Robert W. Wilson, a Peoria native, was frequently cited in Gregory A. Freeman’s book, The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked all for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, as the B-17G radar/navigator/bombardier on the “point plane” which delivered tons of bombs over the Ploiesti/Romanian oil fields during his 20 missions. During his 21st mission, his plane was shot down; he, along with others, was finally rescued from via a C47 cargo plane which landed on a short air strip constructed by his colleagues and Yugoslav guerillas under the command of General Draza Mihailovich, a royalist Serb who supported the Allied cause, and others.
The 1944 Operation Halyard was concluded without detection by the Germans mostly in broad daylight. The mission was a complete success — the kind that should have been trumpeted in news reels and on the front page. By comparison, the famed escaped of allied prisoners from a German POW camp portrayed in the movie, “The Great Escape,” involved 200 men and only 76 were successful. It is a little known episode that started with one edge-of-your seat rescue in August 1944, followed by a series of additional rescues in the following months. American agents from the OSS, the precursor of the CIA, worked with General Mihailovich to carry out the huge, ultra-secret rescue mission; he was executed by Tito’s government in 1946. In 1948, President Harry Truman posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit to General Mihailovich for his contributions to the Allies’ victory in Europe. The award was delivered to his daughter, Gordana, by Bob and several of his surviving colleagues.
Before enlisting at age 19, Bob completed one semester in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. While in the service, he received special training as a radar/navigator/bombardier. After his service, he returned to the University of Illinois, earned a degree in mechanical engineering, then was employed by Caterpillar for a period of time and thereafter, retired and managed his investment portfolio. He currently resides in Dunlap, Illinois.