Jed Boal ReportingThere's a little-known episode of World War II that terrorized thousands of American troops and left hundreds dead in the cold of winter in Germany 60 years ago. A Utahn endured and survived, and talked with Jed Boal about his own death march.
Richard Burt served his country for 32 years, but kept quiet about his experience in World War II until recently.
Richard Burt, World War II Veteran: “For at least 40 years I couldn't even talk about it."
Burt grew up in Bear River City, always wanting to fly. He had his civil air wings before he joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, but didn't pass the physical and became a gunner on a B-24.
Based in Italy, his crew dropped bombs on German targets. November 17, 1944 on a return trip, shrapnel took out an engine. The crew bailed 18,000 feet over Yugoslavia.
Richard Burt: “That's a long way down. I had to force myself to get out, but there wasn't any choice."
He scrambled to hide and had one clear thought.
Richard Burt: “My folks were going to get a telegram that I was missing in action, and I prayed that they would know I was down but okay."
Burt was held as a POW in Poland. In early February the Germans knew the end of the war was near, but wanted to keep their prisoners as bargaining chips. So Burt's captors started them on a March to the west. They marched 86 days, 550 miles in brutal winter conditions.
Richard Burt: “All you could do was put one foot in front of the other. It was cold it was wet. Never took my clothes off for three months."
Ten thousand POWs started the march.
Richard Burt: “There's no way to know how many we lost. Men would lay down in the snow and give up."
They were freed six days before the war ended. Burt still has the pistol he took from one of his German captors.
Richard Burt: “I didn't think I was going to make it. I had dysentery so bad I looked like I was eight months pregnant."
He went from 150 pounds to 98. Burt reconstructed the route of the march and traveled it with his family, a journey he had to take.
Richard Burt went on to work full-time for the California National Guard for 25 years and finished his career with the Utah National Guard. He will speak at the Salt Lake City Library tomorrow night at 7:00.