Mike & H&S Companies
Third Battalion, Fifth Marines
I hope you will pass some of these comments on to Capt. Burns's family and please forgive any misspelling since I did not know how to get to spell check through the E-Mail program. As I told you I am only minimally computer literate. Some would say I'm only minimally literate, generally.
I received the photo and your message. The man squatting to the left of Captain Burns is me. I think we are in front of "M" Company Headquarters in 3/5's Battalion area at An Hoa Combat Base. I maybe can fix the time later after going through some of my old letters but it was probably between April and June or July, 69. The marine standing behind me is, I believe, Staff Sgt. R. H. Wagner, who was my Platoon Sgt. at the time. His face is in a shadow, however, so I am not completely sure but I am reasonably confidant that it's him. We are clean in the picture, actually fresh scrubbed, so it looks as if we must have had a little down time to do such things as take pictures. I did not have that picture so it may have been one Capt. Burns either had taken to remember his platoon commanders or it could have been given to him by someone else. Did he have others similar to that taken with others that might be other platoon commanders with their platoon sgts?
As I told you the other night, Captain Burns was a fine officer and excellent leader. I owe him a great deal and it was a privilege to serve with him. He was a Marine's Marine. He always set an example that I was proud to follow. My only regret, at this juncture, was that I only found out where he was after his death. I would have relished an opportunity to talk with him. As I told you the other night, I intend to write more at length inthe future and in more detail about some of the experiences we shared. I know his family must have been proud of him. I know he must have been a loving and concerned father and uncle, etc. I never remember him saying an unkind word. He was serious regarding the business at hand, which was serious and it was our business. He gave us constuctive criticism as was appropriate and necessary, but I never remember him berating a single officer or enlisted man as other officers sometimes did. He was tough as nails and never asked any of us to do anything that he hadn't done or wouldn't do himself. To say our business was extremely dangerous is an understatement. We all knew it. All of us who came back alive were very fortunate.
Capt. Burns and I and others were fortunate to be able to come back, marry and raise families. Others we knew were not so fortunate. That bothers me and I am confidant that it was on his mind as well. It's commonly called "survivor's guilt. Some of us who survived felt that we had been left alive for a purpose. Its like we had been given a second chance. We felt that we had a responsibility to those who died to make the best of our lives in order to honor their lives and give meaning to their sacrifice. There were many who perished around us both enemy and friendly. We felt we must come back and use the experience and the gift of heightened sensitivity as to the fragile nature of life and existence to somehow make the country better. That certainly explains part of my motivation for the way I have conducted my life and I would wager that Capt. Burns and I shared those feelings.
I write this last line at age 53 with tears in my eyes and am not ashamed to say so. Marines frequently say to each other when parting or closing a letter the latin expression that has become our motto, "Semper Fidelis." It means "Always Faithful." It is no surprise that Capt. Burns was true to that motto to the end.
(1st Lt. Paul Thomas Williams - USMC - Retired)
Platoon Commander, Ist Platoon, "M" Co., 3rd Btn., 5th Mar. Rgt., 1st Mar.Div., 1969
(Note: The following letter was received as a consequence of asking permission to use the letter above.)