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June 6, 1944: Fletcher Burton Jr. ‘45
Fletcher Burton ‘45 was killed seventy-three years ago today in an infantry landing craft on Omaha Beach in Normandy. He was twenty-one years old — one of twenty-four members of his class who fought in WWII and did not live to return to Dartmouth.
Burton left the College in his sophomore year and served in the Coast Guard as a seaman first class until his death on D-Day aboard the USS LCI(L) 94 — an unwieldy landing vessel whose initials officially stood for Landing Craft Infantry (Large), but colloquially were regarded as an acronym for “Lousy Civilian Idea.” On it he participated in the seaborne invasions of North Africa, and Sicily and Salerno, Italy. On June 6, 1944, the “94” was charged with dropping fresh troops one hour after the first wave of soldiers hit the French beaches.
“Bloody Omaha” was the toughest of the five D-Day beaches, and Burton’s boat took heavy fire as it landed near Saint Laurent and Colleville-sur-Mer. It was hit by several German 88mm artillery rounds, and Burton and two crewmates were killed; Burton died instantly from the concussion of a shell.
Fletcher Burton Jr. ‘45 is honored by a plaque at the Pentagon as one of the “first fallen” on D-Day. He is buried at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, and the granite of New Hampshire keeps the record of his fame under the arches of Memorial Field:
Addendum: Some time after Burton’s landing craft was damaged by the 88s, war photographer Robert Capa clambered onto the boat. He was seeking to return to safety with his now-iconic photos of the D-Day landings. Once on board, he took a memorable photograph (at right) of medics attending to Burton’s wounded crewmates.
Addendum: Today’s description comes from a carefully researched profile of Fletcher Burton’s short life and military service written by Ted Bracken ‘65. It is part of Bracken’s series about the men of Dartmouth who died in Normandy in June and July of 1944. He assembled the portraits as background for the Class of 1965’s journey to Normandy in June, 2016. The trip was planned and led by Professor Tom Long ‘65 of George Washington University, whose course on the Normandy invasion Bracken audited in the first half of 2016. The trip had logistical support from the Alumni Travel Office (special thanks to Robin Albing T’81), and research was conducted in the months prior to the June 4-12, 2016 trip in Rauner Library, the archives of the Taft School (Burton’s high school, where he was the New England prep hammer throw champion) and the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
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