It's a sad truth that we may never know about all of the heroic efforts made during American wars over the years; it could be said that every effort made during wartime has been heroic, and while that's certainly true, there are some soldiers who proved themselves worthy of singular attention. George Vujnovich was one of them.
A member of the C.I.A. before it was the C.I.A. (called the Office of Strategic Services during WWII), Vujnovich organized and led a group of men into the horrific dangers of Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia on a rescue mission. The goal? To save 500 pilots and airmen who had been downed while trying to bomb Hitler's oil fields in Romania. Not only was the rescue mission successful--the team lost not one single man--Vujnovich led his crew in building a secret airfield with no tools to aid them in their efforts. The mission, dubbed "Operation Halyard", was detailed in the book "The Forgotten 500" and won Vujnovich a bronze star in recognition.
Vujnovich, who was of Serbian descent, used his background to his advantage when training his team. He had to get them to think like Serbs, eat like Serbs, act like Serbs. If one man blew their cover, it would be over, he knew. None of them would make it out alive.
“I taught these agents they had to take all the tags off their clothing,” Vujnovich said. “They were carrying Camel and Lucky Strikes cigarettes and holding U.S. currency. I told them to get rid of it. I had to show them how to tie their shoes and tuck the laces in, like the Serbs did, and how to eat like the Serbs, pushing the food onto their fork with the knife.”
Vujnovich passed away this week of natural causes at his home in New York.
Image credit: George Vujnovich