On July 19, 1918, Carleton “Chubby” Burr, a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, lost his life on the battlefield near Vierzy, France, in service of his country during the First World War.  Today, he rests among 2,289 of his fellow servicemen at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, at the foot of Belleau Wood, France.

Mr. Burr was only 26 when he fell (born August 20, 1891).  Those who knew him and served with him have since passed.  But thanks to the enduring admiration of one man who served under him, Mr. Burr was remembered fondly in an article published by the Associated Press on Memorial Day, 2018.

Update (5/29/21): See additional post on the life of Carleton Burr.

One Family Remembers Carleton Burr

Two years ago, Mark and Linda Shively traveled to France to retrace the steps of Mr. Shivley’s grandfather, Private Alfred Roberts.  During their trip, they stopped at to visit Mr. Burr’s graveside (pictured here).  Mr. Shively explained:  “We wanted to lay flowers here to remember (my grandfather’s) commander.  He really loved this man.”

The AP article explains that Mr. Roberts fought under Mr. Burr at the Battle of Belleau Wood.  Like thousands of other Americans servicemen, including my own grandfather, Mr. Roberts was the victim of German poison gas attacks.  In Mr. Roberts’ case, he was gassed and wounded at the Battle of Belleau Wood, but he survived the battle and lived to return home after the Armistice.  Mr. Shively explained that his grandfather felt that he owed much to his commander:  “My grandfather admired him very much.  If it hadn’t been for his leadership, my grandfather might not have made it.”

Carleton Burr’s Wartime Story

Mr. Burr was a member of the Harvard class of 1913, and parts of his war memoirs were reprinted in volume III Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany – available here.

Photograph of World War I soldier Carleton Burr from Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany, vol III.
Photograph of Carleton Burr from Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany, vol III.

Mr. Burr, like Mr. Roberts, was the victim of German poison gas attacks at Belleau Wood.  Mr. Burr was hospitalized as a result of the poisoning, and he spent further time recuperating with a host family in France.  As he wrote in his letters, he was eager to return to his command as soon as possible:  “I assure you that over a month of hospital life is not the king of indoor sports and the sooner I am discharged, the happier I will be.”

After a brief hospitalization, Mr. Burr participated in the Bastille Day parade in Paris on July 14, 1918.  He rejoined his command on July 18, 1918, as the Foch offensive began.  As his sister’s account was reported in the memoirs, Mr. Burr fell on the battlefield at 9:30 A.M. on July 19, one day after returning to action, when “[a] piece of shrapnel on which Fate had inscribed his name pierced his side, and his earthly career came to a swift and peaceful end.”  The passage continued:  “In the land he loved next to his own he will always lie, content that he gave his all to a cause that was so near to his heart.  On that day the bells throughout America were joyfully ringing to proclaim the turn of the German tide.”

Although Mr. Burr’s memoirs do not mention Mr. Roberts by name, Mr. Roberts was among all those under his command he thought of when writing on February 22, 1918 about leading nightly patrols in “No Man’s Land”:  “I have had my pick of the battalion in choosing my men, and, unless I am way off in my judgment, I think I would have no fear in going anywhere (humanly possible) with these men at my back.”

Final Thoughts for This Memorial Day

Mr. Burr’s life was a short one, but certainly well lived.  Through Mr. Roberts, who held him dear, he was remembered by Mark and Linda Shively on an occasion memorialized by the Associated Press.  Thus, while no one alive knew Mr. Burr, his memory is alive.  As Thornton Wilder concluded with in his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey:  “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Carleton Burr rests at Plot A, Row 2, Grave 76 at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery.  On this Memorial Day, let us remember Mr. Burr and thousands like him, who gave their lives in service of this country.