Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Remembering the life of World War II Veteran Dr. Elkanah George Burson on the Fourth of July, His birthday. A wonderful life!

One hundred years ago today, July 4, 1918, in Furman, Wilcox County, Alabama, Elkanah George Burson, Jr. made his way into the world. He was born in this home in a bed in the room of the window on the right.

In Europe, World War I would soon end in November, soldiers from all sides had begun to succumb to a deadly strain of influenza. Troop losses from the flu epidemic would soon exceed combat casualties, especially weakening the hard-pressed German Army. The worldwide epidemic lasts for about a year, killing an estimated 20 million persons, then vanishes as strangely as it had appeared. 

The Germans were just bringing their troops from Russia.

His father was Dr. Elkanah George Burson and his mother was Elizabeth Jane Knight Burson.

They lived in a house with a stream that ran behind where Elizabeth (Nanny) would wash the clothes and carry water up the hill for daily use. She picked up pecans for extra money and one day purchased a cow and then another until eventually she had a herd of cows.

Dr. Burson (Pawpaw) practiced medicine and was the official doctor for the railroad. My father, known as George (his father was called Ellie by Nanny) had a big sister, Eliece.

Here is Eliece in the kitchen of the home that was once the first Elkanah's, a state representative. 

Later Elizabeth Burson was born, the youngest of the family. She was named for her mother, of course.

And her father's sister, Aunt Mary Elizabeth, who suffered so from rheumatoid arthritis that even steps upon the floor in her father's home (later Aunt Eliece's) caused her pain. George remembered her fondly as the one who told him stories about the Glass Mountain (that I begged him to recount, but he could not). He would run across the floor to see her and she would grimace in pain, but keep a loving smile upon her face to welcome him. 

Another of George's father's sisters also played a big part in his life, his Aunt Clare  (Ella Clare Burson). Elkanah (Ellie), Mary Elizabeth and Ella Clare were the children of Elkanah Burson and Ellafare Barge Burson. They all grew up in the house Eliece lived in later on.

Ella Clare was married twice, a Mr. Moulder and a Mr. Underwood. She served as postmistress in Burnsville.

One of sister Elizabeth's fondest memories was of the goat cart they got one Christmas. She remembered brother George twisting the goat's tail to make him run fast. A memory that made her smile on her death bed. Their other Christmas gift was a box of oranges and nuts bought in Pineapple, Camden or Selma.

His father enjoyed cars about as much as his son did later on.

His father enjoyed this car immensely. George learned to drive on a car much like this. He remembered driving up to Snow Hill Institute, founded by William James Edwards, a graduate of Tuskeegee Institute, to hear Dr. George Washington Carver speak.

George Burson attended a three-room schoolhouse for grades 1 through 6, and then graduated from Carlowville High School. Those were depression years and his own father, a country doctor, had little money because his patients had little money. Payment came in produce or land. Often as a child his lunch consisted of a biscuit filled with molasses. Other children had white bread sandwiches with pineapple slices. He’d look at their sandwiches and his biscuits and then made himself a promise…when he grew up he’d be able to afford white bread.

George was a reluctant university student. His mother took him to the University of Alabama and he almost beat her home. This happened several times. So they eventually let him take a job with a trucking company owned by Nanny's relative. (The relative called to make sure they approved.) One hot Saturday loading and loading tin in the broiling hot sun convinced him college was probably a good idea. He pledged Sigma Chi. They called him Dude (from the book Tobacco Road, probably not a compliment).

By the time he graduated from college, his father who had attended to Miss Laura Gulley, the owner of the plantation house across the street during her illnesses, came into possession of the home as they had agreed.

George chose to go to medical school. His German teacher wrote a note of recommendation he was wise enough to read. "Mr. Burson is by no means an excellent student." That one made its way into the trash can. (It is a good thing the Army did not send him to Europe where he might be called upon to speak German.)

He graduated from the University of Alabama and Tulane Medical School in New Orleans, Louisiana. He finished with an accelerated program that paved the way for his entrance into World War II. When the war came they speeded up the course requirements in medical school to get more doctors to the battlefields. After a 9-month rotating residency in San Francisco at Southern Pacific Hospital, he immediately entered the U.S. Army where he received training in Anesthesiology in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Army Medical School at Walter Reed Hospital under Mayo Clinic doctor, Major Mousel.

He recalled training. One bit especially stuck in his memory when a "friend" loaded his backpack with lead for a VERY HOT trek.

When he set off to the Philippines, they provided a trunk that he loaded with liquor to sell figuring the Army would provide him with clothes. (We harken back to the fond nickname at Sigma Chi  of Dude.)

He then served in Leyte, Philippines, at the 116th Station Hospital and was sent home with pleurisy. That time recuperating in an Army hospital set him back in acquiring the residency in neurosurgery he had planned.

They sent him to Augusta General in Georgia. There he met Jean Gillis fresh back from Europe where she had served in the U.S. Army as a nurse taking wounded soldiers injured at the Battle of the Bulge on a hospital train to Cherbourg, France, from the Battle of the Bulge to sail to where they would be transported by hospital ship to England. When she walked into the Officers Club, he said he thought she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen.

All the good residencies were filled. So he came home to Alabama and took a drive around the state. His brother-in-law Claude Williams was a traveling salesman and told him Dothan, Alabama, was really growing.

Oliver Bentley at the Shell Service Station (north corner of Oates and Main) where he stopped for gas told him that Dothan needed doctors to go down to Dothan Drug halfway down the block on the right and talk to Grady Watford who had offices above the pharmacy.

Oliver Bentley and George visited together years later at George's cottage in Panama City Beach. 

George Burson with Grady and Newt Watford 

George took an office above Dothan Drug company. He practiced medicine above Dothan Drug, down the hall from Dr. Cannady, pediatrician, Dr. Hopkins, ENT, John Martin, attorney and survivor of the Battaan death march, Charles Skeen, accountant, and Quay Fortner, insurance.   Grady and Newt Watford became the godparents of George and Jean's first child, Sharman.

Jim and Merle Bottoms

Jim Bottoms was Grady Watford's partner in Dothan Drug. He was a fine fellow who always had candy for hungry little girls!

With George set up now in his office, it was time to think of marriage. When he visited Jean one weekend at home in Brewton, Alabama, she had the papers out on the dining table of her widowed mother's home to re-enlist in the Army.

It was time to fish or cut bait. They got married in the living room of her mother's home. He went home to their apartment at the corner of Cherokee Avenue and Main Street. He delivered three babies that night.

There they became friends of Gwen Harmon and her husband and the Frank Dagostines who also began their married life in those apartments.

They moved to 106 East Westmont.

They made many friends on that street, including Myrtle Nordan, left, and Lucille Roquemore, bottom. Jean continued visiting them for many years.

One of their "fondest" memories was of Jeannie and Ricky Ball, children of Dr. Bill and Mercedes Ball, who lived behind them. The two came to visit Jean, who loved them dearly, frequently.

One day George accidentally left out the green paint he had been using to paint the porch. Ricky, only three or four years old at the time, thought he would help out. Jean came out to the sound of Ricky muttering to himself "Paint Bussy's house" "Paint Bussy's house!" and there went the green paint on the side of the white house.  

When Sharman burned her feet on the floor heater learning to walk, they decided it was time to move.

And so they built a home at 105 Camellia Drive where they both lived happily until they died in their beds in that home.

Other children came and brought them great joy.

He saw his children go to proms
Elkanah Burson going to prom

graduate and a daughter become a doctor (cardiologist), Dr. Sylvia Burson Rushing. 

 There were dogs they loved like Rusty, Nosy and Fella. And several parakeets all named Perky. 

Once he owned a race horse that did absolutely nothing!

His hobbies were cars and boats and practicing medicine. He loved his patients!

He could tell you the make and where he bought every car, the year he bought it, and the price he paid for it.

He loved his friends like Dr. Charles Spann and his wife, Ann. 
And Charles McCall and his wife Maxine. 

Mrs. Ina Harrison who played with Chatauqua and taught piano. 

His old friend from the University of Alabama, Pugh Cannon.

Those in the Medical Society.

and cousins like Thomas Knight. And, of course his beloved nephew, Claude Burson Williams, Eliece's only son.

George Burson, Claude Burson Williams, Elkanah George Burson, Sr.

The first cottage at 17807 Hwy 98 was destroyed by Hurricane Eloise 1975.

And here's the second with grandson, Drew Ramsey.

Eliece and Elizabeth with George on Fourth of July   Sharman, Elkanah, Sylvia, Jean and George

Jean with grandchildren, Brooke, Drew and Cecily

There were relatives who visited. Eunice Clair Jernigan Gillis (Muddin) with sister Rosa Jernigan Kennedy (Aunt Rosa), Naomi Kennedy Joyner and Elmore Joyner.

Dr. Elkanah George Burson, Sr. and Elizabeth Knight Burson

Cousins Louie, Margaret, Claire and 


Kathy Leines, Mandy McRight, Sharman Burson, Sally Sprayberry, Carol Harrison and Debbie Ballantine

Mattie Lee Martin and Jean Burson

Meg Tatom and Sylvia

Sharman, Debbie Spann and Sylvia with our Barbies.

Sharman and Sally Sprayberry in the beautiful back yard (Jean's hobby) at 105 Camellia Drive.

 Patt McLaughlin and Kaaren Taylor

Sharman, Lyris Bruce, Karen Jackson, and Sylvia Burson



Ellie, Rebecca, Hannah, and Mallory Burson with Papa

George, Hannah, Drew, Mallory, Jean, Lily, Cecily, Rebecca, Brooke and Ellie

Life settled with retirement

Jean was blessed to see great granddaughter, Lily Butterworth come into the world.

On July 16,  2010 Jean dies of a stroke and George is left alone.

Another great grandchild, Megan Lindsey Evans, joins Lily on Papa's lap.

His great grandson and namesake, George Ramsey, makes his way into the world January 20, 2011.

Representatives from Hospice come to interview him about his service.

One Sunday on the way to our usual visit to the Parkway Restaurant for lunch after church, we saw a family sitting by the side of the road. The mother sat on a suitcase and held an infant in her arms. Two other children squatted nearby. The daddy stood with his hand on her shoulder and looked helplessly at the passing traffic. We ate lunch and our parents dropped us off for a matinee at the Martin Theatre downtown. Later when Mother came for us, we passed the spot on Main Street at the Cherokee Apartments where the family had been. I wondered aloud what happened to them. My mother said, "Your Daddy picked them up and took them to the bus station. He bought them tickets so the family could get to the family they were trying reach. They were hungry and he fed them and he gave them money to eat on the road."

She told us they promised to pay him back the money. My father never expected to see that money again. He made the agreement to salvage the man’s pride before his children. The lesson taught that day was more enduring than the one we learned in Sunday School. The story of the traveler on the road to Jericho came alive. My daddy was an honorable man. Honorable men see other men as honorable. If the bill was not paid it could not be paid. God poured out blessings upon the man who shared his blessings selflessly with others.

Sadly, we said goodbye to this wonderful man whose life made such a difference on December 22, 2011, of an aortic aneurism and Parkinson's Disease. He was 93 years old. 

It is now July 4, 2018. He would have been 100. 

We miss you so very much, Daddy!

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