Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity
First Lieutenant Patterson Burns
September  22, 1917-April 13, 1942
21st Pursuit Squadron--U.S. Army Air Corps

Remarks on Memorial Day, May 30, 2005
By his brother, The Rev. Richard Lee Burns

John Patterson Burns I express deep gratitude to you for this occasion honoring American military service personnel who served, fought, and in some cases died in the service of this country.  Particularly, my family is deeply moved that today you would honor my brother, First Lieutenant, John Patterson Burns, who grew up in the Uniontown community and who was killed in the Philippine Islands in the first year of America's participation in World War II.  John was the first from Uniontown  to die in that war, but unfortunately not the last as many wonderful people would met the same fate.

John was born in Mansfield, Ohio on September 22, 1917 where my father Warren Burns was a Junior High Principal.  In 1919, Dad, my Mother Marjorie, and John who was then two, were sent by Goodyear to Singapore, Malaya (as it was then known) where Dad purchased rubber for the tire industry.  On their way to Singapore in Manila Harbor, a ball John was playing with went over the side of the ship into the water.  John started after it and would have drowned had he not been grabbed by another child, daughter of a Methodist missionary.  Ironically, twenty-two years later John flew missions over that Manila Bay area and died in that very country in 1942.

The family returned to Akron from Singapore in 1922 and lived on North Hill while Dad continued his 37-year stint with Goodyear.  In 1931 we moved to Tisen Road in East Moreland, two miles north of Uniontown off of Route 8.  We were now a family of five, Bob and I having been born in Akron after Singapore.

John attended Uniontown Schools, was active in scouting attaining the Life Rank, and he participated in football, basketball, and baseball.  He was honored as all-Stark County end on the 1935 football team.  He graduated in the class of 1936.  John spent the next four years at Ohio University where he graduated in 1940 with an electrical engineering degree and a Second Lieutenant's commission in the U. S. Army.  He was immediately assigned to infantry training at Fort Knox, all the time waiting for an appointment to fulfill his life long dream as a career Army Air Corps pilot.  He was soon accepted and began his primary training at Spartan Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma, his basic at Randolph Field and his advanced at Kelley Field, both in San Antonio, Texas.  John received his pilot's wings February, 1941.  He was assigned to the 21st Pursuit Squadron at Hamilton Field, California where he flew Curtiss P-40 fighter planes.

On November 1, 1941 the 21st Pursuit Squadron left San Francisco by ship for the Philippine Islands, arriving in Manila Harbor November 20, twenty two years after his first visit there.

I will be reading a few excerpts from John's diary, which I hold in my hand, in order to convey to you a bit of those early days of the war in the Philippines.  Some of the facts are obscure and we know very little about the kind of hardships our forces experienced on Bataan.  It is ironical how our family received this diary that we assumed was lost when John died.  But three years later in 1945 my parents received a package from a name they did not know.  He had been a soldier in the U.S. Army in New Guinea and after the Battle of Buna Beach in Northern New Guinea he went through some of the belonging of a dead Japanese soldier and found this Pilot's Leather Identification Card that were John's.  This Japanese soldier evidently had taken from John's belongings on the Island of Mindanao after the Philippines fell in 1942.  He carried them as souvenirs until he was killed in New Guinea.  This American soldier sent it to h address in the diary and it came home.  John kept this diary every day from November 1, 1941 until the day before he was killed on April 13, 1942.  The diary is a wonderful treasure for our family and it fills in so much information about those days.  I hope it will inform you about those awful early days of the war.

Arriving at Nichols Field, Manila on November 20, the squadron worked to get their newly arrived P-40 fighters assembled, armed and in flying condition.  They went on alert November 29, more than a week before Pearl Harbor so they knew much ahead of time.

December 2, 1941. "Looks worse every day.  Col. George called us together and told us it would only be a matter of a couple of days.  Have our oxygen masks in planes, headset, etc. all ready to go.  Dyess has me weaving hot spot at present."  (Edwin Dyess was 21st Squadron Commander for whom the Abilene Texas airbase was posthumously named Dyess Air Force Base.
December 9, 1941  "Took off before daylight.  War started.  Flew patrol about noon.  Moved to Clark Field before dark.  Clark bombed to hell, and while we were patrolling over Nichols Field.  No air defense at Clark.  A complete surprise."

John's squadron flew a lot of the early weeks of the war, experiencing a lot of pilot deaths an plane loss.  As the Japanese invaders drew near, the 21st squadron evacuated from Manila on December 15 and headed for the Bataan Peninsula with many other service units.

They put together the best flying squadron they could with the P-40s still flyable and scrounging all the parts from the damaged ones.  They primarily flew reconnaissance or strafing of ships and enemy troops.  They avoided dogfights with other fighters since they had so few planes and didn't want to lose them all.  At different times the pilots fought alongside the infantry and Filipino soldiers in the jungle. 

They had little food, limited ammunition and equipment, few medical supplies.  John wrote his longest diary entry on February 15, 1942.  "From the time we left Manila for Bataan until now has been pretty near hell. Squadron turned Infantry and lost some our best men fighting in the brush.  We aren't getting enough to eat, and are tiring out and all troops need a rest.  I can't see what they are thinking of in the states, they surely could have gotten some help in her, both in troops and planes.  There is U.S. Aid for everywhere but the Philippines.  There certainly have been some big errors made since this thing started.  I hope I get a chance to tell about them. Would give a heck of a lot to see the folks and Jean now."

Most Americans are unaware of the disappointment and anger in the troops on Bataan.  They were promised supplies, food, equipment, and planes in the early days on the peninsula.  But nothing ever showed up.  When Corregidor was captured the Japanese found the tunnels packed with food that could have gone to Bataan.  This perspective of history now helps us to that when the Philippines seemed lost, Washington turned attention to other theatres of war.  Thus those on Bataan then and the few survivors still living today call themselves, "The Battling Bastards of Bataan; no momma, no papa, no Uncle Sam."  Those who survived the fighting or the Death March on Bataan have a medallion and those very words.

February 27, 1942. "Flew a couple of hours in evening Recon.  To Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf." From Dyess book, pp.55-59
March 2, 1942. "Busy day  Radio control at Cabcabin, then almost dark flew with Capt. Dyess.  Strafed Grand Island.  Strafed tanker.  Dyess blew it up.  Wrecked plane landing at Cabcabin."
March 4, 1942. "Headquarters reports that we sank 32,000 tons of shipping on the 2nd good toll for the one plane we lost even though headquarters doesn't admit it.  Estimate 50 million dollars damage done."
Evidently Tokyo was embarrassed to admit what two planes accomplished so they inflated their report as John's diary notes.
March 6, 1942  "The Japanese press release to Tokyo says we used 54 planes in the raid the other day, many of them 4 engine jobs, also reported 6 of us were shot down.
March 20, 1942. "Quiet day.  The food ration is pitiful now.  Enough to keep from starving but not enough to do much work on.  One day's food for 250 men.  19 loaves of bread; 15 cans of milk; 17 cans of salmon.:
March 24, 1942 "Sick today.  Fever chills, etc.  Terrific headache.  Ache all over,  Japs have started pushing us again, using their big bombers and dropping some big stuff."

Most entries were similar to these the balance of March and April.  Edwin Dyess wanted to get the pilots who had flown combat off of Bataan and down to Mindanao, the southernmost Island, in order to keep fighting with the final planes since it was obvious that Bataan would soon fall, as it did no April 7, doubling up in the several planes that were left flying.  They went by way of Cebu, from where we got our last cable from John.  They arrived at the airstrip on Del Monte Plantation on April 8.

April 11, 1942.  John's last written entry. "At suppertime 10 B-25s and B-17E's came in.  Going to do a bit of bombing around Manila and then
back.  Chance to move on south.  I hope I get it.  It was a wonderful sight to see them come in."

On April 13 the bombers led by Gen. Ralph Royce and the surviving Bataan pilots were getting ready to head to Australia.  I turn now to a paragraph from General Royce's letter to my parents on January 30, 1943.  "On the second day of our stay at Del Monte field on Mindanao, we had stationed some P-40 fighters on the airdrome which were held on alert to drive off the enemy low-flying dive bombers which had been bothering us the day before.  Your son was on duty as airdrome, and about half past twelve the officer who was on the alert with the P-40 asked your son to take the alert while he got a bite of lunch.  About five minutes later, the alert sounded and your son jumped in the P-40, had the engine started, and started to take off the runway.  We never knew exactly what happened, but the ship ran off to the side of the runway and the sharp rocks blew off the tires.  He tried to get airborne before sufficient speed had been obtained and stalled the engine.  It crashed to the earth, plunged over the side of a hill and burned up.  I investigated the accident as much as possible, and found that while your son was not ill at the time, yet he had not been in the best of health, and I think he must have fainted as started down the runway.  The doctor and chaplain and a few of his friends buried him at night in a grove of trees.  Your son's record was an enviable one."

One of the pilots who saw the crash wrote this last entry in John's diary that I hold:  April 13, 1942 " Killed in takeoff in attempt to intercept Jap bombers.  John died quickly and bravely, the way if they have to, all pilots want to die."

Near the time of John's death, my brother Bob enlisted in army and served in the second battle of the Philippines, New Guinea, and the occupation of Japan.  Soon after he returned home, our family was sitting at the dinner table and the folks were doing the "if only" routine.  "If only the other pilot hadn't gone to lunch."  "If only John hadn't been sick he might not have crashed."  Bob listened awhile and then said quietly.  "Look, don't drive yourself to distraction  playing "if only."  The odds of John surviving from 1941 to the end of the war are minimal.  Most of the ones who went with Royce as John was scheduled to do were killed in the South Pacific.  Of the 30 pilots in the 21st Pursuit Squadron, only six survived the end of the war.  Six out of thirty."  Bob was right.  Of the entire 24th Pursuit Group of 1200 men, only 500 survived, either being killed in action or dying on the Bataan Death March or on the prison ships that took them to Japan.  The Battling Bastards of Bataan paid a big price with little to work with but their own lives.

John's body was returned to Uniontown seven years later in 1949 and is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in our family plot.  John died sixty-three years ago last month.  That's a long time.  But still each day since that time I give thanks to God that John Burns was my brother and I say a prayer for him as he lives in the great communion of saints.  And although I am strong as I do that, I must confess to you that I still miss him something awful and I will unto the day as my parents die because I've always believed that a brother is forever.  A poet put upon the lips of Ulysses these words." I am part of all that I have ever met."  True also it is that all that we have ever met and shared and loved are a part of us forever.  All of those beautiful dead from Uniontown whom we honor this day are a part of us forever and shall never be forgotten.  We vow it!