Burlison, Harry Moulton

Harry Moulton Burlison
Born: December 11, 1921
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: February 23, 1943 / North Atlantic,
46-15’N, 38-11’W
Date / Place of burial: February 23, 1943 / North Atlantic,
46-15’N, 38-11’W / Lost at Sea
Age: 21

 

Harry M. Burlison signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the Liberty Ship SS Jonathan Sturges at the Port of New York on January 12, 1943. After safely delivering its cargo to England the Jonathan Sturges was returning to New York with Convoy ON-166 from Liverpool to New York City when it fell behind the convoy on the night of February 23/24, 1943. The ship, with a crew of 44 merchant mariners and a Naval Armed Guard of 31 was carrying 1,500 tons of sand ballast. In bad weather and poor visibility the Sturges was making 6 knots, about ½ its full speed.

At about 1 am, the vessel was struck in the forward part of the ship by two torpedoes
fired by U-707 at convoy stragglers. The engines were secured, but the ship, which
had apparently been broken in two, began to sink bow first. Survivors recalled that the
explosions gave off a sweet odor, and left a sweet taste in their mouths for hours after
the incident.

Although the radio officer was able to send a distress signal, there was no time to await
a reply as the crew abandoned ship. Two lifeboats and four life rafts were successfully
launched. According to the post sinking report of the survivors, nineteen men were able
to get into one life boat while the Master, Chief Mate David Edwards and fifteen others
were in the other boat. The other twenty-four survivors were able to reach the four life
rafts. However, the boats and rafts were soon separated.

On February 27, three days after the sinking, the boat with nineteen men aboard met
up with a lifeboat carrying three survivors from the Dutch ship SS Madoera who had
been in the same convoy. Eight of the Sturges’ survivors climbed into the Madoera’s
boat. Although one of the Jonathan Sturges’ crew eventually died of exposure, the
other eighteen (along with the three Madoera survivors) were rescued by the USS
Belknap (DD 251) on March 12, 1943. However, the other lifeboat with its seventeen
survivors was never seen again. Of the twenty-four men on the life rafts, only 6
survived. These men were rescued on April 5 by U-336 and spent the rest of the war
as Prisoners of War. Cadet-Midshipman Harry M. Burlison, along with the three other
Cadet-Midshipmen, died.

Cadet-Midshipman Harry M. Burlison was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Victory Medal, and the Presidential
Testimonial Letter.

Harry M. Burlison was the eldest of Harry Miles Burlison and Mertel Burlison’s two sons
and daughter. According to his brother Richard, a 1944 graduate of Kings Point, Harry
attended the public schools in Minneapolis from kindergarten through high school. In
1942, he enrolled in the Northwestern Naval Preparatory School, in anticipation of later
acceptance at the U.S. Naval Academy. As a child, Harry was skilled at building rafts
and boating activities. He was a skilled musician, following in the steps of his father, an
accomplished pianist. Unfortunately, Harry’s father passed away when he was only
nine, leaving his mother to raise three children during the Depression.

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