Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 15, 2013

War Memorial seeking information on Virginians of the RCAF

BLUEFIELD, Va. — In the late 1930s and early ‘40s, the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan were engaged in a global war with Japan invading China in July of 1937 and Germany invading Poland (Sept. 1, 1939) and Britain (July 1940). While U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American people were grappling with the idea of global war, some young American men crossed the border into Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force and join the air defenses engaged in the Battle of Britain.

Although it was illegal for American citizens to join the armed forces of foreign nations — a crime that led to loss of citizenship — hundreds or perhaps thousands of American men joined the RCAF. From 1939 until the U.S. entered the war in 1941, the RCAF organized three squadrons of American fliers, numbers 71, 121 and 133, to fight in Britain. An estimated 250 American served in Canada’s “Eagle Squadrons” prior to December 1941.

Lionel Lodowick Burns of Bluefield, Va., was among those Americans who went north to enter World War II several months before their homeland entered the fray. He was killed in action during the war, and is among a group of 13 Virginians who joined the RCAF and met a similar fate. In 1944, the U.S. Congress issued a blanket pardon for all of the Americans who joined the RCAF.

The Virginia War Memorial located in Richmond, Va., is seeking information about Burns as well as the other 12 Virginia natives who were KIA while serving with the RCAF. The state is planning to hold a dedication ceremony in Richmond on Oct. 22, for a commemorative plaque listing the names and hometowns of all 13 Virginians killed while serving in the RCAF.

In addition to Burns, others who will be honored include Thomas Coke DuBose, James Gilmer Heath and Richard Fuller Patterson all of Richmond, Va.; R.T. Edwards, Ronald Hayes and Fred Renshaw Vance, all of Norfolk, Va.; William Deveraux Langhorne and Harry Alexander Lowe, both of Chatham, Va.; Harold Barbour Moore of Boones Mill, Va.; Mark David Romilly of Alexandria, Va.; and Thomas Austin Withers of Roseland, Va.

“There was an older fellow named Burns who lived here in town and ran a plumbing business,” Bluefield, Va., Mayor Don Harris said. “That was in the period of time from 1952 to ‘56, but that’s the only Burns family I can remember right now.”

Anyone with information about Burns or the other fliers mentioned can contact Jeb Hockman, the Memorial’s director of marketing and communications, at (804) 786-2074 or by email at (jhockman@vawarmemorial.org).

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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