Cpl. William Edison Burns Jr.
Cpl. William Edison Burns Jr., was born on August
3, 1919, to William E. Burns Sr. & Mary E.
Merritt-Burns in Oak Park, Illinois. With
his brother and sister, he attended the
Field-Stevenson Grammar School in Forest Park and
Garfield School in Maywood.
In Maywood, he lived at 808 South 9th Avenue and attended Proviso Township High School. He was a member of the Proviso graduating Class of 1938. While a student at Proviso, he was interested in music, basketball and ice skating. After high school, he attended college for a year before he was employed by the Continental Can Company in Chicago.
Bill was a member of the 33rd Tank Company of
the Illinois National Guard and was called to
federal service in November of 1940. He
trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Camp Polk,
Louisiana. It was after maneuvers, that
the 192nd was informed it was to remain behind
at Camp Polk. It was on the side of a hill
that the tankers learned that they were being
sent overseas. Many received leaves home
to say goodbye to their families and friends.
When war came in December of 1941, William served as a member of the motorcycle reconnaissance detachment and was a dispatch rider to the 192nd Tank Battalion. As a member of this unit, he carried messages between the various companies of the 192nd. While under heavy enemy fire from enemy machine guns, aerial bombing and artillery fire, he made numerous trips to the front lines units delivering messages and guiding other messengers. By doing this, he showed utter disregard for his own personal safety while performing his duties.
At some point, Bill was assigned to drive the jeep of Major John Morley of Headquarters, Provisional Tank Group. Upon hearing the news, from Col. Cliff Williams of General King's staff, that Williams was being sent to meet with the Japanese to negotiate the surrender of Bataan, Morley offered him his jeep to use. He also offered to have Bill, his driver, drive the jeep.
During the evening of April 9, 1942, Bill
informed his friend, Sgt. Ray Vadenbroucke that
had been selected to drive
one of the two jeeps that were to carry the
officers of General King's staff to negotiate
the surrender of the Filipino and American
forces on Bataan. Since he did not know if
he would return from this mission alive, Bill
asked Ray to inform his parents that he had done
his best during the Battle of Bataan.
According to Vadenbroucke Burns said:
The night of April 8, 1942, at 3:30 A.M., Bill drove the jeep which carried Col. Everett C. Williams and Major Marshall H. Hurt to notify the Japanese that General King intended on surrendering the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan. He returned to the American lines with Major Hurt to bring the news that the Japanese were willing to accept the surrender of General King's troops.
Bill next drove the jeep carrying Col. Collier,
a member of General King's staff, to the meeting
with General Kameichiro Nagano to discuss the
terms of surrender. During this trip up
the East Road, the two jeeps were attacked by
Japanese planes. This was done despite the
fact they were carrying white flags. Bill
saved his own life and that of Col. Collier when
he swerved his jeep sharply to the left as a
Japanese plane strafed them. He continued
to play this game of "cat and mouse" with
the Japanese planes until a Japanese
reconnaissance plane acknowledged them and kept
the other planes away. No formal
terms of surrender were given, Gen. Homa said, "We are not barbarians."
When they reached the Lamao River, they could smell the corpses of those who had died two days earlier in the Japanese final push. In front of the members of the Provisional Tank Group were a group of Army Air Corps members. They broke from the ranks and drank from the river and filled their canteens with water. This would later be the reason so many POWs died at Camp O'Donnell.
The POWs made their way north through
Limay. At Orani, the POWs were put into a
bull pin. In one corner was slit trench
that was suppose to be used as a washroom.
The surface of the pit was alive with
maggots. It was also there that they
received their first food.
The men on this detail were selected because they were in good physical condition. These men drove trucks down to Bataan to bring back vehicles that had been abandoned and disabled by the retreating Filipino and American forces. Each truck had a driver and three men assigned to it. The men would tie three vehicles together and tow the damaged vehicles to San Fernando. Each man would sit in a vehicle and steer it. From San Fernando, the men would drive the vehicles to Manila where the vehicles were loaded onto ships bound for Japan.
While working on this detail, Bill was one of five men selected by the Japanese to be sent to the hospital because of illness. Bill and Charles Peterson, another former Illinois National Guardsman, were considered so ill that they were placed in isolation. According to Capt. Harold Collins of the 192nd, Cpl. William Edison Burns died on Friday, July 3, 1942, from malaria and yellow jaundice at Camp Olivias. The document written during the war at Bilibid Prison states Burns died at Camp Olivias between the 6th and 10th kilometer markers of the Apayao River.
After his death, Sgt.
Bob Peterson and Pvt. Harry Noworul, both of B
Company, convinced the Japanese to allow them
to bury Bill outside of San Fernando.
The two men carried his body over a kilometer
from the town where they buried him in a
secluded spot. The family of Cpl.
William Burns did not learn of his death until
May 15, 1945. Noworul and Peterson drew
a map so that Bill's remains could be found.
After the war, the Burns Family requested that Bill's remains be returned to the United States. Since his father had moved to California, Bill was reburied at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in Section N, Site 2387, in San Bruno, California.
Cpl. William E. Burns Jr. was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Silver Star for meritorious achievement and gallantry in action.