Above And Beyond: Bruce Sundlun’s Incredible WWII Journey
During overseas active duty beginning in June 1943, Sundlun served as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot in the England-based 384th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force at Grafton-Underwood Air Base. His plane the Damn Yankee was shot down over Nazi-occupied Jabbeke, Belgium on 1 December 1943 after the plane was damaged by flak during the bombing of Solingen, Germany, on his 13th mission. He was named an honorary citizen of Jabbeke in 2009 because of the fact that his actions saved countless lives in the town center of Jabbeke. He and his copilot Lt. Andrew J. Boles banked the airplane hard to the left prior to bailing out, crashing it safely into a turnip field at Zomerweg 41, south of the Jabbeke town center. After six months time cooperating with the French Resistance under the code name Salamander, he made several attempts to enter Spain near Biarritz, and later near Foix. But after deciding that there was too much danger of capture or loss in the snowy Pyrenees, he made his way on stolen bicycles north-eastward across France and escaped into Switzerland on 5 May 1944 near Fêche-l'Église. Before escaping into Switzerland, he was engaged with the Maquis in acts of sabotage near Belfort against German Army units under the command of Russian defector General Andrey Vlasov. Later, he was recruited by Allen Dulles working out of the U.S. Embassy in Bern to reenter France under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services to act as a bombardment spotter for the Allied invasion of Marseilles in August 1944. After a brief service as a pilot of C-54 Skymaster cargo planes into Karachi, and over "The Hump" to Kunming after VE Day, he ferried bombers (B-24 Liberators and B-29 Superfortresses) from the U.S. mainland to Tinian in the Mariana Islands and into other bases in the Pacific Theater of Operations. In August 1945, Sundlun attained the rank of captain, and left active service at the end of the war. He received the Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters from the U.S. military, and in 1977 he received the Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur from the French government. Bruce Sundlun later became a successful businessman and Governor of Rhode Island.