A celebrated WWII hero helped rescue 500 American soldiers from behind enemy lines died in his home at the age of 96. George Vujnovich, formerly of the OSS (the old version of the CIA), was the driving force behind a covert operation that brought hundreds of captured American troops back to their homeland.
It all started in the summer of 1944, when approximately 500 US airmen were shot down over Serbia during bombing runs against Hitler’s oil fields. Luckily, the airmen were hidden away in local villages by Draza Mihailovich, a Chetnik leader.
Vujnovich worked tirelessly to develop a rescue plan, and then worked with US military officials to get the green light. Vujnovich was charged with the task of training the three volunteers who were to be airdropped into Serbia. He taught them cultural norms and basic techniques that would help them blend in with the Serbian locals.
On August 2, 1944, those three airmen parachuted out of an American plane deep behind enemy lines. Carrying hidden radio equipment, the men worked with Draza Mihailovich and local villagers to build an airstrip so that US cargo planes could come in and pick up the downed airmen. A total of 417 US troops airmen were airlifted out of Chetnik throughout Operation Haylard. The story is recounted in The Forgotten 500.
George Vujnovich was awarded a Bronze Star for his part in the operation, and has since entered the history books as a true American hero and patriot. He passed away of natural causes in New York City.