Second World War veteran Douglas Burgess visited CMS April 13 to talk to the eighth grade about his service during the war. The eighth graders have just started their studies on World War II and have been learning about Pearl Harbor. Mr. Burgess, who is celebrating his 98th birthday this April, explained that he was a senior in college when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941.
“That sealed my fate,” Mr. Burgess told the students as he stood before them more than 76 years later. He explained that he decided to enlist in the Navy before the draft because he had a love for the sea and didn’t want to go into the Army. “The sea didn’t like me very much though, I got very seasick,” he added with a laugh.
After training, Mr. Burgess was assigned to the North Atlantic fleet and a newly constructed ship, the Destroyer Escort U.S.S. Brough, a small, fast warship armed with depth charges and other anti-submarine equipment. He was with the Brough for its initial “shakedown cruise” during which the crew familiarized itself with the ship and tested all its systems. With the shakedown complete, the Brough began active war patrols, assigned to protect convoys crossing the North Atlantic to the European Theatre of Operations.
“Our job was to sweep for submarines and blow them up before they could attack the convoys,” he explained.
Aboard the Brough, Mr. Burgess made 24 crossings of the Atlantic, escorting convoys of 100 ships or more carrying war supplies from the eastern U.S. to ports in North Africa and Europe.
After the Allies declared victory in Europe in May, 1945, the Brough was assigned to the Pacific and headed to Pearl Harbor, where Burgess found himself on August 15, 1945 when the Japanese surrender was announced, bringing the war to an end.
After the war, he sailed with the ship to Jacksonville, Florida, where the Brough was taken out of active service and Mr. Burgess and his crew “mothballed” her for storage (the ship would return to active service years later in the Korean War).
Altogether, Mr. Burgess served four years in the Navy and reached the rank of Commander, earning him the golden oak leaf embellishments (which sailors call “scrambled eggs”) that officers of that rank or higher wear on the bill of their uniform hats.
“Do a little bit more than your supposed to do and you’ll do better,” was his advice to students. “Stretch yourself and be surprised at how far you go.”
He now lives at the Payne Home, an independent retirement residence in Chatham. It was there this year that students in the CMS Service Club met Mr. Burgess during their trip to visit the residents there. The students approached their school with the idea of inviting Mr. Burgess in to speak to them about his experiences as a World War II veteran.