True-life war stories about R V Burgin were shared in the blockbuster Emmy-Award winning HBO Series “The Pacific.” Now Burgin will personally share his stories at the Seventh Annual Louise Young Diversity Lecture at 7 p.m., March 10, at East Central University’s Ataloa Theatre in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.
The event is free and open to the public.
Burgin, 92, is an American hero in its truest sense.
In a little known horrific World War II battle on the Pacific Island of Peleliu, Burgin and company completely took out a bunker-full of 17 Japanese soldiers, who were armed with machine guns, rifles and hand grenades. They did this without American casualties.
His feat didn’t go unnoticed as his company commander put in for Burgin to receive a Silver Star on Sept. 28, 1944, the day following the incident. That honor didn’t materialize as the company commander died two weeks later in battle.
Burgin was ultimately recognized as he received a Bronze Star.
“R.V. Burgin: Recollections from America’s Greatest Generation” on March 10, will feature a lecture from Burgin and book signing. Burgin co-authored a book with Bill Marvel entitled “Islands of the Damned, A Marine at War in the Pacific.” The book will be sold for $20 at the event with the opportunity to receive Burgin’s autograph.
“This program is a final installment in a trilogy of the Louise Young Diversity Lectures that has featured heroes who served in World War II. We had a Navajo Code Talker in 2013 and a Tuskegee Airman in 2014. Our veterans are an important part of diversity,” said Young, a former ECU geography instructor, who is sponsoring the lecture for the seventh straight year. “Mr. Burgin grew up on a farm in east Texas during the Depression and joined the Marines because he wanted to be a part of America’s best. He fought in some of the fiercest battles of the war in the Pacific. One of those was the battle of Peleliu, which most World War II historians describe as one of the most intense and horrific battles in the Pacific. He later fought in the battle of Okinawa. The conditions he had to endure were mind-boggling.”
Burgin joined the U.S. Marines on Nov. 13, 1942, and served as a mortar man in the Pacific Islands as he and his platoon – Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division – engaged in some ferocious battles from New Britain through Peleliu to Okinawa, where he earned the rank of sergeant.
Burgin, along with his youngest daughter Terrie, recently went back to Peleliu, which is now a state in the island nation of Palau.
“I got to see the airstrip, bunkers and caves. Peleliu was just like we left it in 1944,” said Burgin, who visited the island along with three other company members – Jim Anderson, Jim Burke and Roy Kelley. Those were the only known four men who are still alive of the 85 original surviving Marines.
“I had some mixed emotions,” Burgin said about returning to Peleliu. “The memories of us going in on D-Day, seeing the amtracs (landing vehicles) being knocked out and Marines, wounded and dead, floating in the water. They (the Japanese) really worked us over.”
Burgin can even draw some humor from his exploits on the two-mile wide by six-mile long island and it involved of all things a canteen cup and five-gallon water can.
“We were in position and the water can was about 25 yards away. I went and got a drink and came back,” said Burgin. “Jim Burke then decided he would go get a drink and just as he reached for a cup a (Japanese) sniper shot at him and Jim lunged back. He says ‘I don’t think I’m that damn thirsty!’ It wasn’t too funny at the time but I look back on it and laugh.”
As a result of the Japanese sniper’s shot, Burgin could see where the rifle fire came from. He called in a Marine machine gunner, who sprayed the trees with 30 caliber machine gun fire, ultimately taking out the sniper, Burgin remembered.
Burgin served as an advisor to producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg on “The Pacific” Series. In addition to writing his memoir, Burgin has spoken to many audiences.
Burgin is excited about sharing his life experiences at ECU.
“Sometimes it’s bad and sometimes it’s good. The thing is to never give up. Be a great example for your kids, grandkids and the community,” Burgin said. “If I had it my way, every kid when they turned 18 would serve two years in the military. I think the world would be a better place.”
Young says Burgin truly represents what is the very best of “The Greatest Generation.”
“I feel a sense of urgency to present these stories for my alma-mater and my hometown,” said Young, who now resides in Texas. “Many people I remember from my early years in Ada were part of ‘The Greatest Generation.’ Sadly, their numbers are rapidly dwindling. It is my fervent hope that there will be a huge turnout to experience living history. Mr. Burgin is a fascinating speaker and a captivating author. I know this lecture will be an unforgettable experience.”