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  • Verne K. Burgess, decorated WWI vet

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    Verne K. Burgess, decorated WWI vet

    He received the French Legion of Honor medal in 1999.

    By BETSY BOLGER-PAULET

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000


    LARGO -- Verne K. Burgess, one of the few remaining World War I veterans honored last year when he was presented with the French Legion of Honor medal, died Sunday (Oct. 29, 2000) at Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater. Mr. Burgess, a former resident of Pinellas Park, was living at Sabal Palms in Largo when he died at age 104. His wife of 71 years, Yarmilla, died June 1.

    Mr. Burgess, who was born in St. Paul, Minn., came to this area in 1957 from Chicago, where he had retired as a banker.

    In September 1999, the World War I private was awarded the medal by an official of the French government. The Legion of Honor is a French order of merit instituted by Napoleon in 1802. The medal isconferred upon men and women, either French or foreign, for outstanding achievements in military or civil life.

    At the formal ceremony, Mr. Burgess' only child, Joan Dusold of Prospect Heights, Ill., spoke in French on her father's behalf and translated in English. Dusold was directly responsible for Mr. Burgess'having received the medal. After discovering an article stating that the French government was looking to honor all surviving eligible World War I veterans, she contacted embassies.

    Pvt. Verne Burgess was 22 when he arrived in Brest, France, in the province of Brittany during fall 1918. Assigned to the American Expeditionary Forces under Gen. John Pershing, he was placed in the 5th Division, nicknamed the "Red Devils."

    He served in an anti-aircraft machine gun battalion. From Brest, his unit marched to Beauchemin, where he and his fellow soldiers spent several weeks of a cold and wet autumn learning the art and tactics of warfare.

    During World War I, there were entire battalions of machine gunners whose job was to attempt to shoot down airplanes.

    At that time, the machine gun, as well as the airplane, were fairly new inventions.

    All foot soldiers had to march with at least 100 pounds of field equipment, personal weapons and ammunition on their backs.

    The 5-foot-4-inch, 125-pound Burgess had no trouble marching under this weight; but when his battalion stopped to rest, it took two of his comrades to get him back on his feet.

    On Nov. 9, 1918, Burgess' battalion set off to relieve the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion.

    A few days later, the armistice was signed that brought the war to an end. Thus it happened that Burgess' battalion never was required to fight.

    In 1919, Burgess was honorably discharged and went on to a career at the First National Bank of Chicago. He was active in the bank's local VFW chapter and was wearing the campaign cap of Post 985 when he received his medal

    He and his wife lived at Nurses Helping Hands in Pinellas Park from 1996 until he moved last year to Sabal Palms in Largo.

    Along with being a member of the VFW, Mr. Burgess was a member of the American Legion and Integrity Masonic Lodge 997, both of Chicago.

    After retiring to Florida, he and his wife spent much of their time traveling.

    They took many trips within the United States and abroad, including a visit to the province of Brittany and another behind the former Iron Curtain to the town outside of Prague where Mrs. Burgess had been born.

    In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a grandson, Lee H. Dusold, Cary, Ill.; and a great-grandson.

    Moss-Feaster Funeral Homes & Cremation Services, Serenity Gardens Chapel, Largo, is in charge of arrangements.

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