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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Interview transcribed by Ness City High School Audio-Video Technology Class. Interview conducted by Lynette Stenzel andValerie Kepple, on August 8, 2006.

LS: Today is August 8, 2006 and we are here today to interview Earl Burditt of Ness City, Kansas for our Kansas Veterans World War II Oral History Project. With me today is Val Kepple and I am Lynette Stenzel and I will be doing the interview. Also with us is Earl's wife Vi. Earl's hearing aids aren't here today so we are gonna be doing some pointing and do our interview a little bit differently but we wanted to get what he had to say. Earl would you be able to state your name?

EB: Lemmuel Earl Burditt. That is the way it is on the military.

LS: And do you want to go right along there and tell us where you were born.

EB: I was born February 7, 1920.

LS: OK. Where were you born?


EB: On a farm in Ness County.

LS: And your parents' names?

EB: My parents? Well Lemmuel Burditt was my dad and Pearl Kanaga was my mother. She married a Burditt.

LS: And did you have any brothers and sisters?

EB: Oh yeah there was eight of us kids.

LS: Did you attend high school?

EB: Yes.

LS: And where?

EB: Right here in Ness City in the old red brick building.

LS: OK. What was your job prior to the military service?

EB: I worked for Sam Fritzler in his grocery store.

LS: OK. Do you remember when they announced Pearl Harbor?

EB: Very well.

LS: Do you remember what you were doing?

EB: I was in my Model A Coupe. I was going to see a girlfriend and I heard it about 2:00 in the afternoon. ( Earl is reading the question) If so do you think it would affect your life? Yeah very much. I knew I would be gone.

LS: Because of your age?

EB: Yeah.

LS: Ok. Did you enlist or were you drafted, Earl?

EB: I waited for Uncle Sam to call me.

LS: Ok. Were there others from your area that joined at the same time you did?

EB: Well there was five of us that went. We rode the Bickel bus, the bus stop was at the bakery back then. You don't remember that. The Bickel bus took us to Ransom and we was to get on a passenger train about 11:30 at night. Well this was 5:00. So most of us had cars up there to take us back home until we was due up there to get on the train.

LS: Do you remember when you entered the service?

EB: Yeah I entered, I was inducted the 28th of August 1942.

LS: Can you tell us a little bit about your basic training.

EB: I never took any basic training. No I didn't take any.

LS: Tell us why…why not?

EB: Why not? Well because they put me in the Air Corps. I was drafted and they put me in the Air Corps. They were needing airplane mechanics so bad that they…they didn't take us to any basic training. First they put us…we went to school and then they put us right out on the line working on airplanes.

LS: I'm going to ask you, Earl where did you go to school?

EB: Where did I go to school?

LS: For your training?

EB: I went to Chicago. I went to the University of Chicago in the aeronautical section and I was there for six months.

LS: Six months.

EB: Yes

LS:. Where did you go then?

EB: Where did you go then? When we graduated from the school up there, we went to Marana, Arizona. It was just a new air base. How long were you there? Well let's see, I got there in the last part of February and I left there…I left there in November of 1944. So the rest of the time I was at Marana.

LS: Did you choose to be a mechanic?

EB: When I first went in and they put me in the Air Corps, they asked us what we wanted to do and there was a whole bunch of schools and I said what is the fastest moving? And they said radio or airplane mechanics and I said I will pick airplane mechanics.

LS: Where did you go after Arizona?

EB: I went to Hobbs, New Mexico where they had B-17's. I was not a mechanic there, I was on the electrical crew. A B-17 has a lot of electrical…everything is electrical and I was on the electrical crew.

LS: Did you need more training?

EB: Did I need more training for the…? No.

LS: What was your M.O.S?

EB: I was a…my first one was what they called a mechanic. I think it was a 747, that was the number. And I was a mechanic for probably about six months and then they made me a crew chief that was a 750. And as a crew chief I was assigned 25 airplanes to take care of plus I had five men that worked under me that was my…there.

LS: Very good. Earl, did you serve stateside or did you go overseas?

EB: Did you serve. . ? Both.

LS: Ok.

EB: Do you want me to explain that?

LS: Yes.

EB: Ok. I had thirteen days overseas time. You have probably never heard of that before. But the thing was we started overseas. We were heading for Tiniad Island, it was just an air base, one runway B-29 base. Beings I worked on 17's and I was going to be assigned to the 29's. They put us on the ship at Seattle, Washington and we started out on a Saturday evening 5:00 and we sailed along. We was one day from Pearl Harbor. We were not escorted. We were traveling by ourselves. And on the ship they always played music and we were sailing along just so smooth and all at once the music quit and the loud speaker came on and it says, ``This is Commander of your ship. We have orders to return to port.'' They turned us around and in six and a half days we were back in Seattle. They unloaded us and they said now you meet here at this staging area the next morning and we're going to call a roll and if your name ain't called you just go back and find you a barracks to sleep in. I can't remember the exact but there was forty some…there was about a thousand of us Air Corps guys on that ship and when we came back there was about forty or forty-two of us that they never called our names but the rest of them had to get back on another ship and went over. We did not. They didn't know what to do with us. I was up there at Seattle for six weeks with nothing to do. They didn't know where to put us, they had no orders on us. And finally one day they come in with orders and said we had to get on a train here at such and such a date and we're going to send you down to Lukeville, Arizona and wait for your discharge.

That sounded pretty good. The living conditions at Marana beings that was a new base, we had to eat out of mess kits. They had one mess hall to serve a whole base which is about 6,000 men. There was four kitchens in that one mess hall and then I can't remember how long…they didn't have no sidewalks and just so much. And beings it was a new base. So the living conditions was not so good. I can even…sleeping we had homemade bunks. They had made them out of 1 x 12's and 2 x 4's. We didn't have bunka, regular bunks there yet so it wasn't the best.

LS: Was your equipment adequate?

EB: Oh yeah. You mean where I worked?

LS: Yeah.

EB: Oh yeah we had our working area out on the line of airplanes. Plenty of equipment.

LS: Are there other thoughts or experiences that you'd like to share about your service?

EB: Yeah I would like to share one thing. When I was going…this goes back a ways…when I was going to school in Chicago I was AWOL. It's on my record here, I was AWOL two days and do you want to know how that happened?

LS: Yes.

EB: I had my wife, she came up to Chicago, beings how I was going to be there. And we had a little son just weeks old. So when I found out that I was going to have to leave the last of February, I didn't want her to have to travel on the train by herself. So at Christmas time I signed up for a pass and they gave me a pass only to Kansas City. But I said I'm going to stay on and we're gonna go to Dodge City. And so we came to Dodge City and if I'd had got on the train right then. Turned around, I'd got back in time. But I said beings I'm home I'm going to stay here a day. So I stayed a day and when I got on I went back to Chicago. I went to Kansas City and the train I was supposed to change and get on it didn't wait. So I had to lay over in Kansas City an extra day and that's where the two days AWOL come in.

LS: Did you get in trouble?

EB: Uh not really. They took us out of school for ten days…our school classes was ten day phases, different things…and there was. . .I can't remember, I think there was sixty some of us that had went home at Christmas and they took us out of school and they had us out on the drill field. Let's see what is the name of that park…I can't think of it. We was out there at 5:00 in the morning taking calisthenics and we learned close order drill and a few things like that. That was as near basic training as I had.

LS: What was your impression of your commanding officers?

EB: Basically most of them were good. We had…there in Chicago...we didn't think that one was so good because he took us and put us out there.

LS: And then did you have an officer or fellow soldier who was significant in your service career?

EB: No I don't think so.

LS: Ok. And what do you remember most about the service?

EB: Oh…the only thing I really remember is what I learned. When I went in, I didn't know anything about airplanes. In fact I said I didn't want to be near them because I knew that this war was going to be fought with airplanes. So when they put me in there I said ok I'm going to make the best of it now, I'm going to really work hard and learn something. That is my impression of it.

LS: Do you remember the first days of service? Your first days?

EB: Do you remember the first days of your service? Yeah. Fort Leavenworth. I didn't do nothing.

LS: Ok. Were you able to stay in contact with home?

EB: Were you able to stay in contact with home? Yeah by writing a letter.

LS: Ok and was this the first time you were away from home?

EB: Was this the first time you were away from home? No that ain't the first time I was away. But I did get homesick because it was so much different. But I did hear plenty of guys crying and was homesick.

LS: Were you married when you were there? How long had you been married? And how old were your children?

EB: How long had I been married?

LS: uh huh.

EB: A year and something.

LS: And then your child was Russell?

EB: Yeah you know him…I think you do.

LS: Yeah. And he was a baby?

EB: Yep he was born after I went in the service.

LS: Ok. That's what we wanted. OK. OK. Do you remember the holidays?

EB: How we spent our holidays? Yeah, say Thanksgiving and Christmas and that was the day…we didn't work them days. They had a lot more stuff to eat and we would eat like a noon meal on Thanksgiving. We would go early, eat early and then just before they closed in the afternoon at say 2:00 we would go eat again. Christmas was the same way. They had lots of good nuts and candy and stuff like that.

LS: Did they give you any time for recreation?

EB: We had a lot of time for recreation. We only worked five days; we never worked Saturdays and Sundays.

LS: OK. What did you do?

EB: What did you do for recreation?

LS: Right. What did you do for recreation?

EB: They had a swimming pool and we spent a lot of time there and just a number of things you could do. They had a carpenter shop, a plumbing shop…we could go and tinker on things in places like that. Now when we were in Chicago we had the USO. It was big hotel that they had. . . the army had took over. I think it was seven or eight stories high, And each story had a different thing, you could go in and get a meal or if you wanted to do leather work. In one story all there was was leather work. Each story was something different and that was an interesting place.

LS: Do you recall any humorous incidents during your service?

EB: Do you recall anything humorous? Yes in the Air Force out there at Marana every so often we would get a bunch of Chinese cadets in. They would come in…China was way low on airplanes. So they would come out there to learn how to fly these basic trainers. They were 450 horsepower. They were a front and a rear cockpit and they would take off and they never did learn how to land on the ground. They would land thirty feet in the air. They would land up there and then that plane would just drop. When that done that, that made the gas tanks leak so we had a lot of extra work patching gas tanks that was leaking. We sure hated to see the Chinese come.

LS: Ok. Do you remember what your service pay was?

EB: Yeah out there in Marana I collected $13.10 a month. It was cash, they never did pay with a check, everything was cash back then. I got $13.10, the rest was taken out for well you know your wife and your children got something and we had laundry. I can't remember what all we. . . little things we had. I won't tell that about the laundry…I got my laundry free. Or do you want to know?

LS: We want to know.

EB: OK. In our barracks. . . they were double, top and bottom, and strung out. There was a hundred men in each barracks and one Saturday afternoon me and my buddy decided we would go into Tuscon which is thirty miles, we didn't go too often. I decided to go and I said ok and I went to get my shirt and my shirt wasn't on the rack and I kind of had an idea what happened so we didn't go in and I just stayed awake that night. One late Saturday night why here come a guy in and he took his shirt off and hung it over on my rack so I kind of called him on it. He said, ``You don't go to town very often and I needed a clean shirt.'' And I said, ``Well I'll tell you what I ain't going to report this if you'll from now on you pay all of my laundry bills.'' He said, ``Aw, I can't do that,'' and I said, ``Well, I'll tell you what,''…he had a new Buick Coupe and he was a burning airplane gasoline in it and I said, ``If you don't pay my laundry,'' I said, ``I'm going to turn you in for burning airplane gasoline.'' And he gladly paid my laundry bill.

LS: Did you have any siblings or other relatives that were in World War II?

EB: Yeah I had a lot of relatives that was in. I had a lot of first cousins around here, boy they was all in.

LS: OK. Do you remember where you were when they announcement came that the war was over?

EB: Yes very well. When they announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, I was sitting on a troop train in Salt Lake City ready to head overseas.

LS: So could you share your feelings…what your feelings were?

EB: Boy that was pretty good because we knew if we wouldn't be overseas longer than six months if we went. I was one of the lucky ones that didn't go. I just spent thirteen days on the water.

LS: Yeah. Ok do you remember coming home and how you got back home?

EB: Yep. I was sent…discharged from Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. I got there the fourth of December and I spent four days getting discharged. I had no specific way but I ran across a guy that had his car with him and he said, ``I can haul three people legally.'' And I says, ``I'll take one of them.'' I said, ``What will it cost?'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``if you three guys that I get just pay for my gasoline.'' And that's all we done. I rode with him from Denver to WaKeeney and then I phoned home and told them that I was ready to come home.

LS: What did you do after the service?

EB: Well you know I didn't really know what to do. I had farmed before and worked in the grocery store but I didn't…I had you know…we got a hundred dollars a month of mustering out-pay. And I had three hundred dollars a' coming, that was a lot of money back in them days, and so I just didn't really do anything. And I finally found out that the International dealer down here, Smitty…I don't know if you remember Smitty, he…I was told to go see him but he was wanting some actual mechanics. So I went to see him and he showed me around and he said, ``Well, you've been in the Air Force and the pay wasn't very good,'' he said, ``I'll pay you $45 a week.'' Well I couldn't believe that. So I took that job.

LS: Ok. Do you feel like…do you feel like your training or your wartime experience contributed to your career choice?

EB: Wartime experience contribute to a career choice? Well I didn't want to reenlist but a lot of them did and so I decided and figured that wasn't the right choice for me.

LS: Ok and then did you form any close friendships or did you stay in touch with any of your fellow service people after you came home?

EB: Oh yeah I had about a…1 2 3 4…probably four army buddies that we kept in track of for a long time.

LS: Ok. Did you attend any reunions?

EB: We never was really an outfit that stayed together. Where ever we went we was changed and split up.


EB: Yeah when I was in Hobbs, New Mexico, I was a working on B-17s. We didn't work a graveyard shift, we just worked three, six hour shifts. We didn't work that last one. So I had my family there, I had my car there. I was living in a one room apartment up on the second floor and right across the street from me was a Western Union. I heard that they were wanting a G.I. with a car that worked so I went over to see it. It was a woman running the place, and I told her that I had a car and I wondered what they wanted. ``Oh,'' she said, ``we want you to deliver telegrams and whatever else that needs to be done in here.'' So I said, ``Oh well I'll give it a try.'' So I took the job and they paid me $120 a month. I had a car but I needed new tires, it was kind of bad. They bought me a whole new set of tires. They bought all of my gasoline and I got to be known around Hobbs, the city of Hobbs, pretty well. When I was living up in this one room apartment, I paid seven dollars legally, seven dollars a week. If you used an electric iron or electric hot plate, she charged you more. It was a woman that owned it. I. . . what was that, the OPA office? I was well known at the OPA office and I told them what had happened up there and they said, ``Well whenever you move out of there, we'll see what we can do.'' So I told this lady that was running the Western Union about it and she said, ``We'll find a place for you.'' And they did, she found us a two room apartment on the ground floor. So I thought that was the time to turn this woman in and I turned her in and one evening she come down there where I was at the Western Union and she said, ``Well you finally turned me in, didn't you.'' And I said, ``Yeah.'' And she said…I can't remember how many dollars it was going to amount to…and she says, ``Would you take so and so and forget it?'' And I said, ``No, how much did they say you owe me?'' And she didn't want to tell me and finally I said, ``Well we'll just go down there and see what they say.'' And she said, ``Well you don't need to do that.'' And I said, ``Ok start forking it over.'' And she did, she paid up. And I found she was treating every G.I. as we called them, everyone that way if she could. Some of them didn't have no. . . couldn't get her over a barrel so they could get their money.

LS: Did your wife live with you?

EB: In Hobbs, yes.

LS: Hobbs, OK. Just part of the time? Just at Hobbs?

EB: Well she was at Chicago a little while you know. Hobbs is the only other place that.

LS: Were there no on base living arrangements?

EB: I suppose they did but I…at Hobbs I don't know, I never did check on it to see.

LS: Earl, did you bring home any souvenirs like your uniform or anything?

EB: I brought home a pocket knife and I had a uniform.

LS: How were you treated when you came home?

EB: When I got home?

LS: Yes.

EB: Real good, like a king. When I was in I done a lot of hitchhiking and they never refused to pick up a G.I. I hitchhiked from Hobbs, New Mexico. I hitchhiked home a couple times from there. Now from Tucson I wouldn't, I had to ride the train. That was too far. But like out of Tucson we would…we were thirty miles out of town, we would hitchhike from camp into town and as soon as we'd get out to the main highway somebody would stop and pick you up.

They had a big fire at Marana. They had four warehouses. It burned them all. Millions of dollars of worthy stuff there. To give a guy an idea of how hot is was, they are frying an egg on the tail of an airplane. When it come in flying at noon. It come in to gas up and they fried an egg on the tail of an airplane. Oh the ship I was on…did I tell you the name of it?

LS: I don't think so.

EB: I was on the S.S. Sacagawea; do you know what it is? Sacagawea was the Indian maid that took Louis and Clark up their trip, clear up. And this ship was built during World War I, it was named after her.

LS: I forgot to ask you Earl, did you graduate from high school?

EB: Did I graduate from high school? Yeah…

LS: Before you?

EB: Yeah before I…I graduated in 1938. How old was I in the service?

LS: When you were drafted? Yeah.

EB: Well I went in 1942 when I was 22 and I got out the 8th of December in 1945.

LS: Did your interest in HAM radios come from the service?

EB: I have a HAM now, I got a license.

LS: I know but was that from the service?

EB: No I wasn't a HAM in the service. I got it but I lost my hearing. I had to quit it. I used to…we traveled to Yuma in the winter time. I talked to Keith (his son)…I had the radios and everything…I talked to Keith direct. But I lost my hearing and I had to give up my HAM. I've still got a license.

LS: What did they say about the glasses?

EB: You couldn't get in the Air Force if you wore glasses.

LS: Why?

EB: Because you can't see as good with glasses.

LS: Because of the flight?

EB: Well it was just so much different. If you look at the instrument panel of an airplane when you see it at night it is lit up with a . . . not an ordinary light, it is a different type of light. With glasses you can't hardly read it.

LS: Earl, have you ever went back to any of the places you served at?

EB: Yeah we went…we've been to Chicago. We went back to the…I stayed in the, there was a Steven's Hotel. It had over three thousand rooms, it is called the Conrad Hilton now. It is on Michigan Avenue. I've been back to Marana once or twice I guess. I've never been back to Hobbs.

LS: Were they different when you went back?

EB: Marana is…as soon as the war was over it was. . . what's the word I want to use? The barracks were torn down, they only left a hangar or two stand. Some company went in and working on big planes. Hobbs, everything was torn down in Hobbs. They were only, they were temporary places. If you look at a picture of those barracks, they got a number, they got a T in front of that number that means it is temporary, not permanent.

LS: Earl, we want to tell you thank you!

EB: Thank you!

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