Thursday, July 02, 2009

Grinning Through The Pain

On the 4th of July, most Americans gather to celebrate freedom, the end result of our forefathers signing the Declaration of Independence. In 1951, this holiday had added meaning for war correspondent Bill Burson, as it was the date he was inducted into an elite club, exclusive to those avoiding death and making the best of wartime abroad.

Below: Burson (center) becomes the butt
of a joke amongst his fellow reporters.
Among his numerous careers, William Burson was a journalist. After writing for the United Press in a few southern states, Burson served as a war correspondent in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951. Much of his writing during this period documented the life stories of the soldiers he met while covering the great victories and little defeats of the U.S. military. What strikes me most when going through Burson's collection of scrapbooks containing newspaper articles, photographs, and letters from Korea is the surprising humor injected into these stories of war.

As described by Burson, American reporters and soldiers in Korea shared a great sense of camaraderie -- a feeling that gave their stories a tone more suited to the tales told on a long camping trip than those from a battlefield. Burson built a strong connection with the 17th infantry regiment, lead by the enigmatic Col. William W. "Buffalo Bill" Quinn. However, he seemed to share an even stronger connection with his fellow journalists in the war – a group which never failed to have a few laughs in the middle of the fray.
Above: Burson (seated in the background) makes an attempt at a serious pose as his colleague plays janitor.

On July 4, 1951, Burson received a letter extending him membership in an exclusive group that could only be joined by those who were “sick and tired of Korea, kimchi and honey buckets.” This prestigious organization was called The Ancient and Venerable Order of the Aching Back. Accompanying this letter was a large certificate honoring Burson for remaining steadfast, despite the back pain. These tokens are a sure sign that these reporters found ways to celebrate their hardiness and revel in their plight, despite the hardships and sadness of war.

Post by Christina Keene, Summer Intern at the Russell Library. Keene is processing the William H. Burson Collection, composed largely of scrapbooks documenting Burson’s many professions. These scrapbooks contain photographs, newspaper articles, and awards that Burson received throughout his life.

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