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Pfc. Harold Leonard Burton: Freedom is Never Free


The opening days of November 1945 found America still slightly giddy from a hard won victory in the late war. Shoe rationing had just ended, and in an incredible display of pent up consumer demand, no fewer than 300,000 customers had placed orders for the forthcoming 1946 Ford automobiles, price and delivery date unannounced.

Several Adair County men, recently separated from armed service, had arrived back home in recent days. This group included six year veteran Sylvan Turner; Earl S. Conover, Edwin Downey, and Cotton Durham. Capt. W.E. Harris, Jr., stationed at the Separation Center, Camp Atterbury, Indiana, soon would join the stream of former servicemen coming home.

And, after months of waiting, one family learned their kinsman would return, exact date unknown, in a flag-draped coffin.

In the summer of 1943, Harold Leonard Burton of the Christine - Purdy section of Adair County, then eighteen years old and a student at Columbia High, pledged to defend America as a member of the US Army. He first went to Camp Haan, California, before training elsewhere, and received furlough for a visit home in August 1944. That fall he sailed for Europe as a member of the 398th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, 7th Army. Come February 1945, his parents received notification Pfc. Burton had been awarded the Infantryman Combat Badge.

At the end of March 1945, the men of the 398th, by then hardened veterans after several months of grueling warfare in the harsh winter months, crossed the Rhine River by way of a pontoon bridge and continued their march to the west bank of the bridgeless Neckar River. Unknown to the Allies, the Germans had chosen the east bank as a point of delaying action to allow their main forces time to retreat and set up operation in the nearby mountainous terrain.

A passage from History of The 398th Infantry Regiment In World War II (Bernard Boston, ed., Battery Press, 1947) deftly sums up the ensuing encounter:

"In the vicinity of Heilbronn, along the easy-moving Neckar, was to be fought the bitterest battle in all Germany. In the 398th Heilbronn will go down alongside Salerno, Anzio and Normandy. It was definitely the decisive battle that resulted in the collapse of whatever hopes the Germans held for the continuity of their abominable principles." (p 91)

Come mid-April, Harold's parents, Alec and Rosie Burton, received a telegram, telling them of his missing in action status as of a few days earlier. Six long months of silence followed.

Finally, in early November, The News reported Mr. and Mrs. Burton had received heartbreaking closure: "a message from the War Department on Wednesday of last week [October 31] notifying them that their son, Pfc. Harold Burton, was killed in action in Germany on April 5, 1945." He died at enemy hands on his twentieth birthday.

Another three years elapsed before Mr. and Mrs. Burton finally got word that Harold's remains soon would be en route on the long journey home.

On Sunday, January 2, 1949, funeral services were held at the Purdy Separate Baptist Church, where Harold had held membership for several years. VFW Post 6097 members Mason Judd, Ivan Shivley, Hershel Baker Jones, Marshall Rowe, Earl Myers, Ray Bault, Remus Howard, Russell Murphy, Edgar Troutman, and W.J. Morris acted as pallbearers, and Harold's remains were interred in the Bearwallow Cemetery with full military honors.

Freedom is never free.

This story was posted on 2020-11-08 14:27:41
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