LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — Claire Tullius leaves for Europe on Wednesday for a ceremony eight decades in the making.
She’ll attend a service in a farm field in the small town of Putte, Belgium. It comes exactly 79 years after her father crashed his P-38 military plane in that very same farm field during World War II.
“Excited. I’m ecstatic,” Tullius told FOX31.
Her father, U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Al Mills, was flying a mission in his P-38 fighter plane in the final months of World War II. He took enemy fire and lost an engine. Instead of flying back to safety, he was given bad directions and flew farther into German-held territory.
“And because he was having to fly lower, he took more ground fire and lost his other engine,” Tullius said.
He clipped a tree stand to slow his airplane and set the aircraft down hard in a farm field. He was injured, but alive.
“And so he got himself out. There was someone passing on the road, and they got him to a house, and they hid him (from the Germans) in there,” she said.
In no time at all, the Germans came along and took Mills as a prisoner of war. He was held in a POW camp for eight months until the end of the war.
US WWII pilot to be memorialized in Belgium
A few years back, when Mills was still alive, the family returned to Belgium and went back to the very farm field where he crashed, and the home where aid was rendered.
Tullius thought that was the end of it, never assuming anyone outside the family would care much about what happened to her father that day — until a couple of years ago when some Belgian history buffs reached out.
“It was just so cool. It’s not like these are people my age. They’re in their 30s and late 20s,” she said.
They’d heard about the plane crash in the small village of Putte all those years ago. And they wanted to do something about it.
“Within two months of me connecting with them, they did a little temporary memorial. They did a picture of my dad, they covered it with plastic, little American flag out in the field, and they took a picture of it and sent it to me,” she said.
Alfred Mills Memorial Weekend
But it wasn’t enough. This coming weekend in Putte, Belgium, they’ve declared it Alfred Mills Memorial Weekend. And on Sunday, exactly 79 years to the day after he crashed in that field, they’ll unveil a permanent memorial marker in his honor.
“I may get teary,” Tullius said.
She’ll be there to see it all. So will her three brothers, other relatives and her husband, too.
“It must have been really, really hard to go through what he went through,” Paul Tullius said.
They have old pictures, medals and mementos of his bravery in Belgium all those years ago. Now, they’re about to make new memories of a man who quite literally made an impact long ago. And is about to make an even bigger one.
“It was surreal. The Lord had plans for him,” Claire Tullius said.