Vaso Purlia

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Vaso Purlia
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Born(1916-10-24)October 24, 1916
Claypool, Arizona
DiedNovember 27, 2011(2011-11-27) (aged 95)
CitizenshipUnited States of America
EducationBachelor of science
Alma mater
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Belgrade
OccupationMedical doctor

Vaso L. Purlia.[1] (24 october 1916 - 27 November 2011) was a distinguished Serbian American medical doctor and chief of the orthopedic service of Staten Island, New York, U.S. Health Service hospital[2]for more than three decades. [3][4][5]He co-wrote and contributed articles to national health magazines,[6][7][8]and wrote reports to the Employees' Compensation Appeal Boards[9]


Born in Claypool, Arizona where he completed his elementary and high school education, Vaso Purlia went on to graduate from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of science before leaving for post-graduate studies in medicine at the University of Belgrade on a Serb National Federation scholarship to the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1935.[10]There he graduated on the eve of World War II in 1939. After the Nazi-occupation of Yugoslavia, he was picked up and imprisoned by the Nazi Germany. Somehow he managed to escape and took his bride Koka (née Savković) to a Serbian village in Ravna Gora that was protected by General Dragoljub Mihailovich and his loyal Chetniks. He was among the rescued in the secretive Bari, Italy[11] Operation Halyard which became widely publicised once the 2008 book "The Forgotten 500" came out.[12]Until then, few knew about the largest Missing in action|MIA rescue in the Second World War.

Vaso Purlia wasn't the only one, when Lieutenant George Musulin spoke to Mihailovich while organizing the rescue, George was surprised to learn that two other American civilians, Robert Marijanovich from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania and George Popovich, a businessman also from Pennsylvania, found refuge among the many American airmen rescued by Serbian villagers in Ravna Gora. Marijanovich had been a seminary student in Belgrade when the war began, and over time he had made his way to Ravna Gora and the Nationalists where he volunteered as a translator. Marijanovich like Popovich and Purlia and the rest of the airmen (both Americans and foreigners) were all successfully evacuated by late 1944. Upon arrival in Bari, italy, Purlia enlisted in the U.S. Army as a doctor.

In the case of the Yugoslav Nationalists, it is interesting that many Allied flyers were rescued in 1944 after the Allies had discontinued support of Mihailovich and his resistance forces. At that time, Allied supplies were going to the Josip Broz Tito.

Back in the U.S.

Purlia went on to complete his residency and orthopaedic surgery and join the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in 1946. Vaso Purlia, M.D., held the rank of Captain in the commissioned corps and spent his entire professional career in the United States Public Health Service. He was chief of the Orthopaedic division Public Health Service Hospital on Staten Island and Medical Director until the hospital closing and his retirement in 1981.

He died on 27 November 2011, aged 95.


  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • Association of Military Surgeons of the United States


  1. name="auto">"VASO PURLIA Obituary (2011) New York Times".
  2. Decisions of the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board. The Board. 1974.
  3. name="auto"
  4. Unemployment Insurance Reporter: Federal Social Security and Medicare Taxes on Employers and Employees; Old-age, Survivors and Disability Benefits; Medicare Benefits; Federal and State Unemployment Insurance; Explanations; Laws; Regulations; Charts; Indexes; New Developments. Commerce Clearing House. 1936.
  5. Cite web|url= new health professional-the orthopedic assistant. - PMC
  6. "Review of Medical and Veterinary Mycology". Commonwealth Mycological Institute. 1961.
  9. Digest and Decisions of the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board. The Board. 1965.
  10. "Dr Vaso Louis Purlia (1916-2011) - Find a Grave". Find a Grave.
  11. Serb World. Neven Publishing Corporation. 1988.
  12. Freeman, Gregory A. (2 September 2008). The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II. ISBN 978-0451224958.

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