Major Robert F. Burns

90th Division, U.S. Army

 

War Letters from Europe

Normandy to Germany

Home  |  Military Career  |  Letters  |  Photos  |  Battles  |  References

Awards and Decorations

Newspaper Clippings

Recommendation for Presidential Unit Citation for 3rd Bn, 358th Inf

358th Infantry Typed History from 9 July - 31 July 1944


Battles

Battle of the Foret de Mont Castre

Robert F. Burns took part in two notable battles in July, 1944. He served as 3rd Battalion S-3 during both of these actions. The Battle of the Foret de Mont Castre took place between July 3 and July 12, 1944 near La Haye-du-Puits with the eventual target being the capture of the town of Lastelle. The 90th Division and particularly the 358th Infantry Regiment struggled to advance through a dense forest and to take Hill 122, a strategic point of the Mahlman line. In some historical accounts, the performance of the 90th Division and its leadership during this encounter was considered to be a failure. Yet, after hard fighting and unbelievable loss of life, the battle was won. The 3rd Battalion of the 358th Infantry Regiment eventually received a Presidential Unit Citation for its determination and eventual success during the encounter. The Recommendation for the Presidential Unit Citation gives an overview of the battle. The 358th Infantry Typed History gives further details about the last few days of this battle.

Robert F. Burns received a Silver Star for his actions during this battle. The citation noted: "On 12 July, 1944 near La Valaisserie, France, Capt Burns, battalion S-3, while forward, located the remnants of three rifle companies. Due to high losses the morale of the men was very low and they were completely disorganized. Capt Burns, working under heavy enemy fire, completely reorganized the remainder of these companies into a provisional unit and stayed in command until relieved by another battalion."

Typically, he downplayed his role in the battle as his letters of August 10, 1944 and September 2, 1944 indicate. Even when asked in his later years about the battle, he insisted the real hero was Lt. Miller and his own role was a minor one. His one mention of his role in the battle is in his letter of July 17, 1944. Capt. Paul Steckla, a participant in the battle, wrote a 1947 analysis of the battle, focused on leadership. Steckla stated: "Late on 10 July the Battalion Commander was evacuated. The Battalion S-3 assumed command of the forward elements. The next day the battalion was organized as one battle group." [Steckla, pg. 14] It is unclear if this is the same event as the one noted in his Silver Star award but it is clear that he was in the thick of the battle and assumed command as his position of Battalion S-3 directed.

The most sobering mention of his participation in the Battle of the Foret de Mont Castre is from Capt. William J. Falvey, 358th S-2, quoted in Colby, who stated: "During the 3rd Battalion fighting at Lastelle, we received a telephone call saying that PFC Brown was now in charge of K Co. The whole battalion had only three officers not killed or wounded. They were Lt. Col. Bealke, Capt. Bob Burns, and Lt. John Coghill, and John was wounded a couple of days later near Gonfreyville. (Burns was promoted to major and sent to Div. G-3 sect.)" [Colby, pg. 117]

There are many excellent accounts of the Battle of the Foret de Mont Castre in various books as well as several web sites devoted to information about the Battle. A number are listed on the References Page.

Battle of Seves Island

The Battle for the Seves River Island began on July 18th. The 358th, with virtually no rest after the Battle of Mont Castre, was ordered to take the Island. Although the 3rd Battalion was less involved in this battle than the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Robert F. Burns is mentioned in the July 27th 358th Infantry Typed History: "At 1625, Capt Burns, S-3 3rd Bn, sent the following message to Col. McNary: 'Co I and AT Platoon cannot possibly clear their area of mines and booby-traps. They are too numerous. Most entrances to fields are booby-trapped, and the fields contain "mustard pots" mines, as well as other types. Island is definitely unsafe."

Robert F. Burns continued to serve as 3rd Battalion S-3 until November 5th when he moved to 90th Division Headquarters to become Asst. G-3 under Col. Stilwell, a man he greatly admired. On the front lines in France for five months, he sometimes reported home in his letters that he still hadn't qualified for a purple heart. It is amazing he wasn't wounded, given his participation in these battles in which the casualty rates were so high.

  Home  |  Military Career  |  Letters  |  Photos  |  Battles  |  References
Copyright © 2013 The Family of Robert F. Burns