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Politics & ProseThe Secret Rescue

The Secret Rescue

It is one of the greatest forgotten stories of World War II. When twenty-six Army Air Forces flight nurses and medics board a military transport plane in November 1943, they never anticipate a crash landing in Nazi territory, or their ensuing months-long fight to survive.

This untold true story begins as the group of men and women is on its way to evacuate wounded and sick troops near the front lines in Italy. Caught in a violent storm, their plane is pushed off course and into the path of German fighters. Without a working radio or compass, the flight crew is forced to land in unforgiving and unknown terrain.

When the Americans emerge from their battered aircraft, they find themselves in Albania—a brutal and poverty-stricken country rife with chaos and danger—with only one gun among them. Met by battle-hardened partisans, they wander for months over rugged mountains during a severe winter in an effort to escape, facing a barrage of life-threatening incidents, including a German attack that almost costs them their lives. With hunger and sickness as their constant companions, the party is haunted by the specter of capture by the Nazis. Always on the move, they hide at night with courageous villagers who share what little food they have and risk death at Nazi hands to help them. As the stranded group hopes for a daring rescue, they must put their faith in the hands of officers working for clandestine British and American organizations.

The drama of the party captured the attention of the American public, but the details of their journey remained hidden for decades. A mesmerizing tale of the courage and bravery of ordinary people, The Secret Rescue tells for the first time their incredible true story, one of heroic struggle and the endurance needed to survive.

Photo credits left to right: Harold Hayes Collection, iStockphoto; Library of Congress; iStockphoto