William D. Burroughs 1955
Cullum No. 20184 • Mar 21, 1999 • Died in Mesa, AZ
Interred in Veteran’s Cemetery, Phoenix, AZ
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by; And that has made all the difference."—Robert Frost. William David Burroughs was born in Baltimore, MD, the youngest of four children. His father, Henry Dashiell Burroughs, was a federal employee, and his mother, Clara Mattes Burroughs, before her marriage, had been a postmistress of Indian Head, MD. Dave’s brother Henry had been a professional photographer for the Associated Press, spending many years covering the White House. Dave attended parochial schools through the seventh grade, switching to public school to develop his talents as a quarterback for his high school in Alexandria. Learning and athletics were challenges Dave mastered with quiet ease. Encouraged by his successes in both fields, he enrolled in engineering school at Catholic University in Washington, DC, as what he called "a day-hop student."
In what he described as a "kind of time-filling lark," he took the exam for USMA and Annapolis and was offered appointments to both. He selected the one farthest from home and entered West Point in July 1951 with the Class of ’55.
Dave’s success with academics is legend. He had an ease of learning and retaining that astounded his classmates and allowed him to spend far more time and effort helping others with their academic agonies. He decided against pursuing varsity athletics, choosing intramurals to allow him more time to enjoy his class and companymates, as well as make more time for activities such as Debate and the Russian Club. He proudly led the 2d Regiment during First Class year and graduated among the top 25 in the class. He selected Air Force before graduation, buoyed by the prospect of learning to fly. But, quietly, there were those in the Air Force who had taken notice of Dave’s outstanding qualities as a cadet and marked him for future development.
Following flight training, he was given an assignment to an obscure radar site in Montana. His orders, however, were intercepted by an offer to begin graduate school in preparation for an assignment as an instructor in the English Department of the newly opened USAFA in Colorado. He attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and started his teaching career at USAFA in 1960. It was, Dave stated later, the most pleasant four years of his military career. At the time, Dave was married to an English major, and they had four children. As the fourth year of his teaching experience wound down, Dave had to make a hard choice—stay at USAFA and go on to get a Ph.D. or go back to the Air Force, with operational assignments and a mainstream Air Force career progression. He chose the latter, but his choice had unforeseen consequences.
The 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was stationed at Okinawa. During training in the States in preparation for joining that squadron, Dave had his end assignment in hand and, thus, it was unsettled time for the Burroughs family. Having preceded the family overseas already begun the frequent TDYs from Okinawa to Udorn, Thailand, flying combat recce missions, Dave was able to settle his family in Okinawa after a lengthy separation. It was during one of those TDYs to Udorn that Dave, a newly promoted lieutenant colonel, flew the solo recce mission that resulted in his being shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. Being a solo mission, there was no confirmation of the plane being shot down or of his capture, and Dave was listed as Missing in Action. It was not until April 1970 that a visitor to Hanoi brought out some letters written by POWs. Among them was one from Dave to his mother, confirming that he was indeed alive.
The remaining years of internment until the 1973 end of hostilities did not lessen the suffering and agony of the POWs, Dave in particular. Knowing that Dave was alive was a blessing, but it was not without its agonizing worries. The ultimate return to the U.S. of Dave and all the POWs in March 1973 was a cause for grateful celebration and elation. After a period of joy, Dave began the long transition to normalcy. Along with other POWs, he attended ICAF, where, as expected, he was a Distinguished Graduate. It was a depressurization and hopeful return to his Air Force career. A noble try at that journey to normalcy was set aside by his retirement at 20 years, caused by the breakup of his marriage. He settled in the Phoenix area, where he had spent his last days in service. He became very active in the POW organization formed by Viet Nam War returnees. He entered the financial consultant business and increasingly, by choice, found himself doing pro bono work for those in need.
He maintained his contacts with classmates to keep alive his interest and investment in the military. He attended our 40th Reunion, where he was warmly greeted by all. In 1998, he happily married Connie Maresso, whom he had known since 1994 in Phoenix. They continued to live in Phoenix until early 1999, when Dave’s poor health, generated by the ravages of his POW days, turned more threatening. In late March, hopeful that a promise of release from the hospital signaled a ray of hope for recovery, he suffered a relapse and died. With him at the end were his children and Connie’s. A memorial service was held in the Washington, DC, area in the Ft. Myer Main Chapel shortly after his passing. It was the opportunity for an impressive turnout of Dave’s classmates and his extended family to pay their respects and to honor his sacrifices. When the class gift to the Academy, the Lichtenberg Tennis Center, was dedicated at the 45th Reunion in the fall of 2000, Dave was one of five classmates memorialized with bronze plaques on the terrace. Dave’s credo was, "Just do your job and carry your head high. One of the consequences is a clear mind, and I think that is invaluable." Truly, it is. Well done, Dave. Be thou at peace.