Skip Navigation
West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Harold Lee Burge

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Winston Churchill

Harold Lee Burge was born on October 9, 1921, to the Rev. Homer and Lucy Burge in Harrison County, West Virginia. The 1930 Federal Census taker recorded that the family was living in the Clark District of Harrison County. Mr. Burge was an automobile mechanic. In the household with him and Mrs. Burge were Harold, Robert, and Betty. The 1940 census indicated that Raymond had joined them. Other Burge families lived nearby. William Burge and Jesse Burge were listed as heads of households on the same census pages.

In 1942, Harold Burge was listed in the Clarksburg city directory as a salesman at Roberts Hardware store. Harold Burge registered for the draft and is listed as a salesman at the hardware store. The draft card is undated. He enlisted for service with the Army Air Corps on October 30, 1942. Harold Burge entered the service in January 1943 and served in England. In November of 1943, he married Miss Melba Christina Shreves, known by her middle name, in Romine Hills, Harrison County. His residence was listed as being in Nutter Fort.

With four years of high school education and an occupation listed as semi-skilled machine shop or similar occupations worker, Harold Burge became a pilot of Liberator aircraft with the 44th AAF Bomb Group, 66th Squadron, stationed in Shipdham, England. Shipdham was the first U.S. heavy bomber airfield and was located in the county of Norfolk.

The American Air Museum in Britain website has a summary of the history of the 44th during the time Harold was a member of the group:

Assigned to 8th Air Force at Cheddington from 11-Sep-1942 to 28-Jun-1943. The Group was known as the "Flying Eight-Balls" and each B-24 Liberator it flew was decorated with a winged bomb cartoon of an 8-Ball (pool ball) over which were superimposed eyes and the nose of a bomb in the squadron colour. The Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an extremely hazardous mission against naval installations at Kiel on 14 May 1943. This mission involved drop incendiaries on the target from an unprotected position behind B-17 formations that had dropped high explosives. The Group lost five of its seventeen Liberators in the target area.

The group was transferred TDY to the 9th Air Force at Benina Main, Libya from 28-Jun-43 to 25-Aug-43. They provided support for Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily, during July 1943. They also participated in the famous 1-Aug-43 raid on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania dubbed operation TIDAL WAVE. The unit was awarded another Distinguished Unit Citation for this action in which 11 of the 37 B-24s it despatched were MIA. Col Leon Johnson, Group Commanding Officer was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his leadership in this action. Afterwards the 44th returned to Shipdham for a very short respite from 25-Aug-43 to 17-Sep-43 at which time the Group was again sent TDY to North Africa at Oudna, Tunisia where they shared the base with a B-17 Bomb Group, the 99th to support the invasion of Italy. On 1-Oct-1943 the 44th participated in a mission to bomb the Messerschmidt plant at Weiner-Neustadt, Austria where they met intense anti-aircraft fire and hordes of German fighters. The Group lost 8 B-24s of the 25 they sent to the target. On 4-Oct-1943 the Group was sent back to Shipdham for the remainder of the war.

Between October 1943 and June 1945, the Group flew strategic bombing missions over occupied Europe. These were daylight raids that put the bomber crews in great danger from enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft fire. In all the 44th flew 343 missions in 8,009 sorties and dropped 18,980 tones [sic] of bombs. The Group lost 153 aircraft MIA. ("44th Bomb Group The Flying Eightballs," American Air Museum in Britain, accessed 11 November 2020,

While this history does not indicate which of the missions included Lt. Harold Burge, the description likely captures at least some of his movements and service in the military. In military records he is depicted as a pilot, co-pilot, or navigator.

On July 11, 1944, the 44th was sent on a bombardment mission to Munich, Germany. It was the 18th mission for Harold Burge. Though he was usually a co-pilot for this plane, a B-24 Liberator, he was listed as the navigator on this mission in some pages of the Missing Air Crew Report. On their way back to their base in Shipdham, England, the plane in which 1st Lt. Burge was the co-pilot was low on fuel. The Missing Air Crew Report (available on Fold3) contains interview questionnaires and statements by those who observed, had knowledge of, or survived the aftermath of the engines stopping. The interviews are not consistent. One of those interviewed mentioned damaged fuel tanks, but the front page summary says merely that the plane ran out of fuel. The plane broke formation near Ghent, Belgium, from others in the group to find a place to land or, as one interviewee stated, take a shortcut back to base, perhaps alluding to a path that might be more dangerous. Five miles outside of Dunkirk, France, the engines ceased, and it seems that a senior officer took over as co-pilot, taking Harold Burge's seat and sending him to the back of the plane. A bail-out signal was given. No one was able to state definitively whether 1st Lt. Burge bailed out. He was last seen on the flight deck, but no one claimed to see him after. Some statements indicate that all bailed out, while a written statement said that some of the crew went down with the ship.

At the time, there were German patrols in the area, and at least one man was taken as a prisoner of war. There were survivors among those who successfully bailed out. The report doesn't contain any statements that say where 1st Lt. Burge's body was eventually found, but a cause of death is given as head injuries.

By the time the report was finalized, 1st Lt. Burge was listed as killed in action. He was initially buried in a cemetery in St. Omer, France. In fact, the place of burial, as far as it is from Dunkirk, led some of those interviewed to conclude that he'd bailed out at the first signal because if he'd bailed out closer to Dunkirk or gone down with the plane, it was unlikely that anyone would have collected his remains and transported them 40 miles away for burial in St. Omer, least of all the Germans.

Melba [Christina] Burge was listed as his emergency contact. Her name and address were listed in the MACR as well as in the application for a military headstone when his remains were returned to the States. She had moved to Washington, D. C., in the case of the first listing and to Baltimore in the case of the second. Harold Burge was reported to his family as missing in action on July 11 and declared dead in December.

In 1949, Harold Burge's remains were returned to West Virginia and interred in Bridgeport Cemetery.
Headstone for Lt. Harold Lee Burge in Bridgeport Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Headstone for Lt. Harold Lee Burge in Bridgeport Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Christina Burge remarried and passed away in Virginia in 1994.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
November 2020


Harold Lee Burge

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History