Rudolf Perešin's MiG 21 (Photo: Filip Kos/PIXSELL) Rudolf Perešin's MiG 21 (Photo: Filip Kos/PIXSELL)

In October of 1991 Rudolf Perešin, then a pilot in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), left Bihać and landed in Klagenfurt. As with all Croatian-born personnel in the JNA, he was under close surveillance by his commanding officers. His defection and his statement that as a "Croat and I cannot and will not fire upon my Croatia" proved to be a significant moral boost for Croatian forces.

Perešin then returned to Croatia, where he served as a pilot in the Croatian Air Force until May 2nd 1995, when he was shot down by Serb anti-aircraft artillery during Operation Flash. His remains were not returned until August of 1997.

Perešin's daughter Daliborka Perešin-Kekelić had this to say at the unveiling of her father’s fighter jet. "My father was offered political asylum when he landed in Austria. I would be lying to you if I didn't admit that after Operation Flash I often wished he had accepted the asylum. What would have happened? Today I would have a father, my mother would have her husband, my two girls, Karla and Franka would have a grandfather they would play with and who would teach them all of the values he taught me. But then I asked myself, would he have been at peace with that decision. I'm not so sure he would have. And that is why I love him even more and why I honestly respect his decision."

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković paid his respects to the legendary pilot. "He gave his life for Croatia, like numerous other who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is our duty today to honor their memory and the sacrifice of the Homeland War, the heroes of the Homeland War, and in that way strengthen the Croatian Armed Forces, the Croatian Police, that we ensure a dignified life for Croatian veterans and their families, and that we imbue our younger generations with the values of the Homeland War."

Defense Minister Damir Krstičević noted the importance of Perešin's historic flight to Klagenfurt. "Perešin's MiG is of little material value today. However, as one of the symbols of our fight for independence, its return to Croatia is of immeasurable value to our people."

In light of the 24th anniversary of his death delegations from the Croatian Armed Forces and Defense Ministry held a wreath laying and candle lighting ceremony at Zagreb's Mirogoj Cemetery. Commemorations were also held in Gornja Stubica, close to Perešin's hometown of Jakšinec, where a memorial house is being built in his honor.

Source: HRT