Mr. Arthur A. Burch, Chief Gunner’s Mate U.S Navy
by Ember Dutton
My great grandfather, Arthur A. Burch, was a chief gunner’s mate in the US Navy during World War II. He wrote a book based on his active participation in World War II, from which I am getting my information.
Arthur A. Burch was born in Lineville, Alabama in 1922. He grew up during the Great Depression and his father was a traveling salesman. Because of his father’s job, he frequently changed schools. He attended 8 grammar schools, and 6 high schools in 3 different states. In high school, he took ROTC in order to get some good free clothing to wear to school. When he graduated Central High School in Chattanooga, he was awarded a certificate from the Army as a Sergeant in the organized reserves. During a National Guard summer camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, he was a part of the 55th Cavalry Brigade. Because of the Great Depression and the shortage of money that came with it, he decided to join the Marine Corps and went to see the recruiters at the federal building.
On his way, he was stopped by a Chief Petty Officer, who laughed at his choice to go into the Marine Corps. He and two other men then persuaded my great grandfather to join the Navy instead, because of the increase in pay. After he passed all of the requirements for the Navy’s entrance, the two Chiefs guaranteed that he would be able to go to photographer’s school after boot camp if he enlisted for 6 years. He signed the forms immediately.
Once he got to Norfolk, Virginia, from which they were taken to the Naval Operating Base. Then they met their Platoon Commander, ate, and went straight into hard physical training. He soon went from 130 pounds to 160, and continued to gain muscle and fill out his uniform. After vigorous competition, he was awarded with the rank of recruit chief although he did not much appreciate the job, and advises all to refuse the job if possible. One day, the mean, old chief sat down beside him and said, “You kids have no idea of what is ahead of you”. And he was right, for a large part of the platoon went to the battleship ARIZONA that was destroyed by the Japanese during the attack on Pearl Harbor. World War II was not far away. He then took a series of tests and was chosen to attend aviation ordnance school, which he describes as a waste of time. He then went to San Diego where he awaited an assignment. Here, on his part-time job as a garbage man, he met his best friend for life, Mr. Walter D. Clarkson, whom he still, to this day, writes letters to. My great grandfather and his best friend were the assigned to the aircraft carrier, the ENTERPRISE. On the ENTERPRISE, he was assigned to be a “striker”.
On board the ENTERPRISE, my great grandfather, Mr. Clarkson, and the rest of their crew members entered the narrow channel of Pearl Harbor. For the next several weeks, he worked and stood watch in “sky aft”, which he hated. He and Clarkson were then determined to get the job for gunner’s mate, just to get away from the fire control job. They both passed the exam and he went to work for old “Butch”, Gunner’s Mate 1st Class. He began to enjoy the Navy, and the perks that came with it, like trips to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. At this time, they would hear of the war, and of the great German casualties, and Japan’s invasions, but like all of America, they wanted no part of their wars, and expected none. They soon began to train with dummy torpedoes, and planes with empty gun turrets.
My great grandfather continued to train and work with no intentions of becoming as involved in the war in Europe as he would in the next few years. He ended up participating in 14 battles. Those 14 battles consisted of the following. 1. Pearl Harbor-Midway, anti-submarine action (Dec. 7-10 1941) 2. Pacific Raids, Marshal Gilbert Islands, Wake Island Raid, and Marcus Island Raid (Feb. – Mar. 1942) 3. Battle of Midway (June 3-6 1942) 4 Guadalcanal-Tulagi Invasion (Aug. 7-9 1942) 5. Capture-Defense of Guadalcanal (Aug. 10-25 1942) 6. Battle of Eastern Solomons, Stewart Islands (Aug. 23-25 1942) 7. Battle of Santa Cruz Islands (Oct. 26 1942) 8. Battle of Guadalcanal, third Savo Island (Nov. 12-15 1942) 9. Battle of Rennall Island (Jan. 29-30 1043) 10. Gilbert Islands Operation (Nov. 19 1942- Dec. 4 1942) 11. Marshall Islands Operation, Kwajalein and Majuro (Dec. 29 1943- Feb. 8 1944) 12. Asiatic- Pacific Raids, Truk Attack, Palau, Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, Satawan and Ponape (Feb. – May 1944) 13. Holliandia New Guinea Invasion (Apr. 21-22 1944) 14. Mariania Island Operations, Capture and occupation of Saipan, Capture and occupation of Guam (June 11- July 29 1944).
After all of these battles, he walked away with his life in 1946, where he pursued his dream of photographer’s school, and came back home to Alabama. He now spends most of his days battling a new enemy, Parkinson’s disease, and taking pictures of his great grandchildren. He believes in cherishing every moment of the life he could have lost during his years defending our country!