Gilbert Leo Burns was born in White Plains, NY, Apr 25, 1928. His father’s first name, Leo, became Gilbert’s middle name, a tradition in the Burns family for many generations. When asked what his nickname was he would say, "Gil with one L!" Showing his desire early to serve his country, Gil became a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol while attending White Plains High School from which he graduated in June 1945. He volunteered in the U.S. Army Air Force Auxiliary Air Observer Corps which manned towers and reported air craft that flew over the White Plains area. He visited Mitchell Army Air Base on Long Island, New York, where he heard a news broadcast reporting the bombing of Hiroshima, which may have propelled him to enlist in the Army Reserve. He qualified for the "Army Specialized Training Reserve Program" which would send him to college until he was 18 years old. Gil attended Clemson College in South Carolina and North Georgia College in Dahlonga, GA. On Aug 15, 1945, he enlisted and entered active duty in June 1946 as a private. In October 1946 Gil became a private first class in the Regular Army. He took the West Point Competitive Entrance Examination, attended the preparatory school at Stewart Air Force Base, and was appointed a cadet Jul 1, 1948.
He graduated in 1952 as a second lieutenant. In October 1952 he completed the Associate Engineer Company Officer Course at Ft. Belvoir, VA, after which he was assigned to Korea. In June 1953 he was promoted to first lieutenant and returned to the States, going to Ft. Totten, NY, as Assistant Post Engineer. He had married his West Point sweetheart, Ellen Scully, who gave birth to their first son, Stephen Gilbert, in April 1953 while Gil was still in Korea. Sadly, Ellen died of cancer in June 1956.
Graduate school at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana came next where he earned a Master of Science degree in June 1957. On Aug 3, 1957, he married Phyllis Leonard with Stephen, his look-alike four-year-old son, holding the all-important ring.
Next came the Advanced Officers Engineering Course at Ft. Belvoir where a second son, Daniel Leonard, was born June 1958 in Alexandria, VA. Gil was promoted to captain on Apr 9, 1958, and was assigned to the 237th Engineer Battalion in Heilbronn, Germany. In November 1959 daughter Jennifer was born in Stuttgart where Gil worked at Seventh Army Headquarters.
Returning to the States in the summer of 1961, Gil taught ROTC for three years at the Ogontz campus of Pennsylvania State University in Abington, PA. He was awarded the Chief Ogontz Award medal in 1964 by the students. The award was given to "a faculty member who has contributed most to student life through education, inspiration, and participation." This award was not given every year and had never been given to an ROTC instructor. Gil was promoted to major in February 1963.
From July 1964 to July 1965 Gil was assigned Resident Engineer of an airfield in Hamedan, Iran, the only American working with an international team.
After returning to the States, Gil worked several positions in the Washington, DC, area from 1965 to 1969 and attended the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. He received two Commendation Medals, the second with First Oak Leaf Cluster. In December 1966 Gil was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In January 1969 Gil headed to Vietnam to command the 19th Engineer Combat Battalion for which he received the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. In January 1970 he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Gil retired on Jan 31, 1973. Typical of the way he challenged himself, he took a course at George Washington University and landed civilian jobs as Town Engineer in Hastings on Hudson, NY, from January 1973 to December 1979. He then took positions in Marshfield, MA, as superintendent of Public Works and later as Highway Supervisor for the Town of Duxbury, MA, until 1988 when he retired again.
Gil re-invented himself in retirement in Marshfield. He became a painter of watercolors and a chair caner, crafting hundreds of chairs and dressing the part of a craftsman at local fairs and historical events. Joys included daily walks, crossword puzzles, reading, singing, traveling, and teaching third graders at the historic school house. For his service he received a medal from the Marshfield Historical Society and the Mayflower Award from the Historic 1699 Winslow House.
After being diagnosed with diabetes, he participated in three research studies at the Joslin Clinic. He never knew that his diabetes was caused by Agent Orange. Gil wore his West Point ring until open heart surgery in 1997 required it to be sawed off his finger! When he learned about the Class Ring Memorial Program, he donated his ring to the Class of 2002.
Three strokes ravaged his brain with vascular dementia and took his sight in January of 2012 but he never lost his zest for life or his sense of humor. He died on Nov 27, 2012. He was buried next to our son, Daniel, at Couch Cemetery in Marshfield, MA. A military burial was held on December tenth followed by a celebration of his life service at North Community Church where his beloved choir sang and which was attended by two 1952 classmates, Fred Stevens and Jim Tow. The words from the West Point Alma Mater describe Gil well.
"And when our work is done,
Our course on earth is run,
May it be said, Well Done,
Be Thou at Peace."
— Lovingly written by Phyllis Leonard Burns, his wife of 55 years
- Class of 1952
- COL (R) and Mrs. Harry V. Dutchyshyn '52