Life As A Hedgepig
Friday, 23. January 2004
Douglas Burnett & his mother

This was going to be about my great-uncle Doug Burnett, as a companion piece to the Joe Stephens story. I never met Doug, because just as Joe Stephens died in World War I, Doug Burnett died in World War II. They both died quite young, leaving no wives or children behind, and I think they should be remembered; they gave their lives in service to their country as many young men had before them, and as many young men & women have since.

But just as Joe Stephens' story is also the story of the adoptive family he left behind, so is Doug Burnett's story the story of the family he left behind, his brothers and sisters and widowed mother. And maybe because I knew her, and know a little about her, it is to me especially the story of his mother.

The caption of this picture says that Lulu always had her flag out for holidays. This is not precisely true; in fact, I never saw her little white house in La Grande, Oregon, without the flag flying outside. I remember visiting her, and wandering around the inside of the house looking at all the things on the shelves and the walls--but the only thing in that house that I remember, aside from the tiny, impossibly old woman herself, was the Purple Heart hanging on the wall near her bedroom. I wasn't really sure what it meant, except that it was something military, and I originally thought it must have been her husband's. Many years later, I found out it was her son's.

Here is part of the story accompanying the picture above. I have edited it slightly. It was written by June McManus and printed in the "Observer" of La Grande, Oregon, on November 3, 1969:

"Mrs. Lulu M. Ackley Burnett celebrated her 87th birthday in October. This marvelous, active daughter of pioneer parents, in fact, daughter of the first woman born in La Grande, Martha Belle Lane Ackley, who was born December 3, 1864, keeps as busy today as she did as a younger woman.

"She has seen some interesting times and lived in fascinating places, such as Sumpter, near Baker, in the gold rush days; in Treadwell, Alaska, where her husband built a storage dam called Ready Bullion Dam. The dam is still in use. At that time there were not too many women in Alaska and it was a colorful time to live there.

"Mrs. Burnett had nine children; seven are still living. She has lived in her home on Fourth Street for 39 years."

She lived there for a little over 6 years longer before dying in January of 1976 at the age of 93. Her obituary states that she had been the oldest living Gold Star mother in La Grande. I always thought that it was sad that she didn't live until July 4th of that year, so that she could enjoy celebrating the U.S. Bicentennial.

Great-Grandma Lulu, the flag, and the Purple Heart. I don't remember, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was a Gold Star in her front window as well.

Here is Doug's part of the story.

Doug was the 6th of nine children, and the youngest son. The picture isn't very good, but it is the only one of him that I have; here is the article that was with it in the newspaper. The clipping I have doesn't have the whole page, so I don't know if it was The Observer or another paper, and I don't know the date of publication. No writer is credited:


"Cpl. Douglas Burnett was killed in action in a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippine Islands, according to a letter received from the war department by Corporal Burnett's mother, Mrs. Lulu M. Burnett, 701 Fourth Street.

"She had previously received word of his death but only today were the details given. The letter was sent by Maj. Gen. Edwin Witsell, acting adjutant general.

"The paragraph which tells of her son's death follows:

"Your son was one of a group of 150 members of the U.S. army, navy, and marine corps who were imprisoned by the Japanese at a camp at Puerto Princesa, Palawan. On December 14, 1944, this group of prisoners was attacked without warning by their Japanese guards who attempted to massacre the prisoners to the last man. Ten of the prisoners succeeded in escaping. These were the only survivors. It has now been officially established by reports received in the war department that all the remaining prisoners, including your son, perished as a result of this ruthless attack.

"Corporal Burnett joined the army in 1939 and was in the coast artillery on Corregidor where he was captured in 1942. He and Willard Hall, who recently returned, were in Cabanatuan and Manila together.

"Born in Union county, Corporal Burnett had been a resident of La Grande 15 years and had attended school in La Grande and Enterprise. He was a member of the Eagles lodge and of the Christian Church. Before joining the army he had been employed in logging camps and in restaurants here.

"Besides his mother, he leaves four brothers, Lynne of Pine Grove, Calif., Earl of Stanfield, Howard of La Grande, and Haigler of Hermiston; three sisters, Mrs. Vivian Davis of Portland, Mrs. Lois Gooderham and Mrs. Crystal Fossum, Baker."

He also left many nieces and nephews, among them, my mother, who was 11 in 1944. Her uncle was 31 at the time of his death.

His remains were interred, along with those of 122 other victims of the massacre at Palawan, in a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 14, 1952.

Even when a war is necessary and just, this is the price that is paid. "Freedom isn't free" is a cliche, but it is also true. I am grateful to every soldier and sailor and airman that has paid the price for the rest of us; I am grateful to those who were willing to pay the price but made it home; I am grateful to those who stand willing now to pay that price so that my children can grow up in freedom. But along with that gratitude, I also grieve for every man and woman who has fallen in service to this country. Our leaders had better know damn well what they are doing before they send our soldiers off to war; that blood is too precious to be spilled in vain.

Lulu and Daisy, your sons and their sacrifice are not forgotten. I remember, and I grieve.

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