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Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian received distinguished "Rufus Putnam" Award from the Grand Lodge of Ohio
In March, 1944, Jibilian and two others volunteered to parachute behind enemy lines into Yugoslavia to rescue stranded American airmen, whose planes had been shot down. These airmen were returning from bombing Romanian oil fields during WWII, an important source of fuel for Hitler's army. This so-called "Halyard Mission" rescued over 500 American and Allied airmen, the largest rescue operation in WWII and one of the greatest in history.
"Halyard Mission" in Yugoslavia (1944)
University of Toledo's (Ohio) Homecoming Parade Honors Heroes
War Medals Awarded to the WWII Hero, Art Jibilian
Ohio Senate Recognition Honoring
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Above: Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General, Tesla Memorial Society of New York with Art Jibilian at the award ceremony. Dr. Ljubo Vujovic is holding a photo of the 'Forgotten 500'.
SWANTON - It was no easy task.
Arthur Jibilian of Fremont, who was a U.S. Navy radioman and a member of the OSS - a precursor to the CIA - had to parachute into the German-occupied territory of Yugoslavia and stay there for months.
He had just turned 20 after being drafted in the Navy in March of 1943.
Because of his efforts, he helped rescue more than 500 American airmen and other Allied Forces soldiers from harms way during the end of World War II. It's one of the untold stories of the greatest generation that is finally receiving world-wide exposure.
"We brought down our 513 shot-down American airmen from behind the lines, and there was little publicity on this," Aurthur said. "The reason why I want to get all this in front of the American people is because it's a story that they deserve to know."
Jibilian's heroic efforts is the basis of a recently-published book called " The Forgotten 500 " by Gregory Freeman. It draws upon declassified documents and intimate interviews that recount a major World War II rescue mission in 1944 near the end of WWII called ' Operation Halyard .'
On Sunday, the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jibilian was recognized for his efforts by former and current Ohio National Guard military members, and federal and state dignitaries. Other special guests that paid honor traveled from upstate New York and Pittsburgh.
"Jibby we are so happy to be here today and celebrate this moment," said U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.
She along with U.S. Congressman Bob Latta and State Sens. Theresa Fedor and Mark Waggoner, gave personal thanks and honored the war veteran. The Ohio Air National Guard recognized Jibilian as a honorary colonel in the state's militia for his efforts.
"We are happy today to witness the great event, and giving the congressional award to this hero of the World War II," said Dr. Ljubo Vujovic, Secretary General of the Tesla Memorial Society of Ridgwood, NY.
Sunday's event was held in the Lt. Col. Addison Baker Building at the 180th Fighter Wing Base in Swanton, which held equally special meaning to the event. Lt. Col. Baker, a member of the Ohio Air National Guard's 112th Liaison Squadron, which predated the 180th Fighter Wings' 112th Fighter Squadron, received the Congressional Medal of Honor after leading his bomb group on a low-altitude allied bombing mission in 1943 over oil refineries at Ploiesti, Romania.
The bombing runs continued for the next year. During that time those 513 airmen were shot down by Nazi forces, most of which were on their way from Italy to bomb German-occupied oil fields in Romania.
Jibilian, who is dying from Leukemia, is the last surviving member of "Operation Halyard" - a majorly-secret rescue mission that plucked the airmen and other Allied soldiers between August - December of 1944 from under the Nazi's noses.
They did it from a crudely constructed airfield that was cleared on top of a hill in the Village of Pranjani, Serbia, a plateau 55 miles south of Belgrade. The mission was coordinated by the Americans, British and Serbians. The Allied forces worked closely with General Draza Mihailovich, a Serbian guerrilla, to carry out the rescue mission.
Jibilian, who was born in Cleveland but raised in Toledo, said, even after so many years, he can't believe how hard his job was. But it was worth it.
"When I look back on it, I'm amazed at what we have accomplished because we did this all under the Germans' noses," he said. "But we made it, and that's all that counts."
"The Forgotten 500" is currently being disccused to be made into a major motion picture.
(FOX Toledo's Allison Brown contributed to this report)
Above: Art Jibilian speaking at the award ceremony. Jibilian called "Where are the Serbs? Do we have any Serbian people in the room?". After Dr. Vujovic came to the podium, Jibilian said "When you go to Serbia, greet and kiss Serbian people and tell them we American pilots are grateful to the Serbian people because the Serbs saved our lives."
Above: Audience at the award ceremony.
Above: Audience at the award ceremony.