Donald R Burgett: The Screaming Eagles, the 101st Airborne Division, were amongst the first to arrive on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy on June 6th, 1944.
Amongst them was rifleman and machine-gunner Sergeant Donald R Burgett with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, serving in Able Company.
Named for their insignia of a bald eagle on a black shield, the Division was addressed by Major General William C Lee on August 16th, 1942.
He told the troops that they had a ‘rendezvous with destiny,’ and that they would be called upon to serve when the need was immediate and extreme.’
The insignia had a proud pedigree, serving as a mascot for a Wisconsin regiment that fought during the Civil War, and called ‘Old Abe’ in honour of President Lincoln. The 101st Division started out as a Wisconsin reserve unit after the First World War and maintained the traditional mascot.
After their success in Normandy, clearing the way for the invasion at Utah Beach and took part in the capture of Carentan, the Screaming Eagles saw action during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, the Battle of the Bulge and at the end of the War Sergeant Donald R Burgett was part of the force that took Hitler’s mountain retreat in Southern Germany.
Wounded three times Burgett was one of just eleven men from his original Company of 200 to make it through the War, fighting in many of the major battles faced by the Screaming Eagles.
Upon his return to the US Burgett wrote four memoirs: ‘Currahee; A Screaming Eagle at Normandy,’ ‘The Road to Arnhem,’ telling the story of his experiences during Operation Market Garden, ‘Seven Roads to Hell’ is a first hand account of the Battle of the Bulge, and finally ‘Beyond the Rhine; A Screaming Eagle in Germany’.
In January 1945, at the Battle of the Bulge, the Screaming Eagles were pinned down in the Belgian town of Bastogne, but despite the constant bombardment the Allies held the perimeter. General Lieutenant Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, the German commander, sent word to the 101st Airborne demanding their surrender.
Acting commander of the 101st, General Anthony McAuliffe made the now-famous response of ‘Nuts’ to the bemused German commander.
At the same time the 101st was ordered to push forward against what was the cream of the Wehrmacht, the 1st, 12th and 9th SS Panzer Divisions, including the Führerbegleitbrigade.
Later, in April 1945 the 101st had moved on into the Rhineland and arrived in the Bavarian Alps where they liberated Kaufering IV, part of a local camp complex.
Prisoners with typhus and other diseases were sent to Kaufering IV to end their days. The Allied soldiers found five-hundred dead at the camp and made the townspeople of nearby Hurlach bury the bodies.
After the War Burgett worked as a local builder and spent his leisure time hunting and fishing and was also an active member of a number of veteran’s groups, most notably the VFW, The American Legion Devereaux Post #141, Disabled American Veterans and the Military Order of the Cooties.
He died in 2017 aged 91 leaving behind 12 grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren, many of whom still live in the town of Howell, whose Post Office at 325 South Michigan Avenue has now been renamed in honour of the WWII veteran, author and speaker at local schools.
June 14th was also declared Donald R Burgett day by Howell Mayor Nick Proctor during the ceremony to honour the local resident.
Also in attendance were US Senator Debbie Stabenow and US Rep Elissa Slotkin, along with State Senator Lana Theis and State Reps Hank Vaupel and Ann Bollin.
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The Division also went on to distinguish itself in other major battles, including the Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam in 1969.