Bob Burdick was a top turret gunner on a PV-1 Ventura patrol plane in the Pacific during World War II. The 88-year-old former gunner who now lives in Port Charlotte, Fla. with his wife, Maryan, saw combat at Tannin Island in the South Pacific, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese home islands before war’s end.
Burdick enlisted in the Navy at 17. His parents had to sign him in the military because of his age. He dropped out of high school in his junior year and went to war.
After basic at Sampson, N.Y. he was trained as a aviation-mate 2nd class. He became an aerial gunner on twin-.50 caliber machine-guns atop the twin-engine Ventura.
“After basic I was sent to Memphis, Tenn. for gunnery school. From there I went Lake City, Fla. where our crew was formed up,” Burdick explained. “Our six man crew consisted of a pilot, copilot, two radiomen and me who was the top turret gunner.
“It was on to Buford, S.C.for more gunner training. They set up machine-guns on the beach at we shot at sleeve targets that were towed over the Atlantic by small planes.
“In June 1944 we took a ship out of San Francisco and sailed for Honolulu. We ended up in Cecil Field out there where we connected again with our Ventura,” he said. “Our first base in the war zone as Tinian Island in the Mariana Island Chain.
“We spent a lot of time searching for enemy submarines and surface ships off Tinian. While there we struck a Jap airbase on a near by island.”
After the Marines captured Iwo Jima in the spring of 1945 we started flying out of there to make strikes on the Japanese main islands 700 miles away,” Burdick recalled. “After bombing a Jap seaplane and sub base on the main islands we came back home with 21 bullet holes in our plane.
“About the time we moved on to Okinawa we got involved in the search for the heavy cruiser Indianapolis. The Indianapolis was the ship that brought the atomic bomb to Tinian Island.”
It was from Tinian Island on June 6, 1945 Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets piloted the “Enola Gay,” a B-29 “Superfortress,” over Hiroshima and dropped the first Atomic Bomb immediately killing 80,000 Japanese.
Not nearly as well know is the plight of the Indianapolis. After dropping the Atomic Bomb off at Tinian, the heavy cruiser sailed for the Philippines still under a cloak of secrecy. Before it reached the Philippines she was sunk on July 30, 1945 by a torpedo from Jap submarine I-58.
Of the almost 1,200 sailors aboard the cruiser, 300 went down with the ship the surviving 900 were left to fend for themselves. Since she was sailing under secret orders, the Navy lost track of the ship. Because she went to the bottom in 12 minutes there was little time to send an SOS in the confusion.
Only 317 of the original 900 that were alive when the Indianapolis sank survived the four day ordeal. Many of those who didn’t make it were eaten by sharks.
One of the Ventura patrol planes from Burdick’s squadron spotted an oil slick. They took a closer look and found hundreds of heads bobbing in the black goo. Many rescue planes and boats were dispatched to pick up the survivors.
“After the Indianapolis survivors were found, we flew from Tinian back to Okinawa. We did a couple more sea searches off Okinawa about the time of V-J Day (Victory over Japan),” he said. “We were based on Peleau Island nearby when the surrender was signed.
“After the surrender we flew a few missions over some Japanese-held islands with speakers strapped to the belly of our Ventura. We had a Jap POW aboard who broadcast to his compatriots in the bush to surrender. We also dropped leaflets to them that said the same thing,” Burdick said.
He took a slow boat from Okinawa back to California. When he arrived stateside he was sent to Texas for Shore Patrol training. Then he joined a Navy’s military police unit in Philadelphia where he served until he was discharged in 1946.
The following year he married Maryan. Most of his working years Burdick was a newspaper pressman. He worked 28 years for the Daily Home News in Brunswick, Pa. that’s no longer in publication.
The couple has two grown children: Bonnie and Bob.
Name: Robert C. Burdick
D.O.B: 27 March 1926
Hometown: South Clinton, Pa.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 29 Sept. 1943
Discharged: 3 Sept. 1946
Rank: A.O.M. 2nd Class
Unit: V.P.B. 133
Commendations: American Theatre Ribbon, Pacific Theatre Ribbon, 2 Air Medals, Air Crew Insignia with 3 Battle Stars, WWII Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Pacific Theatre
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.
Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.