Friday, October 26, 2007


I don't know if you've been watching Ken Burns' documentary, "The War", but I encourage you to do so. I'm not sure if it's available for rental yet, however, I do know you can purchase the series. If ever there was a documentary covering all aspects of WWII, this is the one. Burns' body of work is nothing short of extraordinary and, come Oscar time, "The War" is sure to come out on top.

"The War" is about the impact WWII had on every town in America. But Burns couldn't do a story about each and every town, so he chose four: Luverne, Mobile, Waterbury, and Sacramento. Burns didn't utilize experts or historians in the making of this documentary. Instead, he had families from each of the four towns tell their story about life during the war.

Since I live in the Sacramento area, Folsom, I was especially looking forward to watching. The photos, newsreels, and home movies from that era, coupled with the interviews, were simply outstanding. All of that, together with the music of the day, gave you an accurate feel for the times.

Sacramento county had just under 131,000 people registered for the draft. One of those draftees was Earl Burke, and he played a part in "The War". Burke was a member of a B-17 gunner crew; he operated twin .50 caliber machine guns from the ball turret. In time, his ball turret would be the focus of many German anti-aircraft guns. And when the FLAK's flying, the ball turret is a very unsettling and dangerous place to be.

When Burke first arrived in England, he was under the impression that he couldn't be hurt and was positive no harm would come to him or his crew. He was young. But, one morning in Oct 1943, that youthful sense of security would leave him. It was soon replaced with a sense of terror--from the Sacramento Bee:

"His confidence evaporated the foggy morning of Oct. 14, 1943, as he prepared for a raid on Schweinfurt, a German manufacturing center. An earlier raid on the city resulted in the loss of 60 Allied planes and 600 crewmen, and Burke recalled the unspoken terror among crewmen as they boarded their planes for a mission from which they knew many probably would not return.

"You did not want to get into that airplane, but you did anyway," he said. "You got into the airplane because your friends were getting into the aircraft. You didn't want to let your friends down – even though, you know, you didn't want to go."

Yes, Burke got on board the aircraft. He did his job. Though he was wounded twice during his service, Burke survived the war and came home with two Purple Hearts. He was very proud to have served his country. He married in '46, worked until his retirement in '85. And, sadly, on Oct 17th 2007, Earl Burke passed away at the age of 84.

Everything we have today, we owe to men like Earl Burke. RIP.

Extended preview: THE WAR

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