George Henry Burns, Jr., 87, lifelong resident of Dunkirk and Fredonia, and former math and science teacher at Cardinal Mindszenty High School, died Wednesday, November 21, 2012 in San
Diego, CA after a year long illness battling kidney failure. He was residing in California since January 2012 at Huntington Manor, an assisted living home, and also under the watchful and loving eyes of son Christopher Burns, his wife Peggy, and granddaughter Maria Burns Armpalu, RN. Very near the end of his life, several of George's children were also able to visit, assist in his care, and express their love.
He was born November 9, 1925 in Dunkirk, the son of the late George H. Burns Sr. and Audrey Kittell Burns of Washington Avenue, Dunkirk. Since childhood, George was commonly known as "Dude" or "Dudie" to family and close friends.
George H. Burns Jr.
George graduated from Saint Mary's Academy of Dunkirk, NY in 1943. He was drafted into the U.S. Army the day after his eighteenth birthday to join the fight against Nazi Germany in WWII. One of his favorite stories occurred prior to shipping out to Europe. He loved telling how he met a friend in Mobile, AL who was in the Navy.
After consuming quite a bit of drink, they decided to switch uniforms and continued their wild night on the town. He entered combat shortly after the Battle of the Bulge in 1945 and served with the 94th Chemical Mortar Battalion, 3rd Army, with engagements in Belgium, Austria and Germany as part of the Central Europe and Rhineland Campaigns. In interviews with his grandchildren he shared how during the overseas transport the typical food was hardboiled
eggs and mustard pickles, with fights breaking out and throwing of eggs.
George also shared his experiences with labor and concentration camps in Austria. "When we got
close, the Germans took off to save their ass. French prisoners had been there for as much as four years working in salt mines and factories. The remaining people were scrawny, scheduled for extermination, mental, and in bad shape. Germans had pushed the skeleton bodies in massive holes, but had not yet bulldozed them
over. Americans gave medical care and food. Citizens were marched through to see what had happened."
George said, "In Germany on the way to Austria we went through bombed cities where tanks had to clear a path to get through; the smoke and decaying bodies in the rubble was a terrible death aroma."
George also related a terrifying experience he had while in Germany. One night he was selected by the platoon's 2nd Lieutenant to be posted ahead of the unit as a picket. Due to poor planning by the officers, there was no time to dig foxholes and the Germans soon detected his presence.
Throughout the night his position was shelled with explosions occurring all around him. In the morning, alive, scared and mad, he approached the company commander and stat-
ed in a sarcastic tone, "Hey Captain, your assistant almost got me killed last night." There were no repercussions; however, for the remainder of his life he would experience recurring nightmares. In an interview with school students in 2009, George said that sudden loud sounds still made him uncomfortable, as during the war, "shells exploded both near and far, and one never knew when it might come to your address." When asked about friendships, he responded,
"It didn't matter what church you went to or who you wanted for President. You were there to protect your friend, and he was there to protect you." Discharged from Fort
Dix, NJ, George came home by train to Dunkirk and walked by his Saint Mary's school up Washington Avenue to his house and into the relieved arms of his mother, father and sister.
Upon returning home, George attended and graduated from SUNY Fredonia and was employed by
the family business of Burns Coal Burns and Building Supply Co. and Salhoff Lumber Co. He later taught earth science and mathematics for many years at Cardinal Mindszenty High School until it closed in 1979. During his years there, he continued his graduate studies through the Science Institute at Western Washington University, San Diego State University, and Boston University. He also taught at Bishop Neuman High School in Williamsville, NY after Mindszenty closed.
Shortly thereafter he was hired as production supervisor at Kraft Foods.
After Kraft closed, he worked as a substitute teacher at many of the county's high schools.George was a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, formerly Saint Mary's, which his ancestors helped establish in the 1850s. His Roman Catholic faith was central to his life.
He prayed the rosary regularly and believed in the promise made by The Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Simon Stock in 1251, "Whoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire." His
brown scapular medal was something he carried through the war years and kept close for the remainder of his life.He was a member of the American Legion Post 62 for over 65 years and for several years was in the Post 62 Drum and Bugle Corps in the early 1960s. Post 62 was the center of his social life in the late 40s, 50s and 60s where he enjoyed the comradeship of all the World War II veterans. In 2011 he was honored by the Veterans Joint Council as the Grand Marshal of the Dunkirk Memorial Day Parade. He instilled a sense of patriotism in his children.
George enjoyed carpentry, gardening, scientific inquiry, and watching his grandchildren play football and hockey. He was an avid Notre Dame football fan and loved attending games in South Bend with his son Christopher who attended and graduated from Notre Dame, and daughter Mary
who graduated from St. Mary's College. He loved Koch's beer, apple and pumpkin pie, and could eat a half gallon of ice cream at one sitting if not monitored closely.
Survivors include his former wife, but companion, Rosamond (Gillespie) Burns, whom he married November 24, 1956; five children, Commander George H. Burns III USCG (ret) of Charles Town, WV, Commander Christopher M. Burns, USNR (ret) of Poway, CA, Timothy D. Burns of Fort Lauderdale, FL, Mary S. Burns-Deas of Fredonia, NY, and William P. Burns of Fredonia, NY; 13 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews, and good friends Don Smith and Bob Muscato.
In addition to his parents, George was predeceased by his sister, Mary Burns Callan of Rochester,
NY, aunts and uncles, friends Bill Larkin, Joe Damiano, Dick Kuhn, Leonard Wiencek, and Harry
Graminski. George often commented how many WWII veterans pass away each day in our country; now he too has joined their ranks.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, December 1, at 9:15 AM from the McGraw-Kowal Funeral
Home, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:00 at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. Burial will be in the Saint Mary's Cemetery. Calling hours will be held Friday, November 30, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 PM at the funeral home. Family and friends are invited to post memories and view photos at the website mem.com by entering the name George Henry Burns, Jr.