A couple of days after he came home from the war, Francis X. Burket was back at this old job in retail lumber. A couple of years earlier he was grinding wood chips into sawdust to support his wife and newborn. By the time he retired 47 years later, he was co-owner of the company.
Unlike other branches of service that had met their quota in October 1943, the Marines were still looking for a few good men. They found Francis, and he immediately shipped out to Paris Island, South Carolina for an intense boot camp and unexpected anti-Yankee welcome. His fellow recruits called him Pap; at 23 he was considered an old timer. He didn’t mind. He just wanted to get done with basic training and then get into his field school as a telephone lineman.
Instead of taking a train to the west coast, Francis sailed through the Panama Canal and arrived in Hawaii for more training in a 90mm anti-aircraft battalion. Afterwards, the Marines eventually shipped westward to be part of the assault on Okinawa. After 54 days aboard an LST “we walked ashore, “ he remembers, with no resistance at all in the northern part of the island. The Army and other Marine units were by then already engaging the Japanese in the south.
Francis’ outfit was ordered to protect Yontan air base; B-29s would soon be staging there for the impending invasion of Japan. Occasionally his unit would shoot at kamikaze aircraft, but for the most part the greatest threat were the tropical storms.
Francis thinks back for a moment and reminds himself that they were going into Japan next. It did not look good, but they had hundreds of miles of phone line ready to go. That’s when the great Pacific Typhoon of October 1945 nearly wiped them off the island. After that his unit was in no shape to occupy Japan. So instead, Francis’ group was sent to northern China to keep peace among the Chinese, Koreans, and Russian. After that it was home by way of San Diego in February 1946 and a five day train ride across the country.
Francis Burket was discharged as a corporal in May 1946, but he didn’t loaf around or take advantage of his “52/20” benefits. He came home and went right back to the wood pile.
In June 2011, The Social Voice Project conducted a series of audio interviews with veterans living at Lighthouse Pointe independent living community in O’Hara Township, Allegheny County. Resident Emily Drake, herself a WW II veteran (WAC), assisted in the production of the interviews. The Lighthouse Pointe series captures the experiences of eight WW II veterans and one Korean War veteran. Interviewer: Kevin Farkas.
Listen to Francis Burket’s complete audio interview, hosted by Kevin Farkas. An archival version of this interview is available upon request for research and educational purposes.