US soldier’s WWI diary returned to sweetheart

Laura Mae Davis Burlingame, who received the diary. Picture: AP
Laura Mae Davis Burlingame, who received the diary. Picture: AP
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A DIARY written by an American soldier killed during the Second World War has been reunited with the high-school sweetheart who gave it to him almost 70 years ago.

Laura Mae Davis Burlingame, 90, was visiting the National World War II Museum in New Orleans when she saw the gift to her 22-year-old machine-gunner boyfriend, which had been recovered after he died and eventually donated to the museum.

Corporal Thomas “Cotton” Jones made his first diary entry while a private at Camp Elliott in San Diego, a little less than a year before he was killed.

He described it as “my life history of my days in the US Marine Corps … And most of all my love for Laura Mae for whom my heart is completely filled.”

He added: “So if you all get a chance please return it to her. I [am] writing this as my last life request.”

Jones – nicknamed “Cotton” due to his blond hair – had written several touching entries about his girlfriend, and stuck a photograph of her inside the back cover, which she had signed “Love Laurie”.

The pair had met in 1941 at Winslow High School, Maine, where he had been a basketball player and she was a cheerleader.

They dated throughout high school and attended the prom together. Jones had given her his class ring – a high-school graduation token – but they were not engaged, she said.

After graduation, Jones went on to join the 1st Marine Division’s L Company, 3rd Battalion.

His final diary entry, written aboard the USS Maui on 1 December, 1943, described winning $200 at craps. He had a total of $320, he wrote, and if he were back home “Laura Mae & I would really have a wonderful Xmas”.

Jones was killed by a Japanese sniper on the Pacific island of Peleliu in September 1944. He was among 1,794 Americans killed on Peleliu and nearby islands in a bloody two-month assault against Japanese forces.

Another 7,302 Americans were wounded, and an estimated 10,900 Japanese were killed.

Peleliu was where US forces learned the Japanese had changed their island defence tactics. Instead of concentrating units on the beaches, the Japanese took cover in bunkers, trenches, pillboxes and caves – many of them deep in the island’s hills – that had to be taken one at a time.

Ms Burlingame went on to marry an Army Air Corps serviceman the following year, whom she described as having been a “good friend” of Jones.

She said of her visit to the museum: “I figured I’d see pictures of him and the fellows he’d served with and articles about where he served. I didn’t have any idea there was a diary.”

She said she was touched by the number of times he mentioned getting letters from his parents and her, and that the discovery had brought tears to her eyes.

Ms Burlingame said she did not know why she never received the diary. It apparently went first to a sister of Jones whom she didn’t know well, she said. The diary was later donated to the museum by a Robert Huny, a nephew of Jones.

Curator Eric Rivet said it was the first time in his 17 years of museum work that someone had found themselves mentioned in an artefact in the museum. The museum gave Ms Burlingame a copy of the diary.

In return, she donated photographs and the class ring Jones had given her before he set off.

Flypast by US Air Force

The Eagle Squadron yesterday carried out a formation flypast of American Second World War airfields throughout England to honour the US airmen who died whilst fighting for their country from British soil.

US Army Air Forces veteran Clarence “Bud” Anderson was a guest of honour in the two-seater P-51 Mustang Miss Velma plane, which led the procession. He flew a P-51 Mustang called “Old Crow” from RAF Leiston in Suffolk during the war. A “triple ace”, he flew the P-51 on 116 missions. Other planes taking part included the Hawker Hurricane X, Supermarine Spitfire Mk I, and Republic P-47G Thunderbolt.

The squadron took off from Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire yesterday morning and flew up to RAF Debden, in North Essex, passing over RAF airfields including Horham, Halesworth and Leiston. The formation also passed over RAF Mildenhall, home to the modern US Air Force in Europe.

This year, IWM Duxford is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the United States Army Air Forces.

Tributes paid in Edinburgh

Holyrood veterans minister Keith Brown yesterday paid ­tribute to those who lost their lives in combat in the First World War at the 79th Scottish American Memorial Day Service in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

The event coincided with America’s Memorial Day, which is marked on the last Monday of May.

Mr Brown said: “It is a privilege to be invited to today’s event in honour of those brave men that lost their lives during the First World War.

“Memorial events like this are vital to ensure that we never ­forget their loyalty and sacrifice.

“The Scottish Government values the commitment of our armed forces community and we are proud of the close ties that exist between the United States of America and Scotland.

“Scotland’s soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen are among the best in the world, and their bravery, loyalty and professionalism deserves our wholehearted care and ­support.”