World War II turret gunner William ‘Shorty’ Burhans: ‘It was dangerous stuff … I almost didn’t make it’
Shiloh’s William ‘Shorty’ Burhans sits in the cockpit of B-25 bomber, similar to the plane that he was shot down in during World War II. He is seen on a recent aviation day at the York Airport. Also of interest: New York County exhibit covers 20th-century wars: ‘We willingly served our country because they asked us to’ and Jeep prototype has York County WWII roots and Part 8: Nazis murdered downed WWII airman from York, Pa. .
World War II heroes that have been out of spotlight keep coming forward.
Recently, Ellie Shoemaker flagged Admiral William Ammon as an overlooked military achiever.
Now comes the York Daily Record/Sunday News report on West Manchester Township’s William “Shorty” Burhans at a local airshow.
He story has been little told publicly.
The summary about Burhans: He was a top turret gunner on a B-25 in the Pacific when his plane went down. He and other crew members floated in the China Sea for 4 1/2 days before a friendly submarine rescued him.
That’s the rough outline of this hero’s story.
Here’s an excerpt about that submarine rescue (6/18/11):
Their last night in the water, they smelled diesel fuel and one of the crew spotted a submarine on the surface not far away.
They paddled toward the submarine and signaled it with a light that was in the lifeboat’s survival kit. A voice shouted back, “Turn that damn light off.”
When they got closer to the submarine — the USS Bergall — they saw its crew members on the deck, aiming machine guns and rifles at them, Burhans said. “They thought it might be some kind of Japanese trick,” he said.
The sailors brought the B-25 crew aboard and eventually, Burhans wound up in Australia. His skin was badly burned from the flaming gasoline he encountered after his plane crashed, he said. His arms and legs still bear the scars.
He was in bad shape. He said the doctors told him he almost lost his leg.
Initially, he was reported missing in action. The newspapers in the day reported it and his family thought, for a time, he was gone.
He spent 33 days in Australia and was returned to his unit. He told his commanding officer, “Put me in the brig. I’m done flying.”
He never flew another mission.
“It was dangerous stuff,” he said. “When you’re young and foolish, you don’t realize the danger you’re in. I almost didn’t make it.”
And he never set foot in a B-25 again.
Want to know more? See the full story: WW2 vet sees B-25 bomber for first time since his crashed in 1945/William Burhans, of Shiloh, climbed aboard a bomber for the first time since the war at Aviation Days.
To see a video of an interview William Burhans did with WITF-TV as part of its “War Stories” series, go to this WITF video.
Also of interest, again:
New York County exhibit covers 20th-century wars: ‘We willingly served our country because they asked us to’ and Jeep prototype has York County WWII roots and Part 8: Nazis murdered downed WWII airman from York, Pa.
– All York Town Square posts from the start.
Photo courtesy of York Daily Record/Sunday News