I am not the daughter, but the granddaughter of a WWII soldier that died April 28, 1945 in Augsburg, Germany. What might make my story unusual is that because of the internet, I was able to meet the man that was standing next to my grandfather at the time of his death.
David Warren Burns was born in Batchtown, Illinois on November 24, 1918 the fourth son of Charles Howard and Albinah Clarinda Batchelder Burns. He met, by my grandmother’s account at a barn dance, and married Myrtle Valeria Kraut in August, 1938. They became the parents of two daughters and in August 1944 David was drafted and sent to Fort Hood, Texas. David was sent home for Christmas 1944 and left in January 1945 for Germany.
David was the radio operator for the 3rd Infantry, Company “B”, and while marching all night in Augsburg, Germany the company came upon an abandoned farmhouse. The entire story was related to me by David’s commanding officer, Lt. William Keene, after I found his name on an internet listing of 3rd Infantry, Company “B” members, first by phone and later in person. My husband and I were traveling to California for business and Mr. Keene kindly invited us to his home and retold the story in front of a video camera so that my family has something to complete the picture of David Burns. Later a reporter for the Orange County Register heard of the story and interviewed Mr. Keene and myself for an article.
Mr. Keene said that after fighting in a battle at Nuremberg on April 20-21, the company then crossed the Danube River on April 25-26; next they crossed the Lech River to Augsburg. Around 1:00 a.m. on the 28th of April the company walked to an “L” shaped two-story abandoned farmhouse. After arriving a group of German soldiers approached the company with their helmets off, which indicated they wanted to surrender, but a “young guy” in the company got scared at the sight of seeing Germans and started to shoot. The Germans returned fire and ran into the woods near the farmhouse. The company went inside the house and Mr. Keene and David went upstairs to set up the radio. The shelling had stopped by then and Mr. Keene laid on his knapsack for a quick nap; David went to an open window with his radio (Mr. Keene thought he did that for better reception). The shelling started again and Mr. Keene told David, “C’mon you better get away from that window” and he walked over to him to help him with his equipment and a blast of shrapnel came through the side of the house and knocked Mr. Keene across the room. When he came to he was told, “Burns was killed” and he could not believe it. The other men in the company had picked up David and carried him to a bed and covered him. He was told that the shrapnel had hit David in his upper back. Mr. Keene said that David must have died instantly because no Medics were radioed; he then went over to pay his respects and the company waited for Graves and Recovery. He really wanted to stress to us that David was not left, they had to leave some men in fields and other places, but they did not leave David. Mr. Keene then went over to pick up his knapsack and noticed it had a shrapnel hole right through it, even shattering a buckle. David Burns was the last man killed in their company.
When my husband and I went to visit Mr. and Mrs. Keene in Huntington Beach, California, in March 2002 he showed us the knapsack and told us it was his most prized possession.
It takes you aback hearing the firsthand account on how a family member was killed, especially when you know from history books that Hitler died just two days later, but David’s picture was on my Grandmother’s piano always, and now the picture has a complete ending.
There are love letters between my grandmother and David Burns. I have read them and you are right, they are very sad, very historical and very telling of what people were experiencing at the time. My grandmother until her death could not speak of David without crying, but she did write several letters to officials and had David’s body removed from a French cemetery and returned to Batchtown, Illinois. What I remember is that she carried his wallet in her purse from 1945 until her death in 1992 and was very proud of David.
Thank you for letting me shed some light on another World War II hero.
–Kim Freeman, a World War II granddaughter