Mary died five years ago. Losing her is the hardest thing I dealt with in 101 years

November 27, 2021

“I served in World War II in the Asiatic Theater in Burma for two years. I landed in Bombay, India on December 26th, 1942. The next day we were loaded on a train to Burma. I was an aircraft mechanic on small airplanes.

Our base was five or six miles from the front line. Sometimes we could hear them firing. We were back in the jungle and didn’t have much contact with people. We lived in tents. Leeches were a problem. A little Burmese boy would leave eggs on the table in my tent. I would put him in a plane and taxi him around.

The Burmese had game hens, chickens. The Japanese invaded Burma and turned all of the chickens loose and we would hunt them with a rifle. Three of us went out in a Jeep to hunt them one morning. I was on one side, a Greek boy was driving, and a Burmese boy was in the middle. The Jeep rolled over and we landed close to the river. It rolled over my stomach and killed the boy in the middle but didn’t hurt the driver. I went to the hospital for a few days, but I was lucky I wasn’t killed, too.

We were isolated and didn’t know what was going on anywhere else. I was in China in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered. We were sleeping when guys started shooting their guns and yelling the war was over. I was really sick and told one guy that if he didn’t stop shooting, I was going to shoot him.

I was born and raised in Mobile and was a kid during the Great Depression. Baloney was the number one thing on the grocery list.

I lived on Marine Street twice and on Texas Street. My snotty-nosed days were on Alba Street in Mobile. We rented homes and moved around a lot, so I had to keep changing schools. Ice came from an ice wagon pulled by a horse. They cut what we wanted from a big block of ice. The kids got the ice chips that fell off. A milkman delivered milk, and bread was left in the bread box next to the mailbox. One of the places we lived in had an outhouse.

We played marbles every evening and shot the marbles with slingshots on Saturday. We made stilts from two-by-two pieces of wood. The girls played hopscotch.

They had free movies at Monroe Park. They were silent movies and you had to read the captions. We also went to the drive-in at the Bama. We snuck in as many people as we could in the van. Boots Mallory from Mobile became a movie star. A sign outside the theater said ‘Mobile’s own Boots Mallory in Sing Sing Nights.’ I knew her brothers, but I didn’t know her.

I started working at the Buccaneer Yacht Club when I was 12 years old. I sold soda water out of a bucket. I graduated to curb service and then to the main dining room. It was a beach resort and restaurant famous for crab omelets. We threw sticks at the trees to knock the pecans down in the pecan orchard where Fort Whiting was built. We would sell them and earn $2 or $3 to go out on a date.

I spent a lot of my teenage years in Fairhope. We danced in a building where Gambino’s is now. It was so hot that we would be wringing wet with sweat. We also went to the Night Spot and the Plaza in Mobile.

We took a bus to Grandview Park, a teenage hangout on Dog River. I saw a girl on the bus and I liked her. Her name was Mary and we went to a graduation dance together in 1939 and hit it off. I shipped out for World War ll on the night that Mary and I were supposed to get married. We had to wait three years until I came home. I loved to get letters from Mary at mail call. We married two months after I returned home. We were married for 75 years.

Mary and I loved Mardi Gras and going to balls. The floats were pulled by mules that were brought down Atmore. The parade was lit by kerosene torches. They threw candy and rolls of Mardi Gras paper.

My dad was a switchman for the GM&O railroad, and then I had the same job making up and breaking up trains. Everything you could think of came through by box cars. I started in the steam engine days. We got cinders in our eyes all of the time and we had a doctor who would come any time day or night to get them out. Sometimes I used a sulphur match or a toothpick to get the cinders out.

I once saved a little girl from getting hit by a train. There was a ditch with blackberries by the track. She wore a little pair of shorts and a thin shirt. The train was coming, and she was hysterical. She couldn’t move, and I couldn’t pick her up. I pushed her off the track and saved her life, but the train cut her foot off. I would later see her hopping around on one foot and picking berries.

Mary died five years ago. Losing her is the hardest thing I dealt with over 100 years. A group once asked me to write a letter to the soldiers of Afghanistan and asked me to give them advice. I wrote ‘think before you do it.’”

Henry Burgess


  1. Cassandra Kilpatrick

    A life fully lived! I’m so sorry for your loss of your precious Mary. You raised wonderful children ❤️

  2. Deborah Smith

    A story indeed life in Mobile so many years ago. You sir have enjoyed a very interesting life, I’m sure baloney got old week after week but I’m sure you were blessed to get it. Your service to country is greatly appreciated, Mary is watching you and waiting for you to meet her in the glory of heaven. Blessings to you and your family Donna is a friend of mine! God Bless

  3. Connie Guggenbiller

    What a great story! You have lived a great life. Thank you for sharing!


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