Local World War Two Veteran Burke Landry of Madisonville will be featured in this week’s edition of Valor Magazine, which highlights the impact veterans make in the line of duty as well as the home front following their service.
“I am proud to have served my country in the United States Navy,” said Landry. “We were attacked and we fought back and won. Still, one of the most awful feelings is when you are at least partly responsible for killing another human being, even if that person wants to kill you.”
Landry joined the allied war effort at the age of 17 on Oct. 12, 1944, when he said farewell to his parents and future wife Lena Lou at a train station near Houston. He was then transported to San Diego for basic training.
Upon graduating boot camp, Landry spent time as a guard at a Naval hospital in California before he was assigned to The Intrepid, a fleet aircraft carrier.
“When I saw the ship for the first time, I could not believe that anything with so much steel could float,” said Landry. “I had never seen anything so huge. It was about as long as a football field.”
Upon his first meeting with The Intrepid, Landry learned that the ship had recently taken two Japanese Kamikaze planes to the gun tub and flight deck. The stern was also damaged as a result of a torpedo, which proved fatal to a number of sailors aboard.
Landry and The Intrepid set out on the Pacific in February of 1945, three months before Victory Day in Europe and six months before the U.S. devastated the Japanese Empire with a pair of atomic bombs. His primary job was overseeing an aircraft and making sure it contained enough fuel for the pilot along with other necessities.
“We were always on our toes, but most days were so leisurely spent that they became almost boring,” said Landry. “We would play games on the hangar deck such as baseball and touch football. The commissary was open several hours each day and we could purchase toiletries and anything we really needed.”
In March, after a brief stay on Ulithi Island, it was time for The Intrepid to help pursue the enemy. Landry’s battle station was the 40 mm antiaircraft gun tub.
“Aircraft carriers were the most important ships in the fleet to the Japanese,” said Landry. “They would attack them and attempt to at least disable them so we could not send off our planes.”
Because of this, the aircraft carriers were often positioned in the middle of the armada for extra protection. However, Landry can recall multiple encounters with Kamikaze attacks just above his carrier.
“The plane came in low over the mast of protective ships,” said Landry. “It was so low that the propeller was sucking up water and heading for my gun tub, guns ablaze. We were fortunate enough to hit the plane about 100 yards away from us. I could see the pilot, not that I did more than just glance at him as he cart-wheeled into the water. Close call? You better believe it.”
This was one of multiple close calls Landry would experience while serving in the Pacific. If he or his peers wanted news, they turned to the radio. He listened to Iva Toguri D’Aquino, better known as “Tokyo Rose,” a turncoat American who tried to discourage allied fighters in the Pacific by promoting the propaganda of the Empire in a familiar voice.
“She knew more about our missions than we did,” said Landry. “She would name our ship and say we were going to be sunk. She would also often know the ships in command, it was actually quite amazing."
When allied forces invaded Okinawa on Easter Sunday 1945, The Intrepid’s deck was struck by another Kamikaze carrying a large bomb. While Landry was nearby, he remained unharmed. However, the explosion took the lives of nine men aboard the ship.
“We held very solemn funeral services on the deck a few weeks later,” said Landry. “The Kamikaze planes were fueled for one way only, and I heard rumors that they were shackled inside their cockpits.”
The damages eventually sent the carrier back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. After a brief stint in Honolulu, they were sent back to California and given 10 days of leave, where Landry would make another life-altering decision.
“After arriving home, my brother-in-law informed me that he and my sister had made arrangements for Lena Lou and I to get married,” said Landry. “Her father withheld his permission and asked me to wait until I was out of the Navy.”
However, Landry could not wait and got married on Sunday regardless. Lena Lou’s father was upset at first, but quickly got over it.
Landry returned to California and eventually the Pacific, but was not there long before they received orders to cease offensive operations after the atomic attacks. Before returning, they landed in Tokyo Bay, where he got to experience Mt. Fujiyama and the Emperor’s Palace.
Like any serviceman in a conflict as complicated as the Second World War, Landry’s journeys were extensive, harrowing and almost unimaginable in modern times. But he has held on to his desire to assist others in his days since.
He has given back to his community with his compassion and talents. Years ago, he would assist the people of Madisonville who needed help with anything from food to travel along with his friend Stetson Yerg. They would receive multiple calls and provided a number of free services for their neighbors.
As a lifelong Catholic, Landry is also an ordained Deacon and has worked in the church. A talented musician, he would often play his harmonica for residents at the local retirement communities in town.
From the Pacific to Madison County, Landry has made a profound impact on the world of those around him. Read more about his journey and successes this week in Valor Magazine.