George Burns, who lived in Punta Gorda, Fla. for 28 years until his death in March 1994, received the Distinguished Service Cross for his exploits with the 104th Infantry Division, “The Timberwolves,” in World War II.
Allyn Vannoy, author of “On the Sharp End,” chronicling the division’s actions at Lucherberg in December 1944, called Burns a “one-man army.” To help the author, Burns provided Vannoy with an account of his deeds.
Here is his story in his own words:
“At 7 a.m. I was posted in a doorway of a concrete building that housed what was left of the 2nd Platoon of Company F. The platoon had suffered heavy casualties in the initial assault on Lucherberg. Two squads sustained 50 percent killed or wounded.
“As daylight was breaking, all hell broke loose. I heard loud gunfire and explosions directly in front of me. When the smoke cleared, a huge German Tiger tank was right there. The turret of the tank was open and a German soldier was loudly directing the firing of the main tank cannon. The tank hit an ammunition truck that was burning fiercely. Rounds of ammunition were exploding and smoke was belching from the truck.
“I could have easily killed the German in the tank turret. But I realized if I missed, the tank would turn on me and perhaps collapse the already weakened concrete roof of our building, killing the remnants of the 2nd Platoon.
“The German tank kept firing point-blank into the village square. I had to do something. I decided to get one of our bazookas and ammo and sneak up on the tank. I discovered there wasn’t a bazooka left and our platoon was out of ammo.
“I made my way to the village square. There sat an American tank destroyer all buttoned up with the crew inside. I started banging on the hatches of the tank destroyer and yelling, ‘Why don’t you SOBs give me a hand?’ They yelled back, ‘Go to hell.’
“I unstrapped a bazooka from the side of the tank destroyer along with some rounds of ammo and went back to confront the tank. Suddenly a soldier appeared and said, ‘If you’ve got guts enough to go after the tank, I’ll help you with the ammo and reload for you.’
“We got within 50 feet of the German tank. I fired two rounds and missed. I leaped out from the doorway where I was and fired point-blank at the tank, hitting it squarely in the housing. I’m sure the hit did no damage.
“When I returned after reloading, the tank was gone. I ran after it. I had run no more than 60 feet when I discovered the tank on a side street facing me with German infantrymen in front of it.
“I turned my bazooka around and fired at the German soldier in front of the tank. The round went right through him and exploded upon hitting the tank.
“After escaping through the doorway, I reloaded and stepped out into the street and stood there paralyzed as the tank came out on the road, turned north and retreated with the German infantry running along beside it. It provided a vulnerable target as I fired a round through the Tiger’s engine ventilator from 20 feet away, causing it to catch fire. The bulky tank waddled away in flames and smoke as the crew abandoned it.
“What I accomplished at Lucherberg that day was to turn the tide of battle and single-handedly drive the Germans out of the area, destroying a huge tank to boot. For my daring I was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
“I was injured later when an enemy artillery round landed near me. I was evacuated to England for treatment, returning to battle in time to cross the Rhine River.
“I was in another action in which I destroyed a second German tank. I received a Silver Star medal and subsequently a battlefield commission to 2nd lieutenant.”
A few days later, Maj. Gen. Terry Allen, commander of the 104th Infantry Division, awarded Burns his Silver Star and pinned a gold bar on his shoulder. Burns never learned the name of the soldier who was his loader and helped him knock out the first Tiger tank with a bazooka.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, March 2, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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