Thank you Deputy Speaker Marinkovic, and who have joined us today.
Two weeks ago, Serbia, the United States, and much of the world marked the end of the First World War, a conflict in which Serbia lost a quarter of its population. The next war was no easier, with Serbians paying a dreadful price for their resistance to the Nazis and facism.
Today’s exhibit focuses on one, lesser-known part of that great struggle. It is an inspiring story of bravery, sacrifice, and comradery in a joint struggle against evil. And it provides another example of the depth of the connections between Serbians and Americans that exists to the present day.
Hitler’s war machine ran on fuel, and the oil refinineries in Romania were critical to his overall plans. Hundreds of raids were launched against the heavily fortified site by American and other Allied service members. Many never returned. Many other planes were damaged, and could not make it back to their bases. Their crews were forced to bail out over Yugoslavia. Hundreds were rescued here in Serbia by Royalist supporters. Hundreds more were rescued by the Partisans.
Although they barely had enough to feed their own families, here in this country ordinary Serbian citizens provided the fliers food, shelter, and protection. These simple peasant families risked their lives and the lives of their children to help foreign comrades in a fight against a common enemy.
This photo exhibit depicts how the local Serbs hid and supported the Allied airmen. You can see the human bond that developed between the Serbs and these American, French, British, Italian, and Russian airmen.
Eventually, an audacious rescue plan was devised. From August to December 1944, those brave Serbian villagers and resistance forces, joined by member of the American Office of Strategic Services, carved an airstrip out of a local field in Pranjani, and organized the largest rescue of downed Airmen in the history of warfare.
As a result, over 500 American, British, Canadian, French, Italian, Polish, Russian, and other Allied airmen were evacuated.
The Halyard Mission is an inspiring example of Serbian-American cooperation, the sort of brotherhood that has marked much of our joint history, just as this year’s 100th anniversary of the Serbian flag flying over the White House is a symbol of American solidarity with Serbia during World War I.
The difficult period of the 1990s is also part of that history, but the Halyard Mission reminds us of the strength of the bonds that have defined our relationship, from the First World War, through the Second World War, from the delivery of “Truman eggs” during the Cold War, to the present day. The United States recognizes Serbia’s proud tradition and important contributions to our shared history. There are some who would seek to focus only on the turbulent history of the 1990s, but I don’t believe that represents the best of what Serbia has to offer, nor the future of what Serbia can offer as a leader for regional peace, prosperity and stability.
The bravery, heroism and sacrifice on display here today represents the heart and soul of Serbia, as well as what I believe should help define our relations moving forward. The Serbians who saved the lives of 500 American and foreign pilots and service members were truly heroes. We are proud to honor them here today.