Life As A Hedgepig
 
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:

"DEATH OF BURNETT DESCRIBED

"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.

... Link


Joe Stephens

When Joe was five years old his mother died. After a time his father married a widow with children. This woman had no use for poor little Joe who was the youngest. She made it so unpleasant for him that he couldn’t stay at home. He was passed around among the relatives until he was ten. Then, his father found a place for him with a blind man. This man sold "McCornin(?)" products in the country and Joe drove the team for him, led him into the houses, dished his meals, cut up meat and did all the many things required of him. For this, he received his board and a very little money. He never told me how much, but this kept him out of school most of the time.

Finally, when he was eleven years old one of his step-brothers, a boy in his teens, came to work for us on the farm. One day he said "would you be interested in having my little step-brother come and help with the chores for his board?" We had no boys of our own so we said we would gladly have him come.

Poor little fellow! He was thin, tired, & dirty, and had only a few clothes, a pair of old, old overalls, a shirt besides the one he had on and a couple of pairs of sox and a handkerchief or two.

He was such a good little boy and so willing to help in every way he could. The wood-box was never empty. He fed the chickens, put hay in the mangers for the many horses we had, for we lived on a large farm, and did many other little things.

When he had been there a short time, word came that his father was very sick, and for him to come.

We cleaned him up as good as we could. Gave him some money and loaned him a pony to ride to town about 15 miles away.

When he returned about a week later, he climbed wearily down from his horse and I asked about his father. He cried and said, "Daddy died."

Then I said, "Don’t cry, Joe, we will take you for our boy if you will let us." He said, "I will be glad to stay for I have no other home."

When harvest was over we gave him money to get new clothes. My husband took him to town but my uncle wanted to help buy the clothes. So, now he was presentable and we sent him to school with our girls. He took good care of them, and a brother would not have been half as good and courteous as he.

We moved from one county to another in Oregon. We sent him to school and to High School where he was a favourite with teachers and schoolmates.

He grew up straight & tall and quite a handsome fellow. He worked on the farm in the summer. Then we sent him to college. How he did enjoy it there!

But world war was going on and he was subject to the draft. I had hoped they wouldn’t take him for his eyes were poor and he had to wear thick glasses.

He said he would wait until he was drafted so he could have something to which to come back.

In March, the notice came for him to Report. He came home, passed the test and was gone before we hardly knew it. Oh, what a sad and lonely time he had. He was one of the famous 91st Division.

Just the day before the Armistice was signed, a shell burst beside him and he was killed. He only lived a few minutes and didn’t care to talk.

It does seem that he had to give so much and had so little in life. But Thank God he was a Christian and will surely have a rich reward in Heaven.


The above was written by my great-grandmother, Daisy Loretta (Bryson) Scott, about the boy my Grandmother always referred to as her "adopted brother," although no legal adoption ever took place.

... Link


 
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