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Every Veteran Has A Story: E T. Burgess, Jr.

Staff Sergeant Edmond Thomas Burgess, Jr.
United States Army Air Forces, World War II
510th Bomb Squadron, 351st Bomb Group

The morning of Tuesday, January 11th, 1944, 291 B-17 Bomber Crews of the First Bomber Division, 8th Air Force had chow, that last cup of joe, received their mission briefings and headed toward their respective aircraft for takeoff from USAAF Station 110 (Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England).  Their targets this day were aviation industry sites in Germany.  The attack would be in two elements; one consisting of 177 B-17s with Oschersleben, Germany as its primary target and the other was comprised of 114 B-17 Bombers with Halberstadt, Germany as the primary.

The crew of B-17 Bomber, serial # 423523, nicknamed “April Girl” did their preflight and loaded onto the aircraft as they had the previous 10 missions.  Assigned to the 510th Bomb Squadron of the 351st Bomb Group, the ten-man crew settled into their respective positions.  1,2In the nose section was navigator 2nd Lt. Jerrold S. Trumbower of Daytona Beach, Florida and the bombardier 2nd Lt. James P. Keating of Matick, Massachusetts.  The pilot 1st Lt. George J. Procak of Newburgh, New York and co-pilot 2nd Lt. George B. Neely of Fort Worth, Texas were located just behind the nose in the cockpit.  Immediately behind them was a standing position for the top turret gunner maned by Staff Sergeant John J. Cipriano of Glen Head, New York.  The radio operator Technical Sergeant Saul E. Susman of Terre Haute, Indiana was located in the middle of the plane with ball turret gunner Staff Sergeant Otis L. Williams of Tarrant, Alabama beneath him.  On both sides of the plane just behind the wings were places for the left and right waist gunners Sergeant Peter J. Goinvic of New York City, New York and Sergeant Eugene R. Chelstowski of Fairfield, Connecticut.

The tail gunner’s compartment is in the extreme end of the fuselage and was equipped with two direct-sighted, 50 caliber machine guns.  Staff Sergeant Edmond Thomas Burgess, Jr. (ET) of the Fellowship Community near Joaquin, Texas filled this position aboard “April Girl”.   3His parents Edmond Thomas Burgess, Sr. and Annie Margaret Williams Burgess were married in Shelby County on June 12, 1902 and raised 8 boys and four girls.

Born May 31st, 1917, ET graduated from 4Joaquin High School and at the age of 24 joined the US Army Air Corps in August, 1941.  5After enlisting he received extensive crew member and gunnery training at Lowry Field, Colorado, Amarillo Field, Texas, Las Vegas, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah.  While training in Colorado he met Miss Catherine Liggett of Denver and they were married in September, 1943.  Two short months later ET was reassigned to the European Theater of Operations as an aerial gunner.

After takeoff that January morning the target time was about 11:50 hours.  All was well until about 30 minutes from target when the “April Girl” was jumped by eight German fighters at about 20,000 feet.  The co-pilot 2nd Lt. Neely gave the following account in his statement of August 21st, 1945.  “The plane received 20 mm hits from nose to tail.  The bomb bay section was set afire which prevented him from going to the rear of the plane (to check on crew members).  One burst of 20 mm shell entered the cockpit and injured the pilot severely in the right leg and foot.  This was followed by a hit in the waist section by a rocket.  He saw the pilot pull the bail out alarm.  At this time both wings of the plane were on fire.  Lt. Neely then went into the nose of the plane and found the bombardier and engineer attempting to reach the fire with a fire extinguisher.  Lt. Neely then told them that they were to leave the plane.  He then reached up and got his parachute, tapped the pilot on the leg and indicated that he was leaving the plane.  He then left the plane by the nose escape hatch.  While he was in the air, Lt. Neely counted three (3) parachutes in addition to his own”.

The pilot 1st Lt. George Procak stated “he thought all had bailed out except the tail gunner, ET Burgess who was in the tail of the plane when it crashed”.

Reburial services for Sergeant Burgess were held at the Fellowship Baptist Church on Wednesday afternoon, April 13th, 1949 with the Rev. Floyd Lawson and Rev. E. B. Anderson officiating.  Interment followed in the Johnson cemetery with the Price-Malone Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of Logansport and the American Legion of Center rendering Final Military Funeral Honors (Champion Newspaper, 4/21/1949)

(Sources: 1Missing Aircrew Report, January 13, 1944; 2B-17Bomberdetails.com, January 2017; 3Shelbycountyhistory.net, January 2017; 4Men & Women in the Armed Forces from Shelby County, undated; 5Champion Newspaper, 3/9/1944.