A History of the Burns Family
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PART NINE: World War Two (1943-1945)  

Inspiration and Sources


Guy, Ada, and Bob on the evening of December 7, 1943, the night before his Army induction
(Ebba later laments the blurriness of the photo)

Two years to the day after Pearl Harbor, the wheels of war had turned again, and it was time for the first of the Burns men to report for duty at Fort Lewis. Bob had arrived home from Whitman the week before, but on the night of December 7, 1943, in the pine-paneled apartment above the shop, he was posing for farewell photographs with his parents and making preparations to join the army.

He had returned to school in the fall of 1942 determined to excel in his pre-medical studies, but his motivation continued to sag. He missed a lot of classes, and even earned a few “F’s.” When he and his friend Robert Turner ventured to Portland in November of 1943, in a last-gasp bid to avoid the draft, they were summarily denied entry to the medical school, in Bob’s case because of low grades. He felt guilty about these lost opportunities his whole life.

Part Nine of the Burns family saga starts here. Even though it covers only 16 months – from December 1943 to April 1945 – it is also the longest section. Not only do we have ample documentary evidence about the war and Bob’s part in it, but the inventory of letters from this period is mind-boggling. Ada wrote to her youngest son every few days while he was in the army, giving us a detailed view of what was happening on the home front. Her daily V-mail letters from January of 1945 – recounting home-improvements, puppet projects, family battles, and more – must have given a much-needed lift to a 23-year-old Private First Class mired in the din and confusion of the Battle of the Bulge. Except when he was in actual combat in continental Europe, Bob wrote faithfully in return, providing an often hilarious inside view of the soldier’s life. Bob and Betty also kept up a steady correspondence throughout the period. My parents remembered the whole ordeal vividly, and so we have that storehouse of recollections to draw from as well.

Other important sources for this section were my father's war "annuals" -- hefty tomes that described the progress of the 87th Division, 345th Regiment, in the European Theater of Operations.

Story #1 describes early 1943 from three perspectives -- Bob, as he is inducted into the Army, Betty as she frets about him from the safety of Whitman, and Ebba.

In Story #2, Don's experience in the military is described, based on letters written to and from and about him during his short tenure at Fort Lewis.

Story #3, told mostly in Bob's own words, tells about his experience in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Night life at Ames Lake is described verbatim in a letter from Ebba to Bob in the spring of 1944, and forms the basis for Story #4.

Betty's entry into the family circle is described, from her viewpoint, in Story #5.

Story #6 is told from Ada's perspective, and gives us a picture of the Seattle family constellation, her feelings about Betty, and her fears about her son off at basic training.

Bob's letters from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he is finishing up basic training, are featured in Story #7.

Story #8 covers the period when Bob was shipped overseas, and is told from a variety of perspectives -- Betty's, Helen's, and Bob's. Information about the voyage is taken from the war annual of the 345th.

Thanksgiving of 1944 found Bob in Biddulph, in the north of England, preparing to ship to France, and Ada in Victoria, trying to repair nerves shattered when she learned he was to be assigned as a medic to the front lines. Story #9 tells about this period from these two perspectives, with a dose of military history from the war book on the side.

Bob's participation in the Saar campaign, where he was awarded the Bronze Star, is described in Story #10. This is told in an expository fashion, because I did not feel I could get inside the head of someone fighting on the front lines.

Stories #11 through #13 tell of Bob's experiences in the Battle of the Bulge, centering on the Battles of Moircy and Bonnerue, neighboring towns in Belgium. These likewise are told in the third person, and supported where possible with evidence from the war book or other sources.

Story #14 tells the story of his homecoming and marriage to Betty.