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1st Lt. Doid E. Raab
721st Squadron



1944
Courtesy of Doid & Alice Raab



Information courtesy of 450th Bomb Group (H) The "Cottontails" of WWII and Turner Publishing Company

Doid Raab, Fellow World War II Flyers Return To Scene Of Memorable Rescue

By Chuck Fisher - Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Friday, Jan. 10, 1986

 

Imagine for a moment! Forty years before a small group of people saved your life by hiding you in their homes. They fed you, cared for your physical needs, and within a week were able to send you out of their midst to freedom through an underground movement.

ONLY ONE person of that group of freedom fighters was able to speak English. You'd never see them again and you're alive today because of their secret underground. You were housed in homes less than a quarter of a mile from a Nazi German general.

Now you are 64 years old, still alive and well. Over the years you have thanked God many times for the people who saved your life. You wonder if they were caught and killed. You wonder if any of them are still alive. You are sure that the one English-speaking man must be dead because he would have to be over 90.

The whole thing has bugged you for years. The B-24 bomber you flew was disabled on a bombing run and you lost two engines. You could not make it back to your safe home base. You had broken formation and had to head out on your own alone over enemy territory. You did not know where you were when you had to try to land because of lack of fuel. All you could see were mountains and then at the last minute you saw a great flat piece of ground and a few houses.

TO YOU, then, it's a miracle. You land in Yugoslavia near a village called Srpska Crnja. The people of the small town are freedom fighters and take you and your crew in, and you are safe.

The only person from that small town whose name you can remember is Uio, the now over 90 English-speaking person: and that was a name you gave to him, not his real name. You still now, want to say "Thanks" to those people, and you don't know how to do it except in your prayers. What would you do?

This is a story about the pilot of the B-24 Liberator bomber and what he did do.

Over two years ago he started the long search to find the members of his old crew so they could have a 40th anniversary reunion in 1985. After many letters and phone calls he traced all of them. Of the original crew of nine, two were dead and one could not be found.

BUT THE remaining six had their reunion at Doid Raab's home near Colfax the last weekend of June last year.

Also, Raab started to send letter to Srpska Crnja, with pictures of the plane and crew and some of the partisans; photos taken 40 years before. A good newspaper reporter named George Berar of The Politoka newspaper in Zrenjanen, Yugoslavia picked up on the story after one of those pictures fell into his hands. He wrote eight articles which were published in the largest newspaper in Yugoslavia and soon people began to identify themselves in the photograph. One of them was Ziva Popou or "Uio," the now 96 year old English-speaking man. Raab also got a letter from one partisan commander of the underground of 40 years ago, who was also in the picture. That man, Djuro Knezevic, now 76, invited Raab and his crew to come to Yugoslavia for a 40th reunion.

SO ON AUG. 30 last year four of the crew members Ray Hook and wife Emily, Ray Moore and wife Ruth, O.G. White and Doid and wife Alice landed in Belgrade. What a reception they got.

As they got off the plane the first thing they saw were television crews, radio reporters, photographers, a documentary film maker crew and newspaper reports and cameras.

They were shocked and had no idea their visit had attracted such attention. There was a reception line of dignitaries. The first person they met was Dusan Putnik, the official protocol officer of Yugoslavia. The next person in line for Doid was Djuro Knezevic, who is now a hero in Yugoslavia and a very powerful political figure. Forty years ago he was a young underground commander who stood beside Doid in the picture of the downed B-24. In Yugoslavia there is even a museum dedicated to him. After 40 years they were able to embrace each other again.

NEXT ON TAP was a press conference in the private room in the airport. After that each crew member and wife were given a private car, chauffeur, and interpreter for their use. Then they proceeded about four miles to Marshall Tito's Tomb. There Raab, with Ray Moore on one side of him and Ray Hook on the other, placed a wreath on the tomb and watched the changing of the guard. They visited Tito's home which is now a national museum. The driver of Doid's car had been the personal chauffeur for Tito and was able to relate much about Tito to him.

They then started the journey to Srpska Crnja, but on the way stopped at the Monument of Bones. A crowd awaited them and flying in the air above them were the name and number of the flyers' old bomb group.

THIS WAS an important stop for Raab, because the Monument of Bones was erected and dedicated to 30 Yugoslavia civilians machine-gunned on the spot by the Nazis for giving aid to the freedom fighters who helped save the lives of American flyers. In my interview with Doid Raab, he said: "This place was quite a moment in my life, to think that there may be the remains of people who provided food for me, and I am alive."

The group next stopped at Nova Crnja, which is the home of the Yugoslavia World War II Veterans Organization. They were welcomed by the president (mayor) of the town. Another crowd and speeches.

"People wanted to touch and talk with us every place we visited," Raab said. "None of us could believe how they felt about us. Even after 40 years, just four flyers from America meant so much to them. I still have a hard time comprehending their gratitude. I'm now sure that we in America take too much for granted, especially freedom."

AS THEY arrived at Srpska Crnja, they stopped at the "airfield" they'd landed on 40 years before. It was planted in sunflowers. They stood and looked a long time and took pictures. People form the area crowded around and took pictures of the crew. More people kept coming, seemingly from nowhere. It got to the point they couldn't get back to their cares.

Arriving in the town proper was really something. A large banner, four feet high and about 30 feet long was above the road with the words, "Welcome Dear Friends." It seemed as if the entire town had been waiting for them. When the cars stopped, people closed in on them and one man grabbed Raab's arm gently, and hung on until Raab turned to him. He said to Raab, "I saw your plane coming in to land. I was just a kid. I saw you before you got it to the ground. I was here 40 years ago" and he laughed and jumped with joy.

THEN THE crewmen and their wives were put into high horse carriages and there was a parade through the town to the Hotel Kastel where they stayed. That Friday night there was a big dinner at the hotel in their honor.

Musicians were especially chosen for the event and all played only stringed instruments. They were not professionals, but rather townspeople. It was the highest honor that can be given by the people to visitors and guests.

The next day, Saturday, there was an official meeting at the center of the town. Ray Hook, Ray Moore, O.G. White and Raab were made honorary citizens of Srpska Crnja. Raab presented an American flag which has flown over the Capitol in Washington D.C., a letter from Congressman Clarence Miller, a proclamation from Ste Rep. Steve Williams, and an engraved plate fro the Bremen Post No. 20, American Legion.

ALSO PRESENT was a replica of the B-24 Liberator bomber named "Hubba-Hubba." It was complete in even a picture of Bugs Bunny on the nose. It had been made by Hook.

At noon there was another press conference. The U.S. flag hung beside the Yugoslavian flag during the meeting, which was a surprise for all four of the men.

In the afternoon they visited the town schools, museums, met and talked with teachers and townspeople. A big event for the men was to meet and talk with one of the women who cooked for them 40 years before. She remembered each of them.

Doid said of her, "In talking with her, I began to realize that the people of Srpska Crnja are still poor people. Food is not plentiful there. They live very simply. They stretch everything. For us, they were giving their best and that is not what they have for themselves daily. We in America really don't understand the purpose and use of food, because we have so much. She really made me think, and I'm still thinking."

SATURDAY evening an official banquet was held at the town's largest restaurant, which seated only 200 people. Each person paid for their own dinner and the tickets had been sold out for weeks in advance. The big tradition at such an event is for the two top-ranking people present to "separate the boar's head" of the roast pork. Chosen for this event was Djuro Knezevic and Doid Raab, with Djuro Soso, senior political associate of the World War II Veterans Association, holding the platter.

When the visiting flyers entered the room there was about a five-minute standing ovation. There was an orchestra which played all evening and at some time during the evening, everyone danced.

THERE WERE speeches, hugs, many, many pictures taken, and everybody was so happy. Raab said, "We were just shocked. Here we are just wanting to visit this place and these people who took care of us 40 years ago and we expected nothing special. I was so humbled by the fact that these people, many of whom could not afford it, actually paid to see us, eat with us, and treated us like we were kings and queens.

"When they put the tickets out for sale, they were all sold out within two days. I don't think or believe for one second that it was for us personally, as the guys who landed on that field. They did this for us because we were Americans. In many places in this world we would be treated quite differently. But in Yugoslavia, America is held in high esteem. I saw the whole trip as a tribute to America and I personally found myself feeling like I was representing all the people back home. It goes to show what happens when the common man, meets the common man, to me."

THE FOUR crew members of "Hubba-Hubba" were able to see that the people of the town did not have an abundance of money and they met so many children who did not get to attend any of the banquets. They decided to give some money to the children of Srpska Crnja so the town could have a holiday party for all the kids at the end of December.

No citizen would take the money and they were told that they had to deposit it in a special account in the bank and specify the use of the money at the time of deposit. Doid's wife Alice took care of this transaction and she had to sign all kinds of papers to make sure how the money was to be spent. The townspeople wanted it done in a very special and legal manner.

Djura Knezevic wanted the group to visit his hometown and his house. That was the next stop on the journey. He lives in Kikinda and this is where the museum built in his honor is located.

RAAB SAID he never thought the man standing beside him at the plane 40 years ago would ever come to be one of the heroes of the partisans and such a powerful political figure in Yugoslavia today. While in Kikinda they stayed at a villa arranged by Knezevic. Again they attended a large banquet in their honor held in Hotel Narvik.

Again food, speeches, pictures. Knezevic had arranged for two of the best five professional dance groups in Yugoslavia to entertain his guests. The president of Kinkinda and other city officials attended.

The one event that Raab and the entire crew had been waiting for was finally to come.

ON MONDAY, Sept. 2, they arrived at Novi Sad where Ziva Popou, "Uio," now lived. He was the one English-speaking man of 40 years before. In the exchange of letters and newspaper articles written over two years, the one thing Popou wanted to accomplish before he died was to meet the flyers who had force-landed in his then hometown. He knew them better than any other person during the seven days they were hidden underground. The only name they knew him by was Uio, which means great uncle in English.

The meeting was an emotional event for the men. Doid said, "If it had not been for Uio speaking English, I doubt if we would have ever made it home."

The meeting was a happy one, a sad one and a spiritual one. Happy because Uio at 96 was still alive and his one wish was fulfilled. Sad, because all present knew that they probably would never see each other again alive. Spiritual, because there was a bonding that happened 40 years ago and they were able to pick up life and relationships where they left off years before.

AS RAAB related, "There is no way for me to express in words or pictures what happened to all of us in that meeting and the time we spent together."

He tried to share it with the writer. Doid Raab's parents are dead. Before leaving that day Doid asked Uio and his wife Tetka if he could be considered their son, and if they would be his parents in Yugoslavia. Both replied with tears in their eyes, "Yes, my Doid, my Doid, Yes."

There is no way to describe the scene of the four men leaving and saying goodbye to Zina Popov Uio.

One thing Raab found out during the trip, Uio had been caught many times by the Nazis with food, which they suspicioned he was using for the underground. He was beaten many times during the war years, but survived each time to return to his work with the partisans and his then leader, Djura Knezevic.

BELGRADE came next, with the events centered upon the United States Embassy there. They were welcomed by U.S. Ambassador John D. Scanlon and spent several hours at his residence. To the four flyers this was a very special occasion, as they never dreamed in their entire lives that they would ever be in such a place.

Ambassador Scanlon discussed many things with them about Yugoslavia and the people's warmth and respect for the United States.

Raab came home with an insight into our Foreign Service, which he had not comprehended before.

Disan Putnik, the protocol officer, and Djuro Knezevic wanted the men and their wives to visit and see Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, (the French Riviera of the country) before they went home. They certainly were glad that the two men had put this stop on the schedule.

YES,THEY saw the other side of Yugoslavia the rich and wealthy way of life: the casinos, the plush hotels, the beautiful beaches, and the nude bathers. As in America, there are a few rich people, the very poor, and the wide middle class area. But Doid says, "When it comes to living standards overall, America lives on a level of no other country in the world."

Goodbyes must always come and they are difficult. Dusan Putnik and Djuro Knezevic accompanied the men and their wives to the airport. The translators and chauffeurs were first. Then Putnik personally was next and did it with the protocol required.

The last person was Djuro Knezevic, the young partisan commander of Srpska Crnja 40 years ago. He saved Doid Raab as the last person he would face. They stood there face to face looking at each other. Neither said anything, just looking each other up and down, and then eye to eye.

DOID DOES not know what was in his mind at the time; there were so many things. They embraced and hugged and they cried. Then they both stepped back, and shook hands. Doid turned and walked away and never looked back.



















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