William “Bill” Sullivan was honored for his military service
during wartime operations at a ceremony held at Malmstrom Air Force
Base, Montana, Aug. 5, 2016.
Bill, 93, originally from New
York, New York, was a prisoner of war during World War II, fighting
for his life across the European countryside.
August 5, 2016 - William “Bill” Sullivan, World War II prisoner
of war 1944 - 1945, has a conversation at a ceremony held at
Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Bill received a certificate of
recognition and was coined by Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Stoss, Air Force
Global Strike Command director of operations, for his service and
dedication to the United States military. (U.S. Air Force photo by
Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam)
While visiting Malmstrom AFB, Bill received a certificate
of recognition and was coined by Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Stoss,
Air Force Global Strike Command director of operations, for
his service and dedication to the U.S. military during what
could be argued as one of the nation's most difficult times.
“Bill was very pleased,” said Elizabeth. “The
certificate is pinned on his wall in his room. He is very
proud of what he did (for his country). It's what he signed
assigned to the Army's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
which deployed behind enemy lines in Normandy, France, as
part of Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944.
deployed would take part of the historical events of D-Day,
the day the Allies invaded western Europe.
several of his comrades were captured by a German military
unit soon after the events of D-Day.
Bill and his
company would be transferred in and out of German captivity
“Bill escaped five times (during his
time as a POW),” said wife, Elizabeth. “He is still good at
that, even to this day.”
According to Bill, he spent
several months bouncing from location to location throughout
parts of France.
During a time on the run, he
survived a transport train bombing where casualties were
“The train did not get far when it was
attacked by our Air Corps,” Bill had said in a letter he
wrote to the son of a fellow POW, recounting experiences of
their travels through the war-torn country. “We were in
locked boxcars and casualties were heavy.”
weeks later, Bill recounted that a desperate escape was
“The field we entered was posted, ‘achtung
minen,' but there was no turning back,” Bill had said.
“Achtung minen,” is roughly the German translation for
Bill and his fellow escapees
had to navigate a live minefield in order to escape their
The experience would lead them
through with no lives lost and deliver them into the hands
“Six locals got involved in hiding us at
the risk of their lives,” Bill had said. “We were taken to a
storage barn in the woods where we were fed for eight days.
When we started to see German patrols, it was time to
His freedom would not last long before he
would be captive once again.
According to Bill, he
had to endure physical and mental abuse including death
threats and mind games as a prisoner of war.
German interrogator) gave us shovels and told us to dig,
which we did, very slowly,” Bill had said. “When he
returned, he said he had changed his mind. I think he
realized he might be a POW himself shortly. To this day, I
wonder which of us got the reprieve.”
On Sept. 13,
Bill arrived in Germany as a captive, where he remained for
several months in POW camps.
POWs were mentally and
physically abused in the camps. Extensive physical labor
tasks would be forced upon the prisoners, only to repeat the
task over and over again.
“In the a.m. we dug holes,
and in the p.m. filled them in,” Bill had said.
recounted that he spent weeks in a six-by-six foot shed with
other prisoners during one of his detainments in a camp.
The number of POWs held in German camps during this time
period is estimated to be 257,000.
In February 1945,
Bill made what he called the “March of Death,” which was a
series of forcible marches of Allied POWs across Eastern
Europe between January and April.
80,000 POWs were forced to march in extreme winter
Bill himself marched from Frankfurt-Oder
to a location south of Berlin.
He said a lot of lives
were lost on the journey.
Bill escaped from captivity
in late April 1945 and was a refugee until after the
surrender of Germany was announced, officially ending the
European phase of WWII, commonly known as V-E Day, May 8,
Bill accounted that he was airlifted to France
almost a week later and then traveled to England. He
returned to the U.S. in June by way of the British royal
mail ship Queen Elizabeth.
The Queen Elizabeth ocean
liners was utilized to transport troops and POWs back to
After returning to America, Bill received a
Purple Heart for his actions during wartime operations.
With the war over and a nation returning to peace, Bill
put the soldier's life behind him. He went to work for ABC
as a photographer and videographer for 40 years. It was
during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, that
Bill met his wife, Elizabeth, a native of Dublin, Ireland.
Currently, Elizabeth helps and supports him.
To this day, Bill doesn't talk about his time as a POW,
except in the form of written correspondence to strangers.
“He would write letters to others, and tell his story
that way,” said Elizabeth.
Through years of
correspondence between Bill and the relatives of fellow POWs
Bill was with in Europe, bits and pieces of his experiences
have been put together to tell his story.
“It takes a
lot of years for survivors to talk about it,” said
Elizabeth. “By the time I met him in 1988 and married him in
1992, Bill had moved on. He does have a Purple Heart, but
even I don't know what for.”
Elizabeth said Bill made
his first returning trip to Normandy after 1945 in the 80s.
Up until 2015, Bill went to Normandy every year to attend a
reunion celebration for those who would always have a piece
of themselves in Normandy.
Bill wrote a
to the son of a fellow POW about his experiences, which
has been transcribed and viewable.
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves
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