Richard Felman

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Richard L. Felman (May 29, 1921 – November 13, 1999) was a distinguished officer in the United States Air Force who flew combat missions during World War II and the Korean War, receiving 27 awards and decorations over the course of his military career.

Felman was born in the The Bronx, New York City. He was the son of American-born David and Dora, a Jewish immigrant from Poland.[1] He had one brother, Irwin, born six years earlier. At the age of 21, Felman enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps on July 24, 1942 and became a master navigator.

In early 1944 he was assigned to the 415th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force stationed in Lecce, Italy as a Second Lieutenant flying B-24s.[2] He was a member of a "Liberator" bomber crew whose aircraft was named "Never a Dull Moment". In July 1944, Felman's B-24 was hit by German ME-109s and 10 of the eleven-man crew bailed out from 18,000 feet over the Yugoslav hills. Felman was later awarded the Purple Heart for his service during the plane crash.

The Americans, led by Felman, landed in central Serbia. Serbia, at the time, was a Nazi Germany-occupied territory, but controlled by the Chetniks, a resistance movement led by Draža Mihailović. The Chetniks protected them from the Germans, despite the fact the Germans burned the nearby village of Pranjani in retaliation, killing around 200 women and children. Felman and his men stayed safe with the Chetniks, and were airlifted out of Serbia on August 10, 1944. Felman became friends with Mihailović and his Chetniks, as did the other Allied airmen who had been gunned down over Serbia in the same year. Over 500 downed US airmen survived because of assistance from the Chetniks.

During Felman's stay in Serbia, he was embraced and then carried about 500 yards to a cabin. He was given fruit, flowers and slivovitz (Serbian national drink) which Felman described as "160 proof Serbian plum brandy." Felman was then offered a crutch and taken to the Serbian Orthodox church in the village by an elderly man. Both men prayed in the small Serbian Orthodox church. Felman described the scene:

It was their chapel. We both knelt in humble prayer and gave thanks. Though separated by language, country and religion, the brotherhood of man was never more in meaningful evidence.[3]

Felman was personally decorated twice by King Peter II of Yugoslavia. Felman's contacts included Constantine Fotich, Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, Milutin Devrnja, Vojvoda Momčilo Đujić, Slobodan Jovanović, Zvonko Vučković and many other prominent men in the diaspora.

The Chetniks were denied support by the Allies by the end of 1943. Draža Mihailović was accused by the Partisans in 1946 of being a collaborator and tried in Belgrade. Felman and 21 others in April 1946 petitioned Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Government to be allowed to go, at their own expense, to Belgrade and present their testimonies to the jury on Mihailović's trial.

They were denied by the State Department, because the U.S. had established relations with the Communist Partisans in the latter stages of the war, and did not want to disrupt their relations with the Communist Yugoslav government that was created post war. Despite Felman's insistence, he was not able to reach Belgrade. Mihailović was found guilty of high treason, executed and buried in an unmarked grave on July 17, 1946.

Because of his efforts, Mihailović and his organization, on the recommendation of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, were posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit by President Truman for their contributions to the Allied victory and the rescue of American airmen from behind enemy lines. The Legion of Merit is the highest award the U.S. can give a foreign national,

Felman continued arguing that Mihailović and his Chetniks should be honored for their rescue of US pilots. In 1970, he went on the Congressional Record pressing for legislation for a statue on Capitol grounds honoring General Mihailović. In 1976 and in 1977, the bill was introduced into the Senate by Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater. However, the legislation died in the House because of the aforementioned U.S. policy towards Yugoslavia. It was reintroduced over the next decades several times, but failed each time.

Richard Felman retired from the United States Air Force in 1968.

In 1995, for the 50th Anniversary of the VE Day, Major Richard Felman returned to Serbia after 50 years, accompanied by his wife Mary Anne as well as Captain Nick Lalich and Lt. Col. Charlie Davis. He was met on the mountain of Ravna Gora by 50,000 Serbian people who gave him a thunderous ovation.

Felman died at the age of 78. He was survived by his wife Mary Anne and his brother Irwin. He had no children. On November 13, 1999 he was interred at the "All Faiths Memorial Park" in Tucson, Arizona.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Felman, Richard L., Major, U.S.A.F., Retired. Mihailovich and I. Tucson, AZ: self-published by author, copyright, Richard L. Felman, 1964. Publication: Serbian Democratic Forum, October, 1972; Neven Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 1986.
  2. ^ Freeman, Gregory A. The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II. NAL, 2007.
  3. ^ Savich, Carl. Draza Mihailovich and the Rescue of US Airmen during World War II. Serbianna.com. 2003.

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