On Active Service
Corporal Burns is killed
Corporal Frank Burns was the first Gilliam County resident
to die in World War I. (OSA)
Not to be denied...
Frank Cassius Burns was a teenager when he moved from Ohio to
the rolling hills of north-central Oregon with his family. But he quickly
made friends and became part of the close-knit community of Condon in Gilliam
County. After attending college at Mt. Angel, Burns returned to Condon
to work as a clerk, and later treasurer, for a small local company.
Soon after the American declaration of war, Burns enlisted in the
cavalry but was discharged because he was underweight. He returned
to Condon resolved to gain the needed weight but once again was rejected.
Undaunted, he kept trying and eventually was accepted, this time into
the draft. Burns volunteered for active service with the infantry and
within six weeks was under fire in France.
Observations of a soldier
By early August 1918, his division was chasing the retreating
Germans "so fast that it's hard to keep up with them." Burns
lamented the destruction of the towns he passed through. Many of the
were nothing but piles of rocks and rubbish. His ire for the enemy grew
as he saw "beautiful homes with mirrors, carpets and pianos destroyed
and churches with the alters hacked up and vestments and robes torn and
destroyed." He was touched when marching through a village where
just a few old people were
they saw us came out crying and laughing for joy and they took hold of
to make sure they weren't dreaming." View war destruction photographs.
But he clearly enjoyed his good fortune in finally making it into
battle: "...I went through a little bit of Hell and I stood the grind
fine and dandy." Burns' patriotism rose during one advance when he
was in the first wave of an attack:
|"...I looked to both sides and behind me
and all the boys were stepping forward with fixed bayonets and
smiling faces just as far as I could see. It was great."
Burns shows off the uniform that he almost wasn't
allowed to wear because of his light weight. (OSA)
Still, with all of the bravado, he wasn't afraid to share his emotions
with his brother: "You know, Jim, when a fellow gets into the
big noise [battle], he isn't half as nervous as when he is on his way
maybe fifty or sixty miles behind. I thought I'd be scared stiff when
I got into it but I wasn't, in fact I didn't have time. The worst strain
is when you are in the reserve waiting to go in."
"I am not going to live"
Taking advantage of his light weight, Burns served as a runner
or message courier in an era when more technologically
advanced battlefield communications were unreliable. He also volunteered
to help with wounded soldiers.
Burns' last fight came on August 29 when his battalion was engaged
in support of a battle at Chateau Thierry. The front line troops were
retreating through his battalion as the Germans were counter attacking.
officer sent Burns and another soldier to capture a German machine gun
that five men had been operating from behind a railroad fill. But shells
were falling dangerously close. One struck a direct hit on the machine
gun, killing three men and wounding Burns who was just 25 feet away.
Although he remained conscious, the highly explosive shell shattered
Burns confided to his friends: "I am not going to live." After
they tried to encourage him, he replied "I know what I am
talking about." Burns
died at a nearby dressing station early the next morning.
Letterhead reflects the renamed American Legion
post in Condon. (OSA, Oregon
Defense Council Records, Personal Military Service Records,
2, Gilliam County, School District
A fallen hero remembered
In recognition of his bravery, Burns received the Distinguished
Service Medal posthumously. He was eulogized by the Condon Globe newspaper
as "Gilliam's first sacrifice in war for liberty and freedom of the
entire world." The newspaper noted that his parents could at least
have the consolation of knowing that he was killed and not "taken
to languish in a German prison camp." It added the question: "Killed
in action...what more glorious epitaph can any man have?" Not long
after his death, the local Condon chapter of the American Legion honored
Burns by renaming itself "Frank Burns Post No. 25."
(Oregon State Defense Council Records, Personal Military
Service Records, World War I, Box 2, Gilliam County, School District