Family Matters

WWII In The South Pacific
(The Story of Petty Officer First Class Hulin Denman Burgin)

Hulin Denman Burgin, the 20-year old son of #15621151 Wallis Washington Burgin of Cato, Arkansas, began a six-year enlistment in the Navy in 1940. This is a record of the ships he was assigned to before and during World War II. After his enlistment expired in 1946, he stayed out three months and joined the US Army Air Corps as a Staff Sergeant (later becoming Tech Sgt.). His classification was Aircraft Mechanic in the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). He served in Germany during the Berlin Airlift and later was on a C-54 "flying shop" going all over the world. Hulin came down with Hodgkin’s disease and was medically discharged in 1961. He died in 1966.

USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

After completing Boot Camp in San Diego, Hulin was assigned to the USS Oklahoma (BB-37). The Oklahoma was based at Pearl Harbor from 6 December 1940 for patrols and exercises and was moored in Battleship Row, 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked. Outboard alongside USS Maryland (BB-46), The Oklahoma took three torpedo hits almost immediately after the first Japanese bombs fell. As she began to capsize, two more torpedoes struck home, and her men were strafed as they abandoned ship. Within 20 minutes after the attack began, she had swung over until halted by her masts touching bottom, her starboard side above water, and a part of her keel clear. Many of her crew, however, remained in the fight, clambering aboard Maryland to help serve her antiaircraft batteries. Twenty officers and 395 enlisted men were either killed or missing, 32 others wounded, and many were trapped within the capsized hull, to be saved by heroic rescue efforts. Such an effort was that of Julio DeCastro, a civilian yard worker who organized the team which saved 32 Oklahoma sailors.

The Oklahoma took three torpedo hits almost
immediately after the first Japanese bombs fell.

Hulin was taking a shower near his bunk that Sunday morning when the torpedoes hit. He ran topside to man his battle station while still naked or just in his underwear.. By the time he reached the deck, it was turning over on its side and he jumped overboard and swam in and under burning oil to the USS Maryland. He was singed but no deep burns. He said all his skin peeled off later. He lost all his belongings including his shoes and was unable to get shoes to fit on his new ship, the USS Blue, (he wore size 13) so he went barefoot for 6 weeks. Mail was in disarray. It was 6 weeks before his family heard from him.

The difficult salvage job began in March 1943, and The Oklahoma entered dry-dock 28 December. Decommissioned 1 September 1944, Oklahoma was stripped of guns and superstructure, and sold 5 December 1946 to Moore Dry-dock Co., Oakland, Calif. Oklahoma parted her tow line and sank 17 May 1947 540 miles out, bound from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco. Oklahoma received 1 battle star for World War II service.

The USS Blue was damaged, but not sunk at Pearl Harbor. Hulin as assigned to her for a short period.

USS Blue DD-387: (Destroyer) Was at Pearl Harbor on 7-Dec-1941 and fought, but was not damaged there. Hulin was assigned to it after the Oklahoma was sunk his words: “We took in after the Japs and gave them some of their own medicine.” Apparently damaged in the pursuit, it went back to Mare Island, California in April 1942 for repairs. At that time, Hulin was transferred to the USS Raleigh, which arrived there from Pearl Harbor for final repairs after the damage in the Japanese attack. A letter from him dated June 6, 1942 said, “I really have been having a good time here in California since I have been here. I just might as well, because a fellow in my situation cannot tell what might happen these days.”

Fortunately, Hulin was transferred to the USS Raleigh before the Blue’s trip to participate in the Battle of Savo Island in the Solomons 7, 8, & 9 Aug ’42. The Blue was west of the island as a precaution against surprise from the northwest and, with another destroyer, the USS Ralph Talbot, was assigned to radar guard and antisubmarine patrol beyond Savo Island. The Blue was damaged beyond repair by the Japanese Destroyer Kawakaze off Guadalcanal August 23, 1942 and 9 of her crew were lost. It was scuttled August 23, 1942 in "Iron Bottom Sound".

By the Summer of 1938 The USS Raliegh
had taken on the role of Flagship-Destroyers.

USS Raleigh CL-7: (Light Cruiser) Saw service with both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets in the years up to the Second World War. In 1927 she landed troops in Nicaragua, and in 1928 made a cruise to Europe. She participated in the international patrols off Spain during the Spanish Civil War, but by the summer of 1938 had assumed the role of Flagship, Destroyers, with the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. During the Japanese attack on 7 December (Hulin was on the USS Oklahoma at that time) the ship was hit by torpedoes in No. 2 boiler room, and almost all of the machinery spaces were flooded. Damage was also caused by a bomb near miss. Had this happened at sea, the ship would almost certainly have been lost. As it was, she was under repair until July 1942. After completion of repairs Raleigh arrived at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska 24 Nov. 42 and participated in the Aleutians campaign as part of the Southern Covering Force until March 1944. Hulin was assigned to the ship in April or May of 1942 while it was in California for final repairs before going to Dutch Harbor.

She took part in the bombardment of Attu on 18/19 February 1943, and the landings on Attu in May as part of TG16.6. She was with this Task Group when Kiska was bombarded in August 1943 in preparation for the landings, and when Paramushiro in the Kuriles was attacked in February 1944. (Hulin was transferred to the USS Gambier Bay in 1944). In January 1945 she participated in the bombardment of the Kuriles again, but by November she had been paid off and stricken, to be sold for breaking up on 27 February 1946.

The Gambier Bay was dead in the water as
three cruisers closed in to point blank range.

USS Gambier Bay (aircraft carrier) was originally classified AVG-73, was reclassified ACV-73 on 20 August 1942 and again reclassified CVE-73 on 15 July 1943; launched under a Maritime Commission Contract by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., Vancouver, Wash., 22 November 1943; sponsored by Mrs. H. C. Zitzewitz of Oswego, Oreg.; and commissioned at Astoria, Oreg., 28 December 1943, Captain Hugh H. Goodwin in command. In 1944 after leaving the USS Raleigh where he was an Electrician’s Mate, Hulin was assigned to it then as an Aircraft Electrician.

After shakedown out of San Diego, the escort carrier sailed 7 February 1944 with 400 troops embarked for Pearl Harbor, thence to rendezvous off the Marshalls where she flew 84 replacement planes to famed carrier ENTERPRISE (CV-6). She returned to San Diego via Pearl Harbor, ferrying aircraft for repairs and qualified carrier pilots off the coast of Southern California. She departed 1 May to join Rear Admiral H. B. Sallada's Carrier Support Group 2 (TG 52.11), staging in the Marshals for the invasion of the Mariannas. I think at this time, Hulin went back to the US to an aircraft tech school in Florida or California and he came home on leave for a short time then. He was to have been sent back to the Gambier Bay but it had sunk by the time he got back to Bremerton, Washington (?) from leave and tech school.

Gambier Bay gave close air support to the initial landings of Marines on Saipan 15 June 1944, destroying enemy gun emplacements, troops, tanks, and trucks. ON the 17th her combat air control shot down or turned back all but a handful of 47 enemy planes headed for her task group and her gunners shot down 2 of the 3 planes that did break through to attack her. However, shortly after sunrise 25 October, a gap in the morning mist disclosed the pagoda-like mast of enemy battleships and cruisers on the northern horizon. The still dangerous enemy force of more than 20 ships had slipped undetected through San Bernardino Strait and down the fog-shrouded coast of Samar, bound for Leyte Gulf.

Despite the probable outcome of an engagement between two so unequal surface forces, the presence of enemy ships in Leyte Gulf was unthinkable; and "Taffy 3" turned to do battle against the enemy. Immediately an urgent call for help went out from "Taffy 3" as the escort carriers steamed eastward and launched planes that performed seemingly impossible feats: scoring hits with torpedoes, bombs, and strafing until their ammunition ran out, then making dummy runs to break the enemy formation and delay its advance. Smoke was laid down to cover their running fight as the gallant destroyers docked in and out of the mist and smoke to charge battleship, cruiser, and destroyer formations point-blank until ordered back to cover the escort carriers with more smoke. The lone 5-inch gun of GAMBIER BAY spat out at an enemy cruiser that was shelling her; and destroyer HEERMAN (DD-532) made an unsuccessful effort under the combined fire of the heavy ships to save GAMBIER BAY. GAMBIER BAY was soon dead in the water as three cruisers closed in to point blank range. Fires raged through the riddled escort carrier. She capsized and sank at 0907, 25 October 1944 with the majority of her nearly 800 survivors rescued by landing and patrol craft dispatched from Leyte Gulf. There were many lives lost.

Hulin Denman Burgin as he appeared in uniform
in 1940, in 1944, and in 1948.

Compiled by S. H. Bill Burgin, Brother
Little Rock, Arkansas 05-23-06 (Revised 06-15-06)