This is a transcript of the letter that Bill Sullivan (another 505th Veteran) wrote to Jim about his & his father’s exploits…
3rd January 2005
It seems we are in the closing chapter of the 505 RCT and in the closing pages for the original members.
Frank Thompson, Jesse Buck and Morris Sheppard were representatives of the best in that organisation and representative of what “Our Country” is all about.
I was privileged to have served briefly with people like your father, but long enough for it to have left a life-long impression.
Please accept my sympathy.
This letter was originally started in September in response to your enquiry about our Normandy experiences. I had kept a diary with names and places but could not locate it. It finally turned up in Ireland, so please excuse the delay.
I dropped outside the walls of a huge chateau. The rest of my stick must have been scattered on the other side and I left the area by a small dirt road. It was two am.
Over an hour later, I came across a group concealing equipment bundles. They were my C.O. Robert Keeler, 1st Sgt Carlos Cubos, Op. Sgt Sheppard, Pvt Al Krietsch and a few others I didn’t know.
Keeler had hurt his back and Cubos had a bum leg. The rest were OK. We were about 8 miles from our D.Z. (None of the above people were in my stick)
We moved out very slowly due to the injuries, zig-zagging thru hedgerows and taking long pauses. During the morning, we exchanged fire a few times and had one wounded (not seriously). At 6am (H-Hour), we heard the Navy open up, so we knew we had company.
In mid-afternoon, we came across Lt Irwin, CO of B Co with about six men. (He took charge of the group (either thru seniority or because Keeler was hurt).
Several hours later, we heard heavy small-arms fire, and headed in that direction. After a short distance we began to take fire from both sides and were gradually surrounded and forced to surrender. They were a Bn. Of the 91st Panzer Div. attacking towards St. Mère-Église and we were caught in the middle.
We were separated from the Officers and escorted north.
We arrived in Cherbourg, June 8 and spent two days in a very old fortress.
On June 10, we were all evacuated by train, (except wounded) which might have numbered over two hundred. The train did not get far, about 8 km’s (Briquebec) when it was attacked by our Air Corps. We were in locked box-cars and casualties were heavy.
The next day, June 11, they moved the survivors out by road (the train was wrecked. None of our group were hit).
After a few hours, they caught us again. This time we could see them. They were four P47 and they caught us between high hedge-rows. The count was 22 dead and more than 30 wounded. Again, H.Q. Co 1st was lucky.
It became apparent that being in German hands was very dangerous and on the next night, June 12, four of us escaped from a bus which had pulled off the road during an air alert. Sheppard, Krietsch, Knafl (501) and myself. Cubos stayed behind due to his bad leg.
The field we entered was posted – “ACHTUNG MINEN” – but there was no turning back. Marty Knafl (I guess to prove himself), volunteered to lead and we made it thru.
The next day, about six locals got involved in hiding us out (at the risk of their lives) and 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 leave.
We got off the road and headed down across a valley to a hill about a mile away. (I later learned the 1st Bn. 505 was on that hill and they were relieved the next day and returned to England. It was June 23).
As we were walking we could see German troops dug in along the tree line, but they let us go until one sharp-eyed S.O.B. spotted our boots. They had us again!
We were brought to Vesly and interrogated by a Major. He said his report showed that two of us were wearing civvies and would be shot. He gave us shovels and told us to dig, which we did, very slowly.
When he returned, he said he had changed his mind! (I think he realised he might be a P.O.W. himself, shortly). To this day, I wonder which two of us got the reprieve!
We left by bus the next day with about forty others, but only got about twenty miles to La Ronde-Hay because of troops moving up. They put us in a small school-house patrolled by two guards who would pause for a chat in front. This allowed time to leave by a back window which we did by ones and twos. Al and I left together and your father left with someone he didn’t know.
He told me many years later when we met in Minn. That it didn’t work out. They returned. His comrade got hold of some Calvados, got boisterous, and they were discovered. They wound up in the “Monastery”. I don’t know the dates or the location but he told me he escaped from there.
Al and I didn’t get far. That night a sentry stuck his mauser between my eyes and said something, very loud. Al was behind me and said something louder in German. He lowered the rifle! What are friends for!!
We spent the next two weeks, pad-locked in a 6×6 part of a barn. In the AM, we dug holes and in the PM filled them in. The Oberfeldt in charge had an Iron Cross from WW1, and he must have got it from “SCREAMING”.
We spent July 16 in the “Monastery”, but again, have no recollection of its location. Your father must have been there before us.
On Sep 13, Al and I crossed into Germany. We were separated in Dec. He was in bad shape. I made the “March of Death” in Feb 45 when they evacuated us from Frankfurt-Oder ahead of the Russians. We lost a lot of people.
In late April, I escaped (not difficult) from a Stalag south of Berlin and made it to the Elbe a week later ahead of the Russians.
About a week after VE-Day, I was air lifted to Camp Lucky Strike in France and met up with Cubos and Krietsch and after a side-trip to England, returned to New York early in June on the Queen Elizabeth.
Your father had re-joined the 505, and I understand got back in August.
When I started this letter, I did not intend to make it so prolonged but I kept remembering things.
I hope that it has been a helpful addition to your knowledge of these long-ago events.
All the best to you and the entire Sheppard family.
Yours, Bill Sullivan
For more details of Bill Sullivan’s time in Normandy, you could take a look at… http://www.strictly-gi.com/page96.html & Select “William A SULLIVAN” from the top menu.