Burt G. Douglas - Torpedoman 2/c - V-2
USS Kitkun Bay CVE-71
Burt was born in rural Hanover County Virginia to a farming family which included three sisters. He was graduated from high school after 11 years of schooling (there was no 12th grade then).
Shortly after the United States entered the war, Burt enlisted in the Navy citing his choice of the Navy over the Army, “I didn`t want to march or dig foxholes”.
He was trained in ordinance including torpedoes at the Norfolk Navy Yard completing training on xx YYY 1943.
After a short leave, Burt embarked on a Trans America rail trip terminating in San Diego, California. On the west Coast, Burt was engaged in outfitting a newly commissioned CVE for service, the USS Tripoli CVE-64. Shortly afterwards, Burt was reassigned to the newly commissioned CVE, Kitkun Bay CVE-71 engaging in the outfitting of this recently commissioned warship also.
There are several events that I would like to share about Burt`s service on CVE-71. The first was when the Kitkun Bay was hit by a kamikaze during the battle of Lingayen Gulf on 7 January 1945. Burt was working in an ammunition clipping room close to where the Japanese plane struck the Kitkun Bay. When Burt heard the plane hit and saw the fire from the collision, he closed the watertight hatch on the ammunition clipping room in an abundance of caution. He told me later that a fellow sailor was killed outside of his battle station as a result of the kamikaze strike.
As a young teenaged boy, I asked my step-father, “Did you ever have to abandon ship?” “No” was his answer. My later research revealed that the Kitkun Bay was hit by a kamikaze strike during the battle of Lingayen Gulf on 7 Jan 1945. The bomb carried by the enemy airplane failed to explode and ended up in the aft engine room of the ship resulting in a loss of power on the Kitkun Bay. As a result of this kamikaze strike and the still potent enemy bomb, the crew was ordered to be taken off of the ship by destroyers in the task group.
I cross examined Burt on his response to my abandon ship query. He replied that he was asked if HE`D ever abandoned ship, to which his answer was truthful. He went on to explain that he volunteered to stay aboard the crippled ship as a member of the work crew to try to repair the damage and restore power.
At one of the Kitkun Bay Association reunions, a photo of the unexploded bomb carried by the Japanese airplane surfaced. This photo showed the damaged but still potent enemy bomb in the engine room suspended from two chain hoists surrounded by a handful of Kitkun Bay sailors. These men were greasy from the waist up and the facial expressions of these sailors amply portrayed the spirit of the American serviceman; unflappable courage and boundless determination – traits that were instrumental in defeating a determined enemy.
Another anecdote that Burt shared with me was being admonished by the Captain to “get below deck”. At the time of this admonition, Burt was sitting on a cart of aircraft ordinance on the flight deck watching the battle unfurl and awaiting the return of the air group currently giving battle to the enemy.
One of the more humorous anecdotes that my step-father shared was how the torpedo men in the aviation section of the Kitkun Bay would use white bread to separate the alcohol from the torpedo fuel for use in “spiking” their libations. Another example of the ingenuity of the American serviceman!
One of the more moving memories that I witnessed was the ceremony commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte at the US Navy Memorial in Washington D.C. This ceremony commemorated the liberation of the Philippine islands and recognized the sacrifice and service of the combined American forces. Burt, my mother and I attended this special event. Burt was honored by the memorial service but was especially moved after the conclusion of the ceremony when a number of Filipinos who`d witnessed the ceremony came up to personally thank him for his role in liberating their homeland. I was likewise touched by their expressions of gratitude. It was apparent that the sacrifices and legacy of the American serviceman are not forgotten.
Burt`s military service was part of a pivotal part of history and it doubtlessly shaped his life. As I got to know my step-father, especially more so later in life, I developed a sense that his service and the bonds forged during this time shaped his persona in many positive ways. He was a man who possessed admirable ethics. He married my mom – a divorced mother with two young boys and they jointly raised us in a loving cohesive family. He treated and nurtured my brother and me as he would a biological son; not an easy endeavor nor one than many men are capable of undertaking.
While Burt was proud of his service in the Navy and how this service had made him a better-rounded person, he never boasted or embellished his service in the Navy. He built a life from this foundation and earned the respect of many. The ethics and lessons that he imparted to me in my formative years shaped both my persona and my destiny. While he crossed the bar in 2001, I still revere his memory and am grateful for his mentoring of me.
Much has been written of the generation that shaped the destiny of the free world, brought the nation out of the Great Depression and forged a modern America. I`ve had the honor and privilege to have known a few of this elite group and am in awe of what this generation had to endure and was able to overcome. America, and the world, owes a debt to these individuals. May we commemorate their service, honor their sacrifices and carry the torch that this generation has passed to us. We owe that to subsequent generations.