• October 26, 2014

Reliving War

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Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 12:00 pm

By Rose L. Thayer

Fort Hood Herald

World War II veteran R.V. Burgin will sign copies of his memoir at the Clear Creek Main Exchange from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Burgin's story was featured in the HBO mini-series "The Pacific," which premiered in March 2010.

His memoir, "Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific," debuted around the same time, and began publishing in paperback this month.

Burgin said the book covers much more than just his time as a Marine, during which he earned a Bronze Star for his actions in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. It covers everything from growing up in Jewett, to meeting his wife in Australia - they recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary - to personal stories from throughout his life.

The 87-year-old said the book is something his family and friends, as well as Marines all across the country, have asked him to write for years.

"I'd always say I would do it and I kept putting it off," he said.

Then in 2008, Burgin had a pacemaker put in, and faced his own mortality. He said that while lying back in the hospital bed, he thought to himself, "You better do it now, you old coot; you're not going to live forever."

And so on the advice of a friend, he got an agent and he hired writer Bill Marvel, and away he went.

Marvel and Burgin began meeting for long interviews in which Burgin would recall events from the past. Marvel would transcribe the interviews and together they finished the book in about a year.

"I enjoyed reliving the battles. It brought back memories and I started to think of things I hadn't thought of in years," Burgin said.

While it's easy for him to talk about the war these days, Burgin said there was a time in his life when he couldn't.

"I didn't talk about war for 35 years," he said. "I worked with three Marines at the post office and we might say something funny that happened, but we never talked about the war."

It was after attending his first reunion of the 1st Marine Division in 1980 that memories started to come back to him. He attributed it to speaking to old friends, and about a decade later, he began to open up to his family.

"That's when I decided these stories should be told, not forgotten," Burgin said.

He said he hopes service members today can learn to accept the hardships of war, as he eventually did.

"All this bad stuff was going on before I joined the Marines," he said. "I knew war is hell. ... Men get mangled and there's nothing you can do about it. Death is going to happen to friends and foxhole buddies and you just can't dwell on it. ... Take it as a fact of life."

Burgin said his favorite compliment to receive about the book is when people say they couldn't stop reading.

"I carried the book to a friend at 4:30 in the afternoon and the next morning he called at 10 a.m. and said he finished the book. He said once he started he couldn't put it down," Burgin said.

Burgin retired from the post office in 1977 and has since spent his time with his four daughters and traveling with his wife. He now lives in Lancaster.

Contact Rose L. Thayer at rthayer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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