Blanco County News
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WWII Vet Tells Her Stories
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 • Posted June 24, 2011

As part of the Blanco Pioneer Museum's exhibit on World War II, veteran Tina Burnham of Round Mountain visited the museum to tell her stories about the war.

Burnham stayed stateside but did her part to help the war effort.

"Roosevelt saw what needed to be done," she said about the government hiring women to work in factories and allowing women into the military. After high school, she headed straight to school for a year of learning about air hammering and rivets. Airplanes are put together with hundreds and hundreds of rivets. Like the famous icon Rosie the Riveter, Burnham was one of the many women who were hired to help the war effort from the homefront.

When Burnham visited her sister in Dallas, she joined the Coast Guard and was put into SPARS, the women's reserve created by Roosevelt. "SPARS" is named after the Coast Guard's Latin motto, "Semper Paratus," and its English translation, "Always Ready."

The SPARS allowed women to serve in the US while the men were deployed overseas. At full capacity, SPARS had 10,000 members. Burnham felt she would have a better chance to do what she wanted. She was with the SPARS from 1944 to 1946.

Burnham was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, next to the largest Navy harbor in the world.

"I saw so many crowds of sailors," she remembers, "that the white caps made you dizzy." The harbor was a port for both foreign and US sailors.

Following her stint in the SPARS, Burnham also worked as an attendant at Philadelphia Hospital and was also part of the program that sent women to the College of Pharmacy at Columbia University. She then worked up the ranks to Pharmacist 1st Class.

In her hospital work, Burnham met and treated soldiers from all over the world with a wide range of injuries. So many ships were blown up, she recalls, and sometimes there were survivors.

When asked about how she felt about working with foreigners, Burnham replied that those people were supposed to be there: they were allies. Without them, all the US generals might not have made it. God also stepped in and helped, she says.

When the war ended in Europe, Burnham was upstairs ironing. She heard bells, horns, singing, and crying coming from outside. "People were dancing in the streets," she says. "You can't imagine the sound."

"Everyone wanted the war to end," she continues. "It was long and horrible."

Burnham was asked about patriotism. "It's always good to teach patriotism," she replies. "It's our country; we owe allegiance to it, even if it doesn't always do what we think is right."

She adds that she hopes the newer generations never see war like World War II. "It'd be wonderful if we never had any war."

She recalls how bad it was for civilians, who also had to sacrifice and pull together. Food was rationed, every piece of metal (including toothpaste tubes, which were metal back then) had to be traded in, and bacon grease was saved for explosives.

She worries now that the same patriotism no longer exists.

She had thought about leaving the SPARS during the war. "A few times I wanted to get out," she says, "but then I thought 'no.'"

Burnham is proud of the women who did what they could and did it well to help with the war effort. Her mother was proud, she recalls. Her father, however, didn't want his daughter joining up. Burnham joined and then told her father.

Following the war, Burnham returned home and spent the summer with her family. She enrolled in Nursing School at Southern Methodist University.

She then married "a wonderful Texas guy," Winston Burnham of Marble Falls, who had been in the Army. He and his brother owned Burnham Brothers Sporting Goods. They had two children and lived on their ranch outside Round Mountain.

She worked at the hospitals in Johnson City and Marble Falls.

Looking back at that part of her life, Burnham says she was barely 22 when she joined the Coast Guard. Within two and a half years, her life changed. The war changed everyone's lives, she says.

Rebecca Howerton, Mark Walters, Nell Krueger, Leona Van De Velde, Dolores Bevers, Linda Howard, Sabrina Neitch, Vic Hinze, and Pat Vallone were present to hear Burnham tell her life story. The museum plans to record Burnham for their oral history collection.

The Blanco Pioneer Museum is located at 418 Pecan Street and is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11am to 3pm. The museum also opens for groups interested in tours. Call Nell Krueger at 830-833-5774 for more information about the museum and their oral history project.

Further stories from veterans will be published in the Blanco County News.

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