Recognizing the military service of men and women from Arenzville, Illinois.
Charles Burrus was graduated from Beardstown High School with the class of 1933. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 11, 1941 and completed training at Fort Bliss, Texas. He was assigned to the Headquarters Regiment of the 515th Coast Artillery, an anti-aircraft unit formed in New Mexico and later stationed in the Philippines. It is one of the most decorated units of World War II.
On December 8, 1941, when the Japanese attacked American bases on the Philippines, Sgt. Burrus was stationed at Fort Stotsenberg, Clark Field, in the Philippines. The 515th/200th Coast Artillery was the "first to fire" upon the enemy. His family never heard from him after the war began.
The men of the 515th/200th Coast Artillery withdrew to Bataan and held out for several months against an unrelenting Japanese assault, awaiting reinforcements that never came. After the surrender of Bataan on April 9, 1942, Charles became one of the many thousands of men who endured the tragic and senseless 65-mile forced march to prison camps at San Fernando. Weakened by disease and starvation, many men died enroute or were brutally murdered by Japanese guards. Those who survived faced forty months of imprisonment or the horror of the Hell Ships, unmarked marked ships used by the Japanese to transport prisoners away from the Philippines. Of the 1,818 men in the 515th/200th CA regiment, fewer than 900 made it back home, and within a year, one-third of them died of various complications.
Charles was listed as missing in action, and for years his family knew nothing more. Desperate for any information, in 1942 his brother Jack wrote to family members of one of Charles's buddies whom he had met during a visit with Charles at Fort Bliss. The family replied that they had heard from their son and knew only that both their son and Charles had survived the forced march and were prisoners of the Japanese.
The next word arrived from the War Department, informing Charles's parents that on May 26, 1943 he had been declared dead. He had died on June 4, 1942 at Camp O'Donnell. A final telegram informed the family that the cause of death had been malaria, malnutrition and dysentery. His body was returned home, and he is buried in the Arenzville cemetery.
Not much more was known about the circumstances of Charles's final days until one day, about fify years after the war, Charles's brother Jack made a chance remark to a fishing buddy named Bob Howard. Here is Jack's account, from a conversation with Jack (JB), his wife Cele (CB) and Molly Daniel (MJD), recorded on July 3, 1999:
Above: Medals awarded posthumously to Charles Burrus.
Above: Gravesite of Charles Burrus in Arenzville, IL. (Memorial Day, 2014)