STORY SULLIVAN CREW #49 - RICHARD SULLIVANMy father, Fred R. Sullivan, had always told me that his B-24 took flak while bombing Munich. He was trying to make it to Switzerland, but the instruments were faulty, and the entire valley was covered with low clouds. His plane crashed into the Austrian Alps between Innsbruck and Imst. He parachuted onto the roof of a shed or barn, and was taken prisoner by a very young soldier who was very much afraid of my father. All of the crew survived except Joseph Lund, who my father was told drowned in the Inn River. The crew were gathered into a village jail. Later, my father was interrogated by an SS Major in a castle. Finally, he was taken to Frankfurt am Main and eventually to Stalag Luft 1.
In 1989, my father and I visited the area. We focused our attention on Imst, where he thought he had landed. We found very little. Then, my father died in 1992.
Last August, I received a letter written to my father from Keith Bullock, a British-born historian who has lived in the village of Mils bei Imst for the last 23 years, and who is preparing a book on the air war in the Tirol. My father and I have the same name, so the letter came to me. He stated that he knew of several eye-witnesses of the crash and knew where the crash site was. I promptly called, introduced myself, and made arrangements to fly over.
The week before I arrived, Keith arranged for a friend of his who is an editor for the Innsbruck
newspaper, die Tiroler Tageszeitung, to write an article stating the basic information about my father's crash and that I was interested in talking to eye-witnesses. As a consequence, Keith's
phone rang off the hook, and by the time I arrived, He had lined up about 15 people for me to interview. I speak German, which helped a great deal.
On the first day of my visit in early October, I went to the site where my father's parachute landed on Bachnitzstrasse in the village of Silz. One woman, who witnessed his landing, told me she was sure of the date (July 12, 1944) because her sister went into labor and had borne a baby girl that day. I then met the baby girl - 53 years old, and 12 hours older than I. Another woman described to me how she had seen my father land on the roof of the building - a large woodshed for timber, as she was bicycling by. When I told her my father's recollection that he was taken prisoner by a very young, very frightened soldier, one woman said that that person who was supposed to retrieve my father was the town gendarme, who was 80 years old. The gendarme whined that he was too old to crawl onto a roof for an American, so they got a younger man.
The town "jail" where the crew were initially incarcerated may have been the basement of the
Volksschule in Silz. The headmaster gave me a fine tour. I since have been in frequent touch with him on the Internet. His students, 8-10 year olds, think that it's really "cool" that their school was a prison during WW II. I sent the kids some books for their library and am trying to hook them up with a local Houston grade school in which German is being taught.
Later in the week, a woman called who had a photo of my father's B-24 burning on the side of Mt. Gruenberg near the village of Obsteig. The photo was taken by a neighbor, but the woman who possessed the photo remembered well the crash. With the help of the photo, she then climbed to the crash site and retrieved a piece of the plane, which I brought back with me.
Another couple in Obsteig, Hurr und Frau Pflunger, remembered the crash and told me how three of the crew parachuted into their back pasture.Frau Flunger's father was the forest fire Marshall
(Gemeindewaldaufseher, if you can believe that word) at the time, and his job was to dig a trench around my father's plane, which burned for three days, to prevent the fire from spreading through the heavily wooded mountain side. At the end of the summer, the local representative of Hitler's government gave the man a document commending his contribution to the Reich's war effort. Frau Pflunger graciously gave me the original document.
I met another woman next to whose house another flyer from my father's crew parachuted. 13 years old at the time, she ran out to get his parachute, which she wanted because it was a nice lemon yellow nylon. He gave it to her, in spite of some objections from the Buergermeister who was pointing a gun at him at the time, and she later made doll clothes out of it. She told me that that Christmas, the dolls in her village were very well outfitted. That flyer turned out to be Albert Taylor. Although I had never met him, when I got back to the States, I wrote him and eventually talked to him for several hours on the phone. I gave him Frau Rosa Mantl's address. He then wrote her and sent her a picture. She recently wrote me to say how thrilled she was to hear from the flyer whose parachute she took.
Later, in a history book entitled Im Bombenkrieg Tirol und Vorarlberg, I found a picture of my father that had been taken by a villager immediately after he had been taken prisoner and was being marched under guard through the main street of the village of Silz. I sent the picture to Albert Taylor, who promptly called me and with great excitement proclaimed that the picture was inded of my father.
Stefan Dietrich, the editor of the Tiroler Tageszeitung, wrote a follow-up article in which he printed that picture of my father and exerted two statements that I made in a letter to him in which I thanked the kind people of the Tirol for treating me so graciously and for giving me so much information.
On the last day that I was there, Keith took me to the Oetzthaler Ach to show me where he believes Joseph Lund drowned. This stream flows down out of the mountains from the north into the Inn River. During periods of high mountain run-off, as would be the case during June and July, the stream is torrential. People apparently drown in it periodically because it is so treacherous.
I apologize for writing such a long letter. However, I am quite excited about my recent trip. I am very eager to talk to any of my father's crew members. I thank you in advance for any information that you might tap into.