The Forgotten 500
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 1 Nov 2013
Full Title: The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II
Romanian oil fields provided the German war machine the fuel that it needed to continue the war, and starting in 1942 the Allied attempted to interrupt production from the air. Inevitably, some of the bombers were fatally wounded in combat, and their crews bailed over unfamiliar territories. Some of them ended up in northern Yugoslavia, where Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic's resistance group, the Chetniks, was active. Gregory Freeman's The Forgotten 500 told of the stories of these downed airmen, their protection by the Chetniks, the daring Operation Halyard conducted by Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to extricate the airmen, and how international politics vilified Mihailovic despite his stern anti-German stance and his followers' sacrifices.
Freeman's telling of the stories of the US airmen was not quite masterful, but the story was nevertheless presented in an exciting manner that kept me reading on. I felt Anthony Orsini's genuine patriotism for his country and camaraderie for his crew through the pages, while George Vujnovich's harrowing escape from war-torn Yugoslavia made by heart beat just a bit faster. When Operation Halyard commenced, the landing of the first flight proceeded almost like a movie meant for entertainment under the author's pen. In the latter part of the book, Freeman spent many pages on Mihailovic, whom he spoke of with favoring bias; stress was placed on his stern anti-Communist stance, his loyalty toward the Yugoslavian monarchy, and how he was abandoned by the Western Allies as the result of international politics, but the author also conveniently left out Mihailovic's brutality against Croats and Muslims.
I had reviewed this book in its audio book format. Patrick Lawlor did a good job with the pacing and his reading, while his voice acting of Yugoslavian characters was a nice touch. His voice for Winston Churchill was not quite fitting, and the accent applied for Orsini's Italian mother seemed to be off, but perhaps those were just me nitpicking.
The Forgotten 500 successfully achieved its goal of telling the story of a large rescue operation that was unjustifiably unknown and the gallantry of anonymous Serbs who played small but nevertheless important parts in the ultimate defeat of Germany. The author's bias in favor of Mihailovic must be something to keep in mind, but overall I had enjoyed this book, and most importantly, learned quite a bit about this less-known chapter of the war.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945