Chicago area family unearths loved one's past as a World War II pilot

Nearly two decades after his death, the daughter of a World War II Air Force vet is making some amazing discoveries about her dad‘s wartime heroics.

So on this Veterans Day, she’s telling the story that her father kept quiet for most of his life. The Greatest Generation is still revealing its secrets.

"I knew my dad was a POW and he was shot down over Czechoslovakia, but he never talked about it," said Adrianne Gabel of Sugar Grove.

Like many veterans, her father James Sullivan didn’t like to talk about his wartime experiences and when he died in 2003, it seemed as though his stories would also go to the grave.

"I’m sure they wanted to forget," said Adrianne. "So they just came home and started their lives again. Married, had families, worked and put it behind them."

But after her father’s death in 2003, Gabel found some old military papers and medals in a drawer and recently she decided to see whether they could answer some lifelong questions.

With the help of World War II historian and researcher Dan Matthews in Minnesota, Adrianne was stunned to learn that her dad and his twin brother Tom flew together on 25 bombing runs throughout Europe during the war. They flew B-24 Liberators to drop bombs on factories, railroad yards and oil refineries controlled by the Nazis.

"It’s just amazing," said Adrianne. "It’s fantastic. And we learned more."


In August of 1944, the brothers were part of a crew of 11 who were shot down over Czechoslovakia. Some parachuted to the ground and were held in POW camp until the end of the war.

"They crashed. Most of them bailed. Two crew members died," she said.

Adrian was amazed when she learned that her father and uncle’s names are now on a commemorative plaque in the Czech Republic honoring those B-24 crews that helped beat the Nazis, and the remains of their downed plane are on display in a nearby museum.

She also learned a Czech author has written a book about those B-24 missions, including a chapter on her dad‘s crash, and a Czech artist painted a picture of her dad‘s plane as it broke up in mid air.

"This is a copy of the print," Adrianne said. " It talks about the crash and it also lists the crew members and their title, including my dad."

She had no idea it existed.

Now, on this Veterans Day, finally knowing what he went through, Adrianne wishes she could have one more conversation with her dad.

"This was his life. This was a part I didn’t know," she said. "I’d give him a big hug and I’d say thank you so much. We appreciate what you did."

As do all of us.