Volume 14, Issue 21 ~ May 25 - May 31, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Henry Beckwith:
I Promised You Would Never Be Forgotten

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

—William Shakespeare: Sonnet 18

Heroes of the War at Home:

Bill Burton, May 11, 2000

So much hero worship was within this writer in the days following Aug. 20, 1940, that several years later I ran away from home intent on doing the next closest thing to flying with the RAF. Word was the Royal Canadian Air Force didn’t check ages of enlistees, and RCAF was already flying missions from England where my closest high school friend, Henry Beckwith, was soon to die when his plane was shot down.

In Memory of Heroes:

Bill Burton, June 1, 2000

Memorial Day weather was fitting. It was overcast and subdued, though probably not enough to give most citizens pause to appreciate the solemness, the true meaning of the day.

I thought back to a September in the mid 1940s, when the daily paper brought the news of the death in Great Britain of my closest boyhood friend, Henry Beckwith, whose bomber went down in the countryside. School children scattered flowers at the site.

Though no longer one for parades, crowds and traffic, I headed to the docks of Annapolis where a parade wound up and several hundred gathered for ceremonies shortened by the threatening weather. It was an occasion to pay tribute to the fallen, those who made the utmost sacrifice that we might have a tomorrow. For me it was an occasion to let Henry Beckwith know he was not forgotten, that he was more than a name on a recreation center, Beckwith-Bruckshaw Lodge, 400 miles away in New England.

Henry was still in his teens when his plane went down: no wife, no children, not even a steady girlfriend. His mother and father are long gone, and no one is left to remember him on Memorial Day. It only seemed appropriate that as taps was played, his name should be mentioned aloud, if only by me, to let it be known that his sacrifice was appreciated.

So, when the two Severna Park students played the eerie refrain to close the ceremonies, few beside me other than wife Lois, daughter Heather and her husband Jon heard a thank you and the name Henry Beckwith. I will admit to a tear or two, knowing that it was only by chance that he headed to the Atlantic, while I headed to the Pacific.

This Old Man Caught up with Boyhood Dreams: Bill Burton: Aug. 26, 2004

In the twilight years, one dwells more on the past, for after all, the past makes today and the visions of youth become the dreams of today — and not infrequently the daydreams of today.

For more than a few years, I have yearned to see Los Alamos, where was developed the bomb that killed so many thousands yet spared so many more, possibly me among them. So the decision was easy when Alan Doelp and wife Carol invited me and wife Lois to join them on a trip to Santa Fe.

It wasn’t with dry eyes that I viewed Fat Boy, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki a couple of days after Little Boy fell at Hiroshima. It was the clincher in convincing Japan to surrender. If only either had come a year earlier, my best friend and fellow sailor Henry Beckwith would not have gone down over Ireland.

In Memory of Those Who Served and Died:

Bill Burton, Nov. 10, 2005

Once again, we are asked to remember those who served. I cannot allow the day to pass without somber thoughts of my best high school friend, Henry Beckwith of Navy Air who went down over Great Britain in ’44. As we fished, studied and chased girls, we anxiously waited to join the fight against Tojo and Hitler. Several times the Navy turned us down; we weren’t yet 17.

We had planned to serve together, but I wanted the SeaBees, Henry, Navy Air, so we parted when we joined up. I never saw him again, though often I have played tennis at the recreational center named in his honor.

Nothing has or ever will be named in my honor, but I have lived a full life while Hen was around only 19 years. He never had the time to marry, start a family, never enjoyed the pleasures of adult life, that first new car and house, grandchildren.

It isn’t only on Veterans and Memorial Day, but not infrequently at other times, I think about those two carefree students, Hen and me, and wonder why it was he. Why was I the lucky one?

The day I received a newspaper clipping telling about villagers in Ireland burying Hen in a field where his plane went down, aloud I promised him he would never be forgotten.

Nor should any of the others be forgotten; it matters not what war, what place, what time. It matters only that they made the supreme sacrifice.

Letter: Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Dear Bay Weekly Editor:

Last week, in response to a reference request to the Jesse Smith Library of Burrillville, Rhode Island, I researched individuals whose names appear on the building presently used as the town recreation center, the Beckwith-Bruckshaw Memorial Lodge. Our local history collection appeared to be lacking in this area. Searching on-line produced two articles about Henry Beckwith written by Mr. Bill Burton. I was moved by what he had written.

This information led to a search of our high school yearbook collection (1912-present) where pictures of W. Burton, Robert Bruckshaw and Henry Beckwith appeared. The most exciting discovery came yesterday, coincidentally, as I clipped a news article that showed a Gordon Beckwith. I called to inquire if he was Henry’s brother. He was!

Mr. Beckwith arrived in the library a few hours later bringing a wonderful collection of photographs, news clippings and other material related to his brother’s demise, as well as the 1994 dedication of a monument to Henry Beckwith and the crew members of PB4Y-1 Liberator erected by the people of Ballyconneely and Clifden, Ireland.

I shared the Bay Weekly articles. Mr. Burton’s tributes gave Mr. Beckwith the shivers.

It was mentioned on your site that Mr. Burton was not feeling well. Please wish him well and convey the above information with my thanks for his role in preserving a heroic young man’s legacy. He too has served his country well.


Linda Rivet, Reference Librarian

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