Black Hole of Silence: Keeping war secrets for decades

Dan Culler talks about his time as a prisoner and his experience writing his book at the B.W.I. Hilton in Baltimore. (Tucson News Now)
Dan Culler talks about his time as a prisoner and his experience writing his book at the B.W.I. Hilton in Baltimore. (Tucson News Now)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tucson News Now) - It might be hard to imagine, but some veterans keep their service history to themselves, even hiding the fact that they served at all from the ones they love. One Green Valley resident was imprisoned in a camp in Switzerland for months, then went on to serve in Korea but kept his secrets until he wrote them all down in a book more than 60 years after he first came home.

Dan Culler was a flight engineer and top turret gunner on B-24s until his plane was forced down over a Swiss air field. He's the only prisoner of war on this Honor Flight, and when he tried to escape, he moved to a federal prison where he endured horrible abuse for months on end in the 1940s.

He didn't tell his family about it until the 1990s.

"When you got home," Culler said, "nothing for us to do except go right to work."

So he did. He was a maintenance supervisor for a Midwest trucking company for decades. It wasn't until he retired and moved to Arizona that he sat down one day and wrote a book about his years in the war called Black Hole of Wauwilermoos: An Airman's Story.

He tearfully describes the day he decided it was ready to be read.

"When I wrote the part about... I'm sorry. When I wrote the part about Wauwilermoos, I gave the script to my wife and I let her read it. And I went for a walk for about four hours and when I came back, she couldn't believe it."

What was so hard to believe was the horrifying truth of what Culler endured as an inmate. He and his fellow captors were not even considered prisoners of war because they were being held in neutral Switzerland.

He says it got worse when he was separated from the rest of his crew after he tried to escape.

"Oh, it was horrible," Culler recalls. "It was a dirt floor. You slept on straw and you had a ditch along the side and that's where your toilet was. It went along the outside. And of course, these terrorists, what they done to me... you wouldn't want to hear. ... I used to crawl in that ditch at night and go outside and crawl between the barracks and hide there to get away from them."

Culler prefers recommending his book to people over going into specifics because he says he's gotten more emotional over the years. The book reveals every gruesome detail.

Culler says before his capture, he never experienced fear.

"It was a little bit nerve wracking, but I was so young, I thought it was nothing. You don't think of those things when you're 18, 19 years old," Culler admitted. "You don't think that anything is going to happen to you." But his experience continues to haunt him today.

"I had a lot of nightmares, I mean, I still have nightmares today."

Culler attempted another escape and was caught again, but the Swiss soldiers who caught him and two other Americans decided to let them go.

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