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War hero comes home one last time

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By Brandon Mattingly

Washington County native Samie Burns, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for extreme bravery and risk of life in actual combat with an enemy force during World War II, passed away in Florida recently. Burns, was cremated upon his death, and a service will be held at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Springfield on Wednesday, June 12.

The cross earned by Burns is the second-highest award of valor behind the Medal of Honor, and connects to a story that Ken Begley shared in a previous issue of The Sun.

While stationed in North Africa with Battery C of the 106th Antiaircraft Battalion, Burns earned the cross and secured his place in World War II lore when seven German fighter planes attacked a group of 20 American trucks dispersed throughout the area. Almost all of the troops on the ground took  cover, except Burns and one other soldier, whom he didn’t know.

Burns hopped behind the machine gun on the back of his vehicle and the other soldier fed Burns ammo as the fighters approached. Three of the planes departed following the initial strafe run, but four of the planes circled back to finish the job. With the majority of the fighters making a return trip, and Burns’ machine gun facing the wrong direction, one wouldn’t fault him for joining the rest of his battalion under cover.

Instead, Burns cartwheeled over the railing along the truck bed, jumped in the driver’s seat and turned the vehicle around. He took his spot back behind the machine gun and resumed firing as the fighters approached. It didn’t take the pilots long to realize only one person was shooting back at them, but still Burns wasn’t going to be deterred.

Eventually, one plane crashed to the ground as it burst into flames, and Burns watched his line of fire meet the cockpit of a second aircraft, bringing it to the ground as well.

Burns’ machine gun eventually ceased to fire, which only sent him in search of his rifle to keep the battle going. The fighters were forced to turn away after two of the planes had been brought down and a third was showing severe signs of damage, leaving a trail of smoke behind it.

In a well-publicized conversation with a lieutenant colonel following the incident, Burns was asked, “Where are you from son?,” to which Burns replied, “Kentucky, sir.”

“I might have known it,” the lieutenant colonel replied.

Upon returning home, among Burns’ recognition was his story being aired nationally on Kate Smith’s radio program, and a free week’s stay in the Walton Hotel on Main Street by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Burns returned to Kentucky following the war, where he finished high school and graduated from Centre College in Danville. There he met his wife, Eleanor Womack.

The 106th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion compiled four years, nine months and 27 days of service in invasions in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and southern France.

Several of Burns’ relatives still live in the Washington County area.