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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A former U.S. soldier told a Serbian court Friday how he and his fellow service members were rescued during World War II by fighters led by a Serb guerrilla who was later executed as a traitor by the postwar Yugoslav communist authorities.
Milton Friend, now 88 and living in Boynton Beach, Florida, testified before a court reviewing the 1946 verdict against Gen. Draza Mihailovic.
Friend is one of some 500 U.S. Army soldiers whose planes were shot down over the Balkans during the war and who were rescued by Mihailovic's fighters.
The soldiers were hidden in villages by the Serbian guerrilla fighters, known as Chetniks, who were led by Mihailovic. The prewar military officer launched the first Balkan resistance against the Nazis in 1941, before turning against the communists led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito.
The U.S. then organized what became the largest rescue operation of Americans behind enemy lines during a war. The operation prompted U.S. President Harry Truman to posthumously award Mihailovic the Legion of Merit.
However, in Yugoslavia, Mihailovic was accused of treason by the new authorities and executed after a brief trial in 1946. The Communists said Mihailovic had collaborated with the Nazis and that his troops committed atrocities against non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.
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