Little did the boy from the hills know that he would eventually serve under the likes of Generals George S. Patton and Omar Bradley in a war that would change the course not only of history but also of Burton's life.
George Burton has seen it all. Not just here at Lake of the Ozarks but overseas as well. He knew Lake of the Ozarks before the lake itself was put in. The area was, as he described it, “just hills and country.”
Little did the boy from the hills know that he would eventually serve under the likes of Generals George S. Patton and Omar Bradley in a war that would change the course not only of history but also of Burton’s life.
Burton was born in 1924 on a farm near Kaiser and like many families during that era, they struggled to sustain their way of life. The garden hoe and a push cultivator were the only equipment the family owned to work the farm. Keeping food on the table was sometimes a challenge for the family.
“It was just rivers before the lake was backed up: Niangua River and Glaize River. My father helped cut the timber off when the lake went in and all they used was crosscut saws. Before it was over, they just left trees standing and the water would come up over the trees,” he recalls. “My mother always had chickens and she’d sell the eggs at this country store and buy groceries with the money. We’d buy the potatoes there at that country store and cut them up. The potatoes had what they call the eyes on them and we’d cut off the eyes and plant them and the new potatoes would grow.”
For the young man from rural Missouri, who had gone to work for the Works Progress Administration, or WPA as it was known, when he was just 16, finding himself in the midst of World War II was quite the experience. At the young age of 19, Burton found himself setting off for basic training. Eventually he would land overseas.
He was part of the Seventh Army under General Patton and the 774th Field Artillery Battalion.
When he was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1943, Burton’s life experiences had consisted of growing up on the farm and working building what is now Lake of the Ozarks State Park. A hoe, a push cultivator and the tools he had used working for the WPA were replaced with weapons and artillery. Although he had stayed in barracks while working for the WPA, he had never traveled far from home. The experience of finding himself in the midst of war, was one he would never forget.
Burton was assigned to support the infantry in their efforts to gain ground.
“I helped give firing orders on the radio for the cannons. They went for the distance. They’d load the artillery guns and fire them when we told them to. Every time they’d move up, we’d move up and support them.”
While most of Burton’s training was in California, he did make other stops as he prepared for war, including Louisiana and Arkansas.
When the time finally came to leave the states, Burton was one of 15,000 soldiers heading to war.
“We shipped out of New York. That’s where I went overseas. We boarded the Queen Mary. There were 15,000 soldiers and all the equipment on it.”
The young man from Missouri spent quite a bit of time in Europe, experiencing the some of the worst battles of World War II on the European front.
“I went through the Battle of the Bulge — that was the worst one. We came out of the battle from the Rhine River. That was the last battle I was in. I was in some up in Holland. We were there for a while. Then they shipped us back again to another place. I believe we went to Belgium,” he said.
George was in training learning martial arts when the war ended. The bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima changed the plans for Burton.
“The Germans gave up. I was with General Bradley at the time. They shipped us back to a little place in France and we had to start Judo training because we were supposed to go to Japan, but they dropped that last big bomb and they surrendered so we didn’t have to go.”
He was discharged in 1945. Harry S Truman was president of the United States having stepped in after President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away. The military had a point system in place for the soldiers to go home and Burton had to wait for his discharge to come through.
“We had to have so many points to get discharged. If you were married or had a child, it meant so many points. You had to wait until your number came before you could be sent out. I think I had 600 and something.”
When he was discharged, Burton and the rest of the soldiers had to have some patience to come back home.
“I came back home on another ship—they called it the Victory Ship—and it took ten days to come back to Massachusetts—that’s where I got out at.”
Burton then went from Massachusetts to the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri where he was eventually released to go home. when he was discharged.
The day of his departure dawned cold and miserable, an ice storm had moved in and the trip back home was challenging. Burton had to make his way from Jefferson City to Lebanon where he was able to get a bus to take him as far as Camdenton. Fortunately at the the time his family was living in Linn Creek. There wasn’t a ride to be found. From there he was on his own. After 2 years at war, Burton hiked the few miles from Camdenton to Linn Creek, arriving home much like he had left with a duffle bag full of clothes and hopes for the future.