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WWII Talks: Burke Waldron

‘Look at that, the sand is jumping up!’

Burke Waldron. US Navy. 3rd Class Petty Officer.

After the war broke out, I became an aviation mechanic at Hill Field. I was up there for about six months and went home (near Magna) one weekend to see my buddies. They were all gone. They had been drafted and joined the service.

I jumped in my dad’s car and went to the draft board in Murray and asked why they hadn’t called me. I was ready to go. They searched but couldn’t find my record. I would never have been called! I showed them my draft card. They told me they’d take care of that.

I was to report to Fort Douglas at 8 o’clock the next morning. I joined the Navy. My dad was in the Army in France (during World War I). I didn’t want to be in the trenches like he was.

I went to boot camp in Farragut, Idaho, and signal school at the University of Chicago. We were transported on an old steam engine troop train. It was a miserable ride, but there was one wonderful thing: every stop we made — there were a lot of stops because they picked up and dropped off mail throughout the country — ladies were there waiting for us with tables full of pies, cakes, sandwiches and coffee. It was a terrific boost. Those ladies were as important to us as Rosie the Riveter.

I graduated as 3rd Class Petty Officer. We were sent to Treasure Island, California, where we were assigned to be in the armed guard, then went to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego.

We took a World War I destroyer to Pearl Harbor. As soon as we got out past the breakwater, we hit a terrible storm. There were waves 50 feet high. The whole ship would just shake. We were so scared.

We arrived at Pearl Harbor and were assigned to the U.S. Naval Ground Forces Pacific, GROPAC 1. We were given gas masks, a foxhole shovel and were loaded on a troop transport. We were shown how to clean a rifle, drilled on how to fix a bayonet, to advance and jab. Off we went, zig zagging across the Pacific.

We went to Makin Island in late 1943. We set up our signal tower and handled the communication from the island commander to all the ships. We were bombed every night by the Japanese. The sirens would go off; that was enough to scare you. It was such a small atoll that if you dug in any deeper than a foxhole, you were in water.

The purpose for that island was to get a landing strip for our planes. Soon, we started getting B-24 bombers. I was on shore one time and I could hear the radio communication going and this kid was saying, ‘How do I fly this thing?’ The pilot and co-pilot were dead, and two others in the plane were dead. They had him put the landing gear down, and shouted, ‘You are coming in too low. Give it the gas!’ There was a big stone wharf over which the plane had to fly in order to land. The plane’s landing gear hit the wall, broke off and the plane skidded in on its belly, spinning around before parking itself. Man, he was so blessed.

We were taken back to Pearl Harbor, reorganized and became GROPAC 8. We loaded up on another troop transport, hoping the submarines didn’t get us, and pulled in for the invasion of Saipan in June 1944. On that island we were tied in with the 4th Marine Division.

War is tragic. The Japanese had brainwashed the island natives to think we were cruel and would torture their women and children. So, over this monstrous cliff they threw their children to their deaths — and they jumped, ending their own lives.

Tinian sat about two miles away. One day we were sitting around this crater and I said, ‘Look at that, the sand is jumping up.’ They were shelling us from Tinian! The shells were blowing up the sand. One of the guys said, ‘Hit the deck!’ and we all dove in this hole. By the time they got the range, I guess they ran out of ammunition.

A few years ago, actor Gary Sinise paid for me and a companion to go all the way to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans — just the two of us. A little later, we went to Hawaii for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Everything was first class.

I had the thrill of throwing out the first pitch of a Seattle Mariners game in front of 30,000 cheering people in 2016. (Topps made a baseball card to commemorate the occasion.) And this summer, I am very excited to have a trip planned to visit Saipan and the Mariana Islands. Officials from their government invited me. To think I would get a chance to return …

These types of things really spice up my life. Without that, I would be kind of bored. So many people have thanked me for my service that as soon as I see a guy who looks like a vet — usually they are veterans of the Korean War or Vietnam War — I start thanking him. They say they are just kids. I tell them I feel like a kid myself.


WWII Talks: I was There is a series of first-hand stories of WWII veterans written for VALOR Magazine. These personal accounts are from interviews with some of Utah’s “Greatest Generation.” This account was complied by David Cordero.


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