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Norwalk Navy Veteran Remembers Influence Of Pearl Harbor, WWII Soldiers

Don Burrows, right, served for more than four decades in the U.S. Navy. He is shown with Archie Elam of Stamford, left, and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.
Don Burrows, right, served for more than four decades in the U.S. Navy. He is shown with Archie Elam of Stamford, left, and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Archie Elam

NORWALK, Conn. -- Don Burrows of Norwalk remembers the soldiers who fought for the United States during World War II. In large part, they provided the impetus for the Navy veteran to serve in the military for more than four decades.

“They were an inspiration for me,’’ Burrows said, remembering in particular the soldiers from Pearl Harbor. Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Hawaii.

Burrows, who grew up in the Bronx, said friends in his neighborhood talked frequently with soldiers. Burrows, who is now 83, joined the Navy when he was just 16 years old.

“They talked to us as teenagers,’’ said Burrows, the commander of VFW Post 603 in Norwalk. “They talked to us when they wouldn’t even talk to their own families. We all wanted to be part of the military. One guy I hung around with went in the service along with all five of his brothers.”

Burrows came from a military family. His older brother also enlisted in the Navy, and his father worked on the fleet of Navy ships at a Brooklyn shipyard.

“At the end of World War II, we went down there for ‘Navy Day’ and they let us in to see the sailors,'' Burrow said. "They couldn’t do enough for the kids. They all wanted to talk with us. It was a great experience. A lot of them asked if we had any sisters. That’s all a lot of them wanted to know.”

Burrows enlisted in the Navy in 1950, and saw duty at sea during wars in Korea and Vietnam. He was still on active duty during Desert Storm.

“My first job was in a reserve cargo handling unit,’’ Burrows said. “I loaded the first ship to go to Korea with rice and soy beans.”

Burrows spent the majority of his career at sea. He served on submarines, battleships, aircraft carriers and oil tankers. He also worked for a time at Portsmouth Navy Hospital in Virginia.

“When you’re at a hospital, you judge people for themselves,’’ Burrows said. “I was the only guy in my ward with two hands. One time I had to go clean up a shack, and there was guy who had no face. He looked like chopped liver. You don’t see what color, sex or rank people were. You just did your job. The way I looked at, everybody was a sailor.”

Japanese fighter planes attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. The two-hour barrage destroyed nearly 20 American vessels, including eight battleships, and more than 300 planes. The attack killed 2,403 Americans and injured 1,178 others. It led America’s entry into World War II.

As time marches on, however, the sacrifices made by soldiers at Pearl Harbor and World War II have fallen off the radar of many Americans.

“It’s a shame,’’ Burrows said. “People don’t remember. They think about themselves. So many people today are on the computer, texting and not even remembering what happened at Pearl Harbor.”

Burrows finds promise in President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to be more friendly to the military during his administration.

“There will a new appreciation for the military under Trump,’’ Burrows said. “Trump is definitely a military guy, and I like that. It’s important to our country that we always have a strong military.”

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