Joining the Marines and Deployment

First Action at Cape Gloucester

Combat on New Britain and Relief

Close Encounters and Premonitions

Training for Peleliu and Company Officers

Peleliu and the Assault on Ngesebus Island

The Mistaken Bunker

Mopping Up Peleliu and Preparing for Okinawa

First Action at Okinawa

Taking Out an Enemy Machine Gun

Further Combat on Okinawa and Getting Wounded

Getting Hit

Blurred Memories and Postwar Reunions

Discharge and Going Home

Postwar Life and Family

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Romus Burgin was born in Jewett, Texas and stayed there until he graduated high school in 1941. He joined the Marine Corps on 13 November 1942 after deciding that the Marines were the most disciplined and well trained men in the service. Burgin's disciplined upbringing on a Texas farm and the experiences he had there greatly contributed to his decision to join the Marines and his adaptability to Marine Corps training. He underwent six intense weeks of boot camp training in San Diego before completing advanced mortar training at Camp Elliott. Burgin deployed to Melbourne, Australia in March of 1943 with a regiment of replacement Marines. He was attached to the 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division stationed there. While in Melbourne, Burgin had weekend liberty and used the time to go into downtown Melbourne with his close friend, and fellow Marine, Jimmy Burke. In camp near Melbourne, veteran Marines generally accepted the new replacements so long as they proved themselves and remained disciplined and well behaved. Burgin also met his wife while stationed in Melbourne, before deploying for his first campaign.

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Romus  Burgin and the men of the 5th Marine Regiment shipped out from Melbourne in September of 1943 and were stationed for three months at Milne Bay, New Guinea, where they continued to train and acquired additional recruits. Following the rest of the 1st Marine Division, Burgin and the 5th Marines shipped out from Oro Bay, New Guinea in late December 1943 and began the assault on New Britain by landing at Cape Gloucester on 1 January 1944. The 5th Marine Regiment faced little opposition upon landing at Cape Gloucester, but the men soon found themselves in close combat situations with the Japanese their first night. Burgin's first combat experience prompted him to pick up an M1 Rifle in addition to his .45 caliber pistol despite directing a team of 60mm mortar gunners. Jungle warfare ensued on Cape Gloucester, and the monsoon rains and mosquito swarms made fighting conditions hellish. Ultimately, Burgin lost 40 pounds during the four months of fighting he faced, on account of the severely limited rations the men received and the constantly strenuous fighting conditions.

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[Annotators Note: Romus Valtin Burgin served in the United States Marine Corps as a mortar section leader in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He saw action on New Britain, Peleliu and Okinawa.] The men of the 5th Marine Regiment immediately assaulted Walt's Ridge at Cape Gloucester and manually pushed a 37 mm gun into position to do so. The Marines used armor piercing rounds and canister shot [Annotator's Note: artillery rounds filled with small metal balls or other pieces of shrapnel designed to eliminate enemy personnel] to neutralize an enemy machine gun pillbox before advancing up the ridge. Burgin heard Japanese soldiers from his foxhole at night heckling Marines with taunts in broken English, which sometimes elicited armed retaliation from the Americans. After taking the ridge, the Marines dug in at night only to face relentless Japanese banzai charges that often resulted in hand to hand combat with bayonets and hand grenades. In the face of intense combat, some Marines had premonitions of death without realizing it, and the dangers of battle were unending. Despite facing as many as five enemy charges in a single, sleepless night, Burgin and his comrades held the ridge and were pulled out to relocate elsewhere on New Britain. Burgin found himself at Talasea, where he and his unit were sent out on daily patrols. These were met with Japanese ambushes and mortar fire. After three weeks at Talasea, and four months of combat on New Britain, the 1st Marine Division was sent to Pavuvu Island in the Solomon Islands where some new replacement troops had constructed a camp for rest and recovery purposes. Bob Hope visited the island and the men were grateful for the slight morale boost that a few celebrity visits provided.

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After arriving on Pavuvu Island, Romus Burgin and the rest of the 1st Marine Division began training for the invasion of Peleliu. Burgin's platoon leader had been wounded on New Britain and replaced by a new officer, Charles Ellington [Annotator's Note: code name Duke]. Burgin had joined the Marines out of his admiration for their discipline and strict adherence to orders, thus he did not take well to superiors who made up their own rules and did not adhere to orders in a strict, disciplined manner. Burgin clashed with Duke on multiple occasions during training because of Duke's tendency to offend the disciplined procedures of the Marines and to pass blame for his own mistakes onto his subordinates. However, Burgin's unit boasted some highly respected officers as well, men like Edward A. Jones [Annotator's Note: referred to as Hillbilly Jones], the machine gun platoon leader, and Captain Andrew A. Haldane [Annotators Note: also known as Ack Ack Haldane], Company K's commanding officer. Burgin and the rest of the men admired these men for their strong leadership and adherence to orders, but both were killed on Peleliu.

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Romus Burgin and the 5th Marines were among the first to land on Peleliu as part of the main assault on the island. A small corral island, Peleliu presented the Marines with a harsh and fortified battlefield that became a living hell for the Americans. The 5th Marines landed in Amtracs [Annotator's Note: Landing Vehicle, Tracked or LVT] amid heavy artillery fire from the Japanese defenders. Burgin's Amtrac got caught up on a coral reef during the approach to the landing beaches, which prompted Burgin's sergeant to the threaten the vehicle's driver at gunpoint in order to get the Amtrac moving again. The 5th Marines landed and pushed inland, but quickly received friendly fire from the 7th Marine Regiment, which had landed immediately behind the 5th Marines and mistook Burgin and his comrades for Japanese defenders. Fortunately, the friendly fire did not kill any Americans. Temperatures on Peleliu were extremely high and the Marines quickly ran out of water, but the water resupply canisters that were subsequently landed on the beach had been filled using old oil barrels, which made the water almost undrinkable and made some of the men sick. The 5th Marines marched on to assault the airfield at the southern end of the island. For Burgin, the assault on the airfield brought a sense of intense fear and helplessness as the Marines moved forward under heavy machine gun and artillery fire. After moving off the airfield, Burgin had to frantically call for a stop to a misguided American artillery barrage that rained down on the 5th Marines inadvertently. Again, the friendly fire resulted in no casualties. In the same area, Burgin had his only experience with deadly airburst artillery fire from the Japanese of the war. Airburst artillery shells detonate, in Burgin's estimation, some 20 to 25 feet above the ground in order to spread shrapnel and explosive power more evenly over a wider area. The results for the Marines were often devastating. On 28 September Burgin's battalion was ordered to take the island of Ngesebus because Japanese artillery there was firing on the Americans on Peleliu. A successful naval and aerial bombardment of the beach eliminated most of the Japanese beach defenders and the 5th Marines took the island with relatively few casualties, but Burgin and his comrades did confront a heavily manned Japanese bunker after getting only some 200 yards off the beach. The First Sergeant told him that the bunker had already been cleared but Sledge [Annotators Note: Eugene Sledge] heard talking inside of it. Sledge told Burgin that there were Japanese soldiers inside. Burgin looked through an air vent and saw a Japanese soldier inside. The Marines threw grenades down the vent and fired into it with their rifles and machine guns and the Japanese fired back with their own rifles and machine guns. Burgin finally went o get an Amtrac with a 75 millimeter howitzer on it and brought it to the bunker to blow a hole in the side of it. Once that had been accomplished Charles Womack used his flame thrower to burn out the bunker. All told the killed 17 Japanese soldiers. Only two of the Marines were slightly wounded. Late on the afternoon of the second day a Japanese artillery piece opened fire point blank on a group of Marines killing many of them. That piece was quickly knocked out.

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After eliminating the remainder of the artillery positions on Ngesebus Island, the 5th Marine Regiment returned to Peleliu for some 30 days. Romus Burgin and Company K fought pockets of Japanese resistance around the island and cleared some of the hundreds of fortified caves. Fighting on the island became worse at night when Japanese soldiers often popped out of the caves to shoot unsuspecting Marines before vanishing back into them again. Company K had dwindled in numbers since the start of the battle, which stretched the lines thin at night and made sleep a larger risk for the men. The Japanese had been planning the defense of Peleliu for almost two years, which made the fighting all the more difficult for the Marines. Flies swarmed heavily around the deteriorating Japanese corpses strewn around the American positions and the insect problem became so bad that the navy had to drop DDT across the island. Things only got worse for Company K when commanding officer, Captain Andrew Haldane [Annotators Note: also known as Ack Ack Haldane], was killed just three days before the 5th Marine Regiment pulled out of Peleliu. The 1st Marine Division returned to Pavuvu after the battle to rest, rehabilitate, and take on new recruits as the Battle of Okinawa loomed. Veterans of Guadalcanal who had accumulated enough points to go home left their units. It became the job of Burgin and his comrades to begin the process of training all over again for another campaign. The men were also briefed on the expected situation at Okinawa. The closer proximity to the Japanese homeland and the sheer amount of fighting forces expected to be involved in the struggle would make for a long a bloody fight.

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[Annotators Note: Romus Valtin Burgin served in the United States Marine Corps as a mortar section leader in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He saw action on New Britain, Peleliu and Okinawa.] On 1 April 1945, which was both April Fool's Day and Easter Sunday, the main assault on Okinawa began. The 5th Marine Regiment landed against no opposition on the beaches except for a handful of enemy snipers. Artillery shells did not rain down on the LVTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Vehicle, Tracked] and no machine gun tracers spewed across the beach as the Marines unloaded their vehicles. Burgin and his comrades flushed out and eliminated a few bunches of enemy snipers who harassed the Marines just enough for them to know they were invading enemy territory. The 5th Marine Regiment was held in reserve for the first month of the battle so the month of April was a relatively easy one for the Burgin and his comrades. That all changed on 1 May 1945, however, as the 5th Marines relived an army outfit from one of the four Army divisions that landed at Okinawa. Burgin remembered the US Army outfit for its lack of discipline, disorganization, and absence of toughness and grit. After relieving the army unit on 1 May Company K moved up onto a hill and held it. Each ridge provided a strong position to defend the preceding valley which made moving forward exceedingly difficult. On 2 May 1945, Burgin and his unit attempted to cross a valley, but were immediately pinned down by machine gun fire. Unable to locate the heavily camouflaged machine gun nest, the Marines had no choice but to retreat back to cover. Burgin then decided to personally expose himself to the machine gun nest by walking backwards and facing the direction from which the bullets came in order to identify the gun's position. Burgin took three bullet holes through the legs of his dungarees but he located the machine gun nest. He called in a mortar strike on the position from his 60 mm mortar team, which, after a few rounds, scored a direct hit on the machine gun nest and eliminated it. Burgin received a Bronze Star for his display of exemplary bravery, which led to the elimination of the machine gun. The Battle of Okinawa also had some long term impacts on Burgin after the war, both for keeping souvenirs from battle as well as maintaining relationships with the Marines he served with.

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Some days after eliminating the machine gun position, Burgin and his fellow Marines faced another machine gun emplacement sitting atop another ridge on Okinawa. Despite calling in multiple artillery strikes on the machine gun's position, the nest continued to open up on the Marines as they advanced up the ridge's slope. The artillery strikes pounded the front of the ridge, or lobbed shells over the ridge's crest and into the next valley, leaving the machine gun emplacement atop the ridge unscathed. Burgin realized that the Japanese must have dug in a trench just beyond the crest of the ridge that could protect them from the artillery fire and understood that his 60 mm mortars could drop rounds directly down on top of the position, thus having a higher chance of eliminating the enemy. He positioned his mortars to concentrate their fire directly on the machine gun's position, then ordered each mortar to fire 20 rounds and saturate the crest of the ridge. Burgin's superior, Lieutenant Scotty Mackenzie, ordered Burgin not to carry out the strike, as he feared that the 60 total mortar rounds required would waste too much ammunition. After clearing up the ammunition issue with headquarters, Burgin ignored Mackenzie's orders and carried out the strike, killing what Burgin remembered as either 53 or 57 Japanese soldiers and eliminating the machine gun nest. Later, while still fighting on Okinawa, Burgin was wounded by shrapnel from an artillery shell that pierced his neck. After receiving medical treatment from Corpsman Wesley Katz [Annotator's Note: AKA Doc Katz], Burgin walked to a battalion aid station before being transferred to a field hospital, where he was treated for 20 days before returning to the line.

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Okinawa is something of a blur in Romus Burgin's mind. Unlike New Britain and Peleliu, battles from which he can remember exact dates and locations, the Battle of Okinawa so thoroughly exhausted him physically and mentally that many of the combat experiences, locations, and days have blurred together in his memory. In one instance on Okinawa, an artillery shell wounded two of his fellow Marines, T.L. Hudson and Jim Kornaizl, which caused Kornaizl to writhe uncontrollably on the ground until corpsmen took both men away to an aid station. Burgin completely forgot Jim Kornaizl until he saw him at a Company K reunion many years after the war. Then a whole flood of Okinawa memories came back to him. Burgin attended his first Company K reunion in 1980 and has not missed one since. He did not talk about the war for the first 30 years after being discharged from the Marines, despite working with other former Marines in his postwar, civilian life. After attending some reunions, however, Burgin realized that he should share his stories so that they might be recorded, retold, and never be forgotten. Burgin served as the treasurer of the K35 Trust Fund [Annotator's Note: Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment] and has invited many Vietnam War veterans from Company K to join. Burgin traveled to Los Angeles to interview with HBO for the series and loves to share his experiences with interested historians.

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After the Battle of Peleliu, Burgin was one of four men from the 5th Marine Regiment to be considered for a field commission and promotion to Lieutenant. A panel of high ranking Marines interviewed Burgin in regards to the possible field commission, but Burgin insisted that a promotion in rank made no difference to him. One of the officers on the panel asked him if he had been sending money home and how much. Burgin told him that he had sent about 2000 dollars home. He answered the questions honestly and revealed to the panel that he did not plan to make the Marine Corps a career. He simply wished to serve until the United States defeated Japan and then he wanted to go home to Texas. Despite displaying exemplary bravery during his service, Burgin never sought medals nor promotions. He only served to the best of his abilities as a Marine. He left Company K, 5th Marine Regiment in September of 1945, a few weeks after the war had ended. He went to a location on Okinawa where he experienced a hurricane. The following morning there was a ship right up on the beach. Burgin temporarily joined an artillery outfit in the 11th Marine Regiment until shipping out for home in mid October. Before he departed for the United States, Burgin came down with malaria fever and spent five days of the homeward voyage in the ship's sick bay. During the voyage, Burgin's ship got caught in a massive Pacific typhoon which rocked the vessel and caused Burgin to fear that he might not make it home after surviving three campaigns. Ultimately, Burgin returned to Texas and began working for the post office in May of 1946 as a postal currier. He continued to battle bouts of malaria even after he began working and spent numerous weeks in a local VA hospital.

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Romus Valtin Burgin worked with a contact officer from the VA named Frank Mallory when he returned to Texas. Burgin wanted to work for the federal government. Mallory set Burgin up with the job at the post office and also helped Burgin get disability back pay from the government for his lingering malaria fits and his neck wound from artillery shrapnel on Okinawa. Burgin’s grandson is a soundman who tours with Olivia Newton John. He has worked concerts in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. Burgin met his wife when he was stationed in Melbourne, Australia before he shipped out for his first campaign. The couple wrote each other throughout the war, dated for three months, and became engaged. She moved from Australia to the United States after the war ended and married Burgin. Burgin remains a family man, and talks fondly of future of the Company K veteran reunions to be held in Philadelphia and Nashville in the years following the interview. Burgin's son was with a helicopter unit in Vietnam and continues to work in the aviation industry.

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