CHARLESTON — As the years go on, there are becoming fewer opportunities to recognize and honor those who served the United States in World War II.
For Point Pleasant local Farris Burton, that day has finally come. Burton, a World War II veteran orginally from Logan County, was recently honored for his service by Senator Jay Rockefeller, D- W.Va. Burton was presented five military medals including the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, which was reported to be the highest award for heroism for involvement in a noncombat incident. The other medals and awards include the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Discharge Button, and Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
“Well, it felt pretty good,” Burton said on how it felt to be recognized. “It’s an honor.” He added that it was great to have so much of his family there to share it with.
“These medals are small, but meaningful, symbols of your heroic service,” Rockefeller said. “And, I am honored to present them to you today, at the place you spent your last night before beginning Navy training nearly 70 years ago.”
It was reported that the awards ceremony was held at 405 Capitol Street, the former Daniel Boone Hotel. It was here where Burton and other young men spent their last night as civilians in 1942. They left the next day for Norfolk, Va., where they began their training.
Burton enlisted in the Navy on his 17th birthday, April, 26, 1942. During his service, Burton was able to survive two different sinking ships that were both hit by German torpedoes. The first was the S.S. Firethorn.
It was reported that while the S.S. Firethorn was around 60 miles off the shore of South Africa, a German submarine hit the ship with a torpedo, and Burton reported the ship sank within a minute and a half.
Following the sinking of the S.S. Firethorn, Burton reported he spent the next two days on a raft, before he and the other survivors were rescued by the British Navy. He added that they received word that the same submarine was still around, and had damaged several other ships as well.
After Burton had been rescued, he and the other survivors boarded the S.S. Zaandam, in order to return to the United States. But once again, this ship was also hit by German torpedoes, and Burton stated it went under in about ten minutes. This time, Burton was wearing his life jacket, and added that he, and the rest of the survivors from the first ship, had learned to keep them on at all times.
Following the sinking of the second ship, Burton reported that he and one of other survivor found a piece of hatch board, and the two of them alternated riding it and pushing it. He said they had to ride waves up and down, so they would be able to find any nearby lifeboats. And when they finally found a lifeboat, Burton said it had a hole that needed patched, the rudder was missing, and some of the other supplies were already gone.
Burton and the other survivors on the lifeboat spent eight days like this on the ocean, and they survived on their rations of water, which were two ounces a day. Burton reported they eventually made it to an island off the coast of Brazil, where they came in contact with a group of local natives, who were fortunately friendly. The natives fed and clothed them, and eventually led them to a nearby area where planes would often land, and Burton and the other survivors made their way back to the United States.
Burton also shared the fact that since he was considered “missing” for such a long period of time, the Navy sent his family a telegram to inform them, and Burton said he still has a copy of it. Burton went on to say that once he had made it back home, no one had informed his family that he was alright, and their reunion was reportedly a very happy one.
Burton spent the next few years on other Navy ships, and was finally discharged on April 26, 1946. He returned home to Logan County and worked as a coal miner, before becoming an ordained minister in 1956. He currently lives Point Pleasant with his wife, Mildred.
“I’m so proud of you,” Senator Rockefeller said. “I’m so proud of your service. I’m so proud your family loves you so much and came from all over to be here. You are a great American.”