Burns

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, where he was a member of the 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 1940.  He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in the late summer of 1941, at Camp Polk, Louisiana.  The 192nd was informed it was to remain behind at Camp Polk and on the side of a hill the tankers learned that they were being sent overseas.  Many received leaves home to say goodbye to their families and friends, while those considered to be "too old" were released from federal service.
    Over four different train routes, the battalion traveled to San Francisco, California.  Upon arriving there, they were ferried to Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculations.  Those determined to be unfit were replaced on the island.  Other men with minor physical ailments were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date  in the Philippines.

   The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, on November 16th, the ship took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the same day.  
    About 8:00 in the morning on Thursday, November 20th, the ships arrived in Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before the soldiers disembarked.  The tankers rode buses to Ft. Stostenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.  The maintenance section, of the battalion, remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.

    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents along the main road between the base an Clark Field.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner.  He then went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons, and they spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers in the coming weeks.
   After arriving in the Philippines, Bill was assigned to Headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group.

     When war came on December 8, 1941, William was a member of the motorcycle reconnaissance detachment and was a dispatch rider assigned to carry messages 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.  Morley who had arrived in the Philippines as a member of the 192nd, now was liaison officer between tank headquarters and the battalion. 
    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.

    On April 8, 1942, Bill informed his friend, Sgt. Ray Vadenbroucke, who he had gone to high school with, that he 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:


"Well Ray, I am driving the peep carrying our white flags of surrender up to the Jap lines tonight.  If I do not return alive, tell the folks back home that I did the best that I could."

    The night of April 8, 1942, 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 his forces on Bataan.  Bill 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.  

    The next day, Bill 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."
    After Bill returned to the tank group' headquarters, Major John Morley wanted to find Capt. Alvin Poweleit the 192nd's doctor.  He ordered Bill to drive him to Hospital #1, where Poweleit was.  During the trip, Bill saw his first Japanese troops.  He pulled the jeep into the Japanese tank column and followed them to the hospital.  Since Poweleit could not leave until the evening, Morley had Bill drive him back to tank group command.  Bill went to sleep that night wondering what lay in store the next morning.  
    On April 9, 1942, Bill became a Prisoner of War.  Being that he was with the Headquarters Detachment of the Provisional Tank Group, he did not start the march at Mariveles.  The members of the group were marched out to the main road near their headquarters the morning of April 10th.  There, the enlisted men were separated from the officers.  When they reached the road, they spent the rest of the day sitting and guessing what was going to happen. 
That night they were ordered north.  The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking.  Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.  They made their way north while Japanese troops attempted to go south.  Marching on the stony road was hard.  At midnight, they were allowed to rest for a hour.  When ordered to move, they marched until dawn when they were given another break.

    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 pen.  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.
     At 6:00 P.M. the POWs were formed into detachments, they began to march north again.  When they were given a break, they were allowed to sit but they had stay in ranks. When they got north of Hermosa, they were on paved road which made it easier to walk.  It began to rain which was refreshing for the prisoners. 
    The POWs continued north through Layac before daylight.  They passed through Lurao in the morning and Guagua at midday.  Many POWs fell out at this point.  The guards beat the men, but if they refused to get up, they let me lay on the ground until they could continue or the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando.
    At San Fernando, the men were forced into another bull pen.  This one was already filled with Filipino soldiers.  That night, not all the POWs could lie down.  The POWs were put into groups of 200 men to be fed.  A couple of the POWs would get the food which was distributed to each member of the group.  Water was given out in a similar fashion.
    The POWs were awoken at 4:00 A.M. and taken to the train station.  They were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as "Forty or Eights" because the cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs in each car.  They were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas at 9:00 A.M.
    The POWs marched the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field were they were counted and searched.  Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from the them.  Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan's enemies.  He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly.  After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base which the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  The death rate began to climb and as many as 55 POWs died each day.  The burial detail worked all day long to bury the dead.  In the morning when the burials started again, the bodies of those already buried had been dug up by wild dogs or were sitting up in their graves.  Sometime between April 12 and May 1, while a POW at Camp O'Donnell, Bill was one of 100 POW's selected to go to Camp Olivas on a work detail. 

    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, and Charles Peterson, 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 and returned to the family.

    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.   


 


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