PFC Charles Henry Burgess, Jr

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NAME:
Charles Henry Burgess, Jr.
NICKNAME: SERVICE NUMBER:
362707
HOME OF RECORD:
Swampscott, ME
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Gertrude Burgess
DATE OF BIRTH:
July 12, 1924
ENLISTED:
January 26, 1942
DATE OF DEATH:
September 27, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal A/1/7 PFC KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Unknown
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Unknown
MEMORIAL:
Quantico National Cemetery
Manila American Cemetery & Memorial, Philippines


Birth and Early Life:
Charles Burgess was born in Maine on July 12, 1924. His father, Charles Senior, relocated the family (mother Gertrude, children Beulah, Charles Junior, and Jane) to Massachusetts, settling first in Arlington and then in Swampscott. Charles Junior was in the middle of his second year of high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Although only seventeen years old, Burgess wanted to enlist and prevailed upon his parents to sign the necessary papers allowing him to join the Marine Corps. He enlisted on January 26, 1942, and was shortly on his way to Parris Island.

Wartime Service:
Burgess proved to be an excellent Marine; he was promoted to Private First Class on April 10, 1942, not long after joining his assigned unit – Company A, First Battalion, 7th Marines. He served with the 7th Marines through the rest of their training in the United States, and for several months of garrison duty in American Samoa, where he celebrated his eighteenth birthday.

PFC Burgess had his first introduction to combat on September 18, 1942, as his regiment debarked from transport ships following a long voyage to Guadalcanal. First, the fleet’s antiaircraft batteries opened up on a suspected enemy plane (which turned out to be flown by a Marine, 2nd Lieutenant Leland E. Thomas) then Japanese warships shelled them in the night, causing several casualties. Six days after landing, while on a combat patrol near the Matanikau River, Company A ran headlong into a strong Japanese force, losing three killed and an unknown number wounded. Somewhat shocked by this encounter, they were ordered to return to the Marine main lines as an escort for the wounded, and there to await further orders from the battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

Date Of Loss:
Charles Burgess was enjoying breakfast on Sunday, September 27, 1942. He had been in reserve for three days with little to do; some speculated as to the whereabouts of Puller and the battalion’s Company C, which had remained in the jungle near the Matanikau, but there seemed to be little else to do.

Shouting noncoms broke the silence – the reserve of the 7th Marines was going into action. The enlisted men of the company scrambled to get their equipment, ammunition, and rations before being herded down to a nearby beach where they would board a small fleet of Higgins boats. Major Otho Rogers, the battalion’s executive officer and temporary commander, gave a quick speech in which he expressed confidence in the men but neglected to explain the plan. Soon, the battalion was aboard the boats and headed for open water.

After rounding Point Cruz – the geographically-inclined might have noticed passing the mouth of the Matanikau, placing them behind Japanese lines – the boats turned and headed for shore. Some of the Marines were apprehensive at the prospect of their first amphibious landing under combat conditions, but all managed to get ashore without a hitch – or without a shot being fired. The Americans cautiously congratulated each other on their good fortune, and began slowly advancing inland. The officers set a rally point at a low rise marked as Hill 84, some 500 yards from the beach.

No sooner had Company A reached the hill then the world fell in on them. Japanese mortars and machine guns had been zeroed in on their location, Major Rogers was killed almost immediately, and more enemy troops appeared to their rear in an attempt to cut them off from the beach. With no plan, no radios, little knowledge of the terrain, and only light weapons, the situation for the battalion was grim. They struggled to free themselves all day, and it was only an extraordinary combination of skill and guts – orchestrated by Puller – that got them out of the trap.

As they hurried aboard Coast Guard-crewed craft and boated away from the battlefield, the battalion began to count noses and found that a full two dozen of their comrades were missing. None of them were ever seen again.

One of those killed in the disastrous attack was eighteen-year-old Charles Burgess. His remains, if located, have not yet been identified.

For more on this action, see Little Dunkirk.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Gertrude Burgess

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Quantico National Cemetery, Quantico, VA.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

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