Yancey County man was among those lost at Pearl Harbor

POSTCARD FROM A FRIEND: Image of postcard note from Weldon Burlison to childhood friend Elsie Edwards, postmarked November 1941. Image from the Weldon C. Burlison Collection, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.
POSTCARD FROM A FRIEND: Image of postcard note from Weldon Burlison to childhood friend Elsie Edwards, postmarked November 1941. Image from the Weldon C. Burlison Collection, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

BY MATTHEW PEEK

On Dec. 7, 2016, as the country commemorates the 75th anniversary of the tragic loss of life during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the State Archives of North Carolina’s Military Collection notes that it has recently acquired a small collection that documents the life and death of one of North Carolina’s first reported World War II casualties at Pearl Harbor.

Weldon C. Burlison of Yancey County was stationed at Hickam Field with the 22nd Material Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps, when he was killed by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.

Weldon C. Burlison (also spelled “Burleson”) was born on Nov. 25, 1911, in Yancey County, and raised in Jacks Creek Township on a family farm. He attended Clearmont High School in Burnsville and Maryville College in Tennessee. Burlison enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on Aug. 16, 1934, serving four years in the Marine Corps. Between 1934 and 1938, he served in Marine Detachments at various stations and aboard various U.S. Navy ships around the world.

By 1940, Weldon Burlison would re-enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps after his discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps. Until December 1941, Burlison was primarily stationed at Hickam Field in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, serving in the 22nd Material Squadron. Starting in August 1941, Burlison was stationed at Barking Sands, Hawaii, working to construct new U.S. Army Air Corps barracks at Barking Sands Landing Field.

While in Hawaii, Burlison wrote a childhood friend from Yancey County, Elsie M. Edwards, who was then living in Skillman, N.J. Elsie and her husband, Ellis Edwards, wrote to Burlison — whom they called “Snook” — and Elsie would even have some of her female friends write to him at his request.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Weldon Burlison was stationed at Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when Japanese aircraft strafed and bombed the field that morning. On Dec. 8, 1941, after hearing the news about Pearl Harbor, Elsie Edwards wrote a two-page, heartbreaking letter to Burlison, hoping that he was safe and alive. Elsie began her letter by saying, “Of course I have a million things on my mind these days. Right now the uppermost thought is ‘I wonder if Snook is safe, if he’s really all right’.” She would finish her letter with, “I don’t know of very much to say right now. I can’t even be sure you will receive this but I hope you do.”

The U.S. War Department’s official death notification was printed on Dec. 11, 1941, in Burlison’s hometown newspaper, The Yancey Record, with the front-page headline: “Weldon Burleson Is First War Casualty.” Friends mailed newspaper clippings to Elsie Edwards, letting her know of Burlison’s death. The letter Edwards mailed to Burlison on Dec. 8 would be marked with “Deceased”; it was returned to Elsie Edwards on Feb. 12, 1942.

Weldon C. Burlison was posthumously promoted to corporal. He was disinterred from Schofield Barracks in Hawaii in 1947, and reburied in the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Over the years, Burlison has often been overlooked as a Pearl Harbor attack victim, but not by those in Yancey County — where his name is engraved on the Yancey County Veterans Memorial as “Weldon Burleson.” The State Archives of North Carolina hopes that this collection will expand research into the sacrifices of North Carolinians on Dec. 7, 1941, and bring recognition to one of our state’s unsung military heroes.

Matthew Peek serves as Military Collection archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina. For more information on Weldon Burlison, visit http://www.ncpedia.org/burlison-weldon-c

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4 thoughts on “Yancey County man was among those lost at Pearl Harbor

  1. boatrocker

    “Tell some of your girlfriends to write” -I do declare! Reminds me of my grandpa on Mom’s side. He was a WWII Army smooth operator long before the song.
    Let’s hope a sneak attack on another sovereign country never happens again in order to fill the oil/timber/steel/mineral/slave labor coffers, as was the case with Imperial Japan and its scrabbling for resources during the late 1930’s.

    Back when America categorically said no to far right fascism and demagoguery. Well, except for Prescott Bush, Henry Ford, and Fred Trump (arrested for participation in a KKK rally ahem riot in Queens. 1927), but who’s counting?

  2. Phil Williams

    My old History Professor at Mars Hill, Dr. Harley Jolley, is a Pearl Harbor survivor – he was a 22 year old Soldier working at Hickam Army Airfield on 7DEC41 – I remember him telling about pulling guard duty with a 12ga shotgun someone loaned him, and “seeing all manner of boogers” out in the cane fields bordering the post. Far as I know, he is still going strong at age 97!

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