Senior Master Sergeant (Ret.) William Ambrose Burke (1923 – 2001)
15th Army Air Force, USAF, WWII – Mediterranean, B24 Radioman, POW
Remembering – Senior Master Sergeant William Ambrose Burke – MZHS "Hero of Air Power"
William A. Burke, son of Ambrose “Rip” and Esther Anderson Burke of Weedville, graduated from Weedville High as World War Two was beginning. He served in the Army Air Forces from January 1943 to October 1945, served in the reserves, then re-enlisted into the US Air Force in 1951, and retired from the Air Force in 1971. Trained as a radio operator/waist gunner on a B24 Liberator, he was assigned as a Tech Sergeant to the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean/ Middle East Theater at Stornara Airfield in southern Italy -456th Bomb Group (aka Steed’s Flying Colts); 744th Bombardment Squadron.
In July, 1944, S/Sgt Bill Burke was in seven bombing missions including the well known raids on Friedrichshafen and Ploesti. On July 28, they were on a shuttle bombing mission on the Ploesti Oil Refineries over Romania when their B24 was hit by flak from anti-aircraft fire. After bailing out by parachute and injuring his back, he along with his crew members were captured. Initially interrogated at the Dulag Luft, they were then sent to the German POW camp- probably Stalag Luft IV- where they were held until September 18, 1944 when they were released and returned to their military unit. He was on his way home to the USA by September 23rd. This was the third time his crew was forced down in the same month- mainly training flights on a B24 named “Ida Wanna”. Of special interest was that Bill was one of the many airmen helped by the “Angel of Ploesti”- Princess Catherine Caradja of Romania. Princess Catherine was known for her humanitarian efforts helping over a thousand American airmen taken prisoner during the bombing of Romania. See the picture above with Bill in middle and Princess Catherine.
Bill told only a few stories of this time. Here is one story after being taken prisoner. He was on a train being transported to Stalag Luft IV when a German officer walking down an aisle cleared his throat and spit in Bill’s face. Bill said that he didn’t remember much after that incident because as he lunged at the officer he was beaten down. He was placed in what they called a sweat box for several days in the heat of summer. This tells us a little of Bill’s spirit and life in a POW camp.
Senior Master Sergeant Bill Burke served a total of 24 years in the Air Force in WW2 Europe, Guam, Greece, Germany, Pakistan, and Italy. Starting out as a B24 radio operator in WW2, his military career naturally followed the newly organized and technology-driven Air Force and it’s highly secretive Security Service (USAFSS) branch in a variety of technical-electronic and NCO leadership positions. Always an Air Force guy, Bill finally retired in the Air Force town of San Antonio, Texas. Among many other decorations and awards, Bill received the Air Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 battle stars (campaigns in Rome-Arno, Rhineland, and Ploesti), a Distinguished Unit Citation, and the WW2 Victory medal. After retirement he remained in San Antonio living with his wife Marion and three children (Sharon, Glennda, and Dennis). He passed away on August 9, 2001 and was buried, in his military uniform alongside his wife in the National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.
The Mt Zion’s “Heroes of Air Power” is a fitting honor to this long-term airman.
“Lest We Forget”