The barrel of Cpl. Sam Burns’ .50 caliber machine-gun glowed red from the heat of 1,000 bullets. He was firing at the twin-engine German JU-88 “Junkers” bombers strafing their artillery outfit in the Tunisian desert of North African in December 1942.
“The German planes were flying so low I could feel the prop wash from their propellers when they went over,” he said. “I cut loose with my .50-cal. and cracked the windshield of one JU-88.
“There were seven “Junkers” in formation that made a couple of passes over us. Every time they went over I had to turn the truck my machine-gun was mounted on around so it was pointed toward the bombers,” Burns explained.
“I shot down two of the twin-engine German bombers and and a third plane was trailing smoke when it flew off,” he said.
“Afterwards an officer came up to me and said, ‘Where are you from boy?’
“‘Kentucky,’ I replied.”
“‘I might have known you were from Kentucky,’ the officer replied.”
When Burns and his convoy of trucks reached their company area his first sergeant wasn’t happy about the corporal’s explanation of why the barrel of his .50-cal. machine-gun was burned up.
“The 1st sergeant thought I should be charged for a new machine-gun barrel,’ Burns remembered with a smile more than 60 years later. “When I told him I shot down two German planes with my machine-gun he didn’t believe me.”
A year later, after Burns had fought his way across Sicily with Gen. George Patton and onto the beach at Anzio, and again at Salerno then into the mountains around Monti Casino in northern Italy, his military activities were noted by Gen. Hap Arnold, Air Force Commander in WW II. The five-star general was visiting his son, Maj. Henry H. Arnold, Jr., who was Burns’ company commander.
The general suggested to his son that the truck driver and sometimes machine-gunner should receive a commendation for shooting down two JU-88s in North Africa months earlier. A short wile later Sgt. Burns was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for this exploits.
On the wall of his tiny apartment in Village Place, an assisted living complex in Port Charlotte, is a shadowbox on the living room wall with all his commendations. In the center of his framed awards is the Distinguished Service Cross accompanied by its commendation. Below a single military ribbon signifying the Italian Campaign has four battle stars for four major battles he participated in.
In addition, there is a little blue ribbon–the Presidential Unit Citation—awarded his artillery battalion for an outstanding job it performed in a long ago battle. Another portion of his shadow box holds Burns’ European Theatre Medal, Good Conduct Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
In January 1945 he had enough points to return to the states and be discharged from the Army.
“I left northern Italy and took a boat back across the Mediterranean to North Africa. We got a train from there to Casablanca to be rotated home,” Burns said.
“In January 1945 I got aboard a troop ship and sailed for New York.
“After 22 months of fighting in Europe, the Statue of Liberty was a welcome thing to see,” the old soldier said. “They were waiting for us in the harbor with fire boats squirting water into the air, steak and ice-cream when we came ashore and a parade (in New York City) we took part in.”
After discharge from the Army, Burns took advantage of the G.I. Bill. He went to college, graduated with a degree in Biology and taught high school biology for decades before he and his late wife, Eleanor, came to Port Charlotte in 1978. They have six children; Linda, Virginia, Lois, Mary, Bryan and Robert.
Name: Samie Burns
Birth: 21 Oct 1921
Death: 22 May 2013
Hometown: Washington, Ky.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 6 Jan 1941
Discharged: 30 June 1945
Unit: Battery C, 106th Coast Artillery Battalion
Commendations: Distinguished Service Cross, European Theatre Ribbon with Four Bronze Battle Stars, American Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, Salerno, Monti Casino
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Sept. 12, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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