Remembering Cpl George S Burns

Berlin Airlift Veterans Association Recognizes Berlin Airlift 32nd Fatality.

 Almost all references to American fatalities during the Berlin Airlift show the number as 31. This official number is carried in most all of the history books about the airlift, actually there were 32. The thirty second is referred to as the “Forgotten Airlift Casualty”.  He has never been acknowledged in official U.S.A.F. listings.  This forgotten man was 19 year old Army Corporal George Stanley Burns (real name) from Granite Falls North Carolina. 

George was assigned to the Company C, 1st Engineer Combat Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, Leighton Barracks at Wurzburg Germany. His battalion was busily engaged during construction of Tegel Air Base in the French Sector of Berlin tasked to prepare the runway and aircraft parking area. He was assigned to drive a bulldozer leveling this former Nazi training ground for the badly needed airport. The construction began on August 5th, 1948 with a completion target of January 1, 1949.

The fog was very heavy on the night of October 29th. 1948, humidity was high and temperatures were low. This was during the period of the foggiest days and nights of the Berlin Airlift with few aircraft successfully arriving in Berlin.  Sometime during his overnight shift Corporal George Burns was unaccounted for. Perhaps he had gone for a chance to get warm or to use the latrine. Visibility was low and the large flat area of the runway was 150 feet wide and 5,500 feet long.

At early morning light his body was found crushed into the earth he had been leveling. His bulldozer was found some distance away nose down in a ditch where it had run out of gas. Investigation revealed that the inside of his parka and his hands were burned. It appeared that he stood up while the machine was driving forward, unzipped his parka and wrapped it around the vertical exhaust pipe to get warm when it caught fire.  He probably panicked and fell onto the moving bulldozer track riding it to his death.

The Berlin Airlift Veterans Association has officially recognized George Burns as the 32nd casualty. This action was taken by the Board of Directors and ratified by the members present at the annual reunion held in Dayton Ohio on September 30 2022. He is remembered by the Germans with his name included on the base of the Berlin Airlift monuments in Berlin and Frankfurt. His photo is included in the memorial wall aboard the C-54D Spirit of Freedom of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation.

His base at Wurzburg German had a memorial display until it was closed in 2008. George’s body is buried at Cedar Valley United Methodist Church, 1304 Cedar Valley Church Road, Lenoir NC 28645.

His brother Babe Ruth (BR) Burns (real name), his only living descendent, was an invited guest and attended the 50th anniversary ceremonies in Berlin in 1998 and passed in 2019. 

Burns was brought to light in 1998 by Historian Ronald A. “Scotty” Hirsch, an American D-Day veteran living in Wiesbaden who was always behind the scenes in getting recognition for all of the Berlin Airlift casualties.


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