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. It was on the side of a hill the tankers learned that they were being sent overseas and had been selected for this duty by General George S. Patton. Many received leaves home to say goodbye to their families and friends, while those who were married or considered to be "too old" were given the chance to be released from federal service.
The decision for this move - which had
been made on August 15, 1941 - was the result of
an event that took place in the summer of
1941. A squadron of American fighters was
flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines,
when one of the pilots, who was flying at a
lower altitude, noticed something odd. He
took his plane down and identified a flagged
buoy in the water and saw another in the
distance. He came upon more buoys that
lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the
northwest, in the direction of an Japanese
occupied island which was hundred of miles
away. The island had a large radio
transmitter. The squadron continued its
flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to
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
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:
The night of April 7, 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."
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 which had been set up in a
schoolyard. 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 disabled vehicle and steer it. From San Fernando, the men would drive the vehicles to Manila where the vehicles were sent to Manila to be 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. After the
war, Noworul and Peterson drew a map so that
Bill's remains could be found and returned to
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. During the presentation at Proviso Township High School, in the school's auditorium, the citation was read. It said, "For valor and heroic achievement in connection with the military operations against the enemy on Bataan, Philippine Islands, 8/9 April 1942. Corporal Burns made numerous trips to the front units during the above period delivering messages and guiding messengers while a heavy enemy attack was in progress. His utter disregard of personal danger in the performance of his duties under artillery and machine gun fire and aerial bombing was an inspiration to all with whom he came in contact." During the dedication of the memorial to B Company Cpl. William E. Burns jr.'s father received his Silver Star for meritorious achievement and gallantry in action.