Family Matters

Van Hampton Burgin - WWI Flying Ace

#1526731 Van Hampton Burgin, was the oldest of two sons born to Jennie Chilton Rhine - hardt and Frank Alexander Burgin. Very few members of our Burgin family were ever aware that Van was a World War I "Flying Ace". Following is a brief accounting of that experience printed in the December 1966 edition of ATLANTA. (The official monthly publication of the Atlanta, GA. Chamber of Commerce)

"One of the most poignant stories to come out of the First World War is recounted by Van H. Burgin, a native Atlantan, who vividly recalls the Christmas he spent as a prisoner of war in Karlsruhe, Baden.

Van Hampton Burgin 2nd from right

After seven of his comrades had collected every decent scrap of clothing they could find, the Germans obligingly snapped a picture postcard for them to send home.

He still has the card (shown here) and the letter written to his mother from the camp dated October 8, 1918. Burgin recalls, 'That was a real war. You were treated like a soldier - - they respected you'.

Burgin was an aviator, one of only four or five from the Atlanta area. In World War I the fighter pilot was as glamorous as a movie star, and the war seemed to be just an exciting adventure.

After he was shot down behind enemy lines (it took four planes, he proudly recounts in his letter) he was transferred to several different camps. At Landshut, Bavaria, the prisoners were allowed to sign parole cards and go into town to drink beer.

Of all Burgin's experiences, the most moving, particularly at this season of the year, is the story of the letter he received twenty years after the war from the German soldier who took him prisoner.

The letter from F.K. Gross (then a Baptist minister in Germany) reads, in part: 'Do you remember the 26th of September in the year 1918 - when as a prisoner we walked together to Mars-la-tour in France to the Commandant? Do you remember the fine conversation we had about our belonging to Christ and to the church? As we departed at the Commandant's we shook hands in the hope of a near end of the war and a good journey home." Gross went on to discuss the forthcoming World Baptist Convention to be held in Atlanta and wished Mr. Burgin 'Many good blessings.'

There is an ironic footnote to the story, however. Mr Burgin has since found out that the Nazis Killed the Reverend Gross and his family.

The Flying Baron

He still has another relic of fellowship, a picture a given given to him by a German flyer he shot down. It is captioned, 'To a swell fellow and flyer -- Van Burgin, (signed) The Flying Baron.'

Whether there will ever again be camaraderie among enemies is a question for the future, but in this age of missiles and spaceships, 1918 seems a long-long time ago."

Van was born September 6, 1898 in Greensboro, NC. He married Loudie Speers, who died while giving birth to their second child, a little girl, stillborn. Van's first child, Van Hampton Burgin, Jr., was raised by Van's parents, because he was still in the Air Force. Years later Van married Lenore Coleman and had two children, Frank and Norman. After retiring from the Air Force, Van worked with The Atlanta Journal for several years. He died in 1976.

Van Hampton Burgin Jr. and Van Hampton Burgin III, followed in Van's footsteps. Van Junior worked with Southern Airlines, then with Lockheed, where he worked for about 30 years. Van Hampton Burgin III also chose aviation as his field of employment and now works for Eastern Airlines.

Source: ATLANTA (Atlanta, GA C. of C. Monthly Publication) December 1966 Contributed by S.H. "Bill" Burgin - Many thanks Bill!