D-Day paratrooper heading to France to commemorate 70th Anniversary of Normandy Invasion
LAHAINA – Lahaina man Robert “Bob” Sullivan has made his mark on history.
He parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was with the 6th British Airborne Division, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion under Lt. Col. G.F.P. Bradbrook, Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon.
He took part in the largest seaborne invasion on record; the operation that began the campaign against German-occupied Western Europe and contributed to an Allied victory in World War II.
The paratroopers, however, preceded the 6:30 a.m. amphibious assault on that Normandy Beach on D-Day, with the deployment of 24,000 British, U.S. and Canadian airborne troops shortly before midnight on June 5.
With an IQ wit double his age, the 91-year-old veteran of two wars has great stories to tell.
Sullivan remembered that momentous night: “We loaded into our C-47 somewhere in South England. As I recall, we left sometime around 9:30 p.m. We had two sticks of ten men each; I was the end seat, number 13.
“Our little third platoon was to capture a little town Our division was to cover the left flank to keep the Germans from coming in on that side,” he told the Lahaina News.
He jumped from 300 feet, and “you come in so fast, you don’t have time to think.”
He described the moment that took place in a blink of an eye.
“The green light came on and out we went; all of a sudden, I could see that I was going to land on a house, which I did, bouncing off the side onto the ground, all the time thinking that the whole German Army was going to come out and get me and that would be the end of my trip to Normandy.”
But it wasn’t; Sullivan has thrived and prospered. He’s been back to France at least five times since 1944. This year, he’s returning with his family to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy.
“He’s the only person alive in the State of Hawaii, that he is aware of, that was a paratrooper that jumped into Normandy on D-Day,” son Patrick Sullivan said.
Patrick and brothers Mike and Tim will accompany the elder Sullivan on the journey along with their spouses Joyce Colleen, Melissa Sullivan and Jenny Sullivan (respectively).
Molly, his daughter, will also attend. Bob’s wife, Paula, passed away several years ago, as did his son, John.
It’s all about ceremonies, Patrick advised about the four-night, five-day excursion.
“There’s over 19 dignitaries that will be there, including President Obama, is my understanding,” Patrick continued. “It’s going to be a huge event.”
“My dad has been invited to have an audience with Prince Charles,” Mike said, justly proud.
Bob was humble: “This will be my second time to shake his hand.”
The highlight of the ceremonies, according to Patrick, will be when 400-plus paratroopers drop out of the sky at 3:30 p.m. on June 5.
It will be an extraordinary experience.
“My dad was a true patriot,” Patrick commented with a swelling of pride, “and we know that the ceremonies that will happen over there are an event that will kind of be a conclusion of probably one of the greatest events in American history. And my dad was part of it; he was a hero.”
Brother Michael agreed. “He truly represents the greatest generation. He fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the ‘right thing to do.’ He has a strong sense of patriotism and is very loyal to his friends and family.”
“This will be a great opportunity to spend some quality time with my dad, brothers and sister. It will be great to reminisce about our last trip and pay tribute to those who sacrificed for us and who are no longer with us,” he added.
The distinguished soldier explained why he returns to that day, time-after-time. “I suppose probably the most memorable thing in my life was that jump into France. I can’t think of anything else that would be more memorable,” he told the Lahaina News.
His military career was unblemished.
His uniform is brandished with medals from America, England, France and Canada, and there are two from the King and Queen of England.
He was wounded on June 26, 1944.
“He went on to the Battle of the Bulge,” Patrick said, “and, I believe in February of ’45, he then was transferred into the American Army.”
“The war ended in May,” Bob said, but that wasn’t the end of his military service.
“When I got back to the U.S., I got a degree from University of Oregon in business. I was in a Reserve unit and got a call to Korea. When I got to Korea, I was a first lieutenant, and they made me a mortician.”
He was discharged a year later.
“Then I worked,” he remarked, and his business life was every bit as charmed as his military career.
His daughter describes him as an entrepreneur.
“I’ve done so many different things, I can’t remember all of them,” Bob said.
He’s owned a rental car franchise and taxi business; he was a bail bondsman, home builder, real estate broker and founder of Sullivan Properties Real Estate Company in 1979.
With his family, he moved to Maui in August of 1969, and he’s lived on Wainee Street since 1971, at least.
According to his business partner, son Patrick, he retired in 1990; but the nanogenarian is not one to rest on his laurels.
“He keeps his days busy putzing around his backyard and rebuilding two classics. One is a 1942 Willy’s Army Jeep, and it runs and is street legal,” Patrick said.
The other is a 1961 Austin-Healey.
He plays golf every Sunday.
He buzzes around the town he has come to love on a Vespa moped.
“Of course, it’s one of the most wonderful places in the world to be, right here,” Bob said.
When asked to describe his life, he responded humbly, “a poor boy that fought and fought and had a lot of ability and some brains and was able to make out over the years, but it took hard work.”
But his family, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would call him their hero, justly so.