NEW YORK (CBS 2) — On Sunday, a war hero was finally recognized with one of the military’s highest honors.
Six decades after a Queens man helped save hundreds of U.S. servicemen during World War II, he as awarded the Bronze Star.
George Vujnovich, 95, was pinned with the U.S. Bronze Star medal for crafting one of the greatest rescue operations in American military history.
“I am deeply honored to get the Bronze Star medal,” Vujnovich said in accepting the award.
The mission was called “Operation Halyard.” U.S. planes entered enemy territory to airlift more than 500 servicement shot down in Nazi-controlled Yugoslavia. Vujnovich was an officer in the O.S.S., the C.I.A. of those days.
“I was the operations officer, knew the circumstances over there, knew the country, knew how to pick these men, knew how to train them,” he said.
He worked with rebel leaders and trained spies to infiltrate the Nazi-occupied region and build a field runway, where U.S. planes dropped in for the daring rescues.
“They didn’t turn off the motors,” Vujnovich said. “They loaded them in, and sent them right back.”
For months during 1944, dozens of planes flew in to carry the airmen to safety.
Through his extraordinary vision and direct efforts, he was able to take the audacious plan from the drawing board to the rescue of 512 Allied airmen,” New York Congressman Joseph Crowley said.
As hundreds of people gathered in Manhattan to honor the man who planned the daring rescues, Vujnovich said he hopes his story will serve as a lesson.
“I hope that future generations of Americans will never forget the valued mission and those who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the cause of freedom,” he said.
The U.S. government kept the operation a secret for decades for fear of disrupting its relationship with Yugoslavia.