for C-47s without any tools and without the Germans finding out, and then the planes had to make it in and out without being shot down.
Could it really be done? No one knew, but they were going to try.
THE FORGOTTEN 500 takes the reader along on this suspenseful adventure, while also explaining how the Yugoslav guerilla fighter who made it all possible was betrayed by his western allies. THE FORGOTTEN 500 is the story of young men struggling to make it back home to their families, and their decades-long quest to acknowledge the secret agents and the foreign soldiers who risked all for them.
Long silenced by the governments of several nations, the full story of Operation Halyard and the young men who risked everything for their fellow soldiers is revealed for the first time in this book.
THE FORGOTTEN 500 is truly the greatest World War II story never told.
Praise for the Forgotten 500
"The daring rescue effort to save hundreds of downed airmen in dangerous enemy territory is an amazing but unknown WWII adventure story. Told in riveting detail for the first time, The Forgotten 500 a tale of unsung heroes who went above and beyond."
-- James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
"Greg Freeman has written a riveting account of the greatest escape during World War II. It is a remarkable adventure story of courage and daring that is superbly told."
-- Anthony C. Zinni, General USMC (Retired)
"Freeman's The Forgotten 500 is 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."
-- Gregg Olsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America's Richest Mining Town
"This is an exciting, powerful story of escape and rescue. It has been buried for too long..."
-- Tony Koltz, New York Times bestselling author, The Battle for Peace
Greg Freeman's The Forgotten 500 is a gripping, true-life narrative of one of the most heroic and inspiringâ€"but virtually unknownâ€"military operations of World War II. Operation Halyard, the rescue of 500 Allied airmen from behind Nazi lines in Yugoslavia, was an epic victory, and Freeman chronicles it with a master's touch for detail. Although this book reads like a fast-paced novel, it is based on scores of probing interviews and meticulous archival research. The Forgotten 500 is destined to become required reading for serious students of the Second World War."
-- Malcolm McConnell, New York Times #1 bestselling coauthor of American Soldier
Forgotten 500 Hero Awarded Bronze Star
Congratulations to George Vujnovich, recipient of the Bronze Star for his efforts to save American airmen in Operation Halyard, told in The Forgotten 500. The medal is well deserved. To see an NBC news report on Vujnovich and the award, click here.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Visit and Serbfest
Our dear friend Mim Bizic has posted a video from the author's recent visit to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for book signings and presentations. I had a wonderful time at the SerbFest and made so many new Serb friends. To view the video, click here.
Farewell to a True American Hero
For everyone who read my book The Forgotten 500, I must pass on the sad news that Arthur Jibilian, the radioman who was the last surviving member of the Operation Halyard rescue team, died at his home on Sunday, March 21. Arthur was a true American hero and will never be forgotten.
Forgotten 500 list of rescued airmen has been updated!
The list of airmen rescued in Operation Halyard that was included in THE FORGOTTEN 500 was known to be incomplete, and many people have asked if their family members might have been rescued even though they weren’t on the list. Now we have an updated list, thanks to the great research by Wendy Irwin, a relative of one of the men rescued.
Using the Missing Air Crew Reports that were filed after a bomber went down, Wendy has added a number of crew members who most likely were sheltered by Draja Mihailovich and rescued in the Operation Halyard flights. We still can’t call the list complete, so your relative might have been part of Operation Halyard even if his name isn’t included. But this is a great addition to the Forgotten 500 canon and I hope it answers important questions for some families.
THE FORGOTTEN 500 now available in Italian!
The story of Operation Halyard and rescue of airmen in World War II is now available in an Italian translation. This follows the Serbian translation that was released a few years ago. The Italian version is I 500 SOPRAVVISSUTI and is available here.
The Gathering Wind is coming on October 29!
On the one-year anniversary of the loss of the great sailing ship Bounty in Hurricane Sandy, I will release The Gathering Wind: Hurricane Sandy, the Sailing Ship Bounty, and a Courageous Rescue at Sea.
Based on interviews with Bounty survivors and unfettered access to Coast Guard rescue team members, The Gathering Wind offers not only the first, but the most complete account of this heartbreaking, thrilling, and inspirational story. Why in the world was an old wooden ship sailing directly into a hurricane? Why did the crew go along with the captain’s decision? This book will tell you.
I was honored to get to know the Bounty survivors and the rescuers who willingly flew into one of the worst hurricanes in history. Their story will have your attention from the first page to the last.
Red Tails: The Forgotten 500 chapter now released
Red Tails tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in WWII, who saved the lives of 500 Americans. This E-chapter of The Forgotten 500 can be found at Barnes and Noble
New book available now!
The Last Mission of the Wham Bam Boys tells the little known story of an American bomber crew, all young men with families waiting for them back home, and their fateful mission in the last days of World War II. Click here to order The Last Mission of the Wham Bam Boys!....Click Here
Red Tails: A new E-chapter for The Forgotten 500
A new chapter will soon be available for everyone who loved the story in The Forgotten 500. Titled Red Tails, this chapter tells of the previously unknown contribution of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in World War II, to the rescue of more than 500 American airmen behind enemy lines. The new chapter will be available as an e-book download and includes a summary of the entire story told in The Forgotten 500. Watch this site for information on how to order Red Tails.
Read The Forgotten 500 in Serbian
The Serbian translation of The Forgotten 500 is on sale in Serbia and can be ordered in the U.S. The title is 500 Zaboravljenih by Gregori A. Friman.
To order, send an e-mail to Marko at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will arrange the purchase and shipment.
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Amazon.com Author Page
Go here to find all of Gregory A. Freeman's books and more about the author: Gregory A. Freeman on Amazon.com
"A re-creation of the first war crimes trial after World War II… a history making trial, setting the tone for Nuremberg. A chilling tale .. [and] a riveting narrative." — Kirkus Reviews
"Freeman has once again crafted a gripping, cinematic narrative – one that raises important questions about justice and morality in a time of industrial annihilation of civilian populations. A timely and riveting story of heroism and horror."— Alex Kershaw, best selling author of The Longest Winter and The Bedford Boys
"With The Last Mission of the Wham Bam Boys, Gregory A. Freeman delivers a thorough, artful, and absolutely riveting account of a fascinating yet tragic story of war, humanity, and justice. Freeman again proves that he ranks among today's finest historical storytellers."— Alvin Townley, author of Fly Navy and Legacy of Honor