Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen:
ERB’s Tribute to the American Military
by Alan Hanson
During Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lifetime, the United States
fought three foreign wars and concluded a protracted conflict with its
native inhabitants. In both his personal life and in his writing, Burroughs
expressed great respect for those who served in America’s military forces.
At age 17 in 1892, he entered Michigan Military Academy. After graduating
from the academy in 1895, he sought an appointment to West Point. After
failing the entrance exam, he returned to Michigan Military Academy as
In the spring of 1896, Burroughs enlisted in the U.S.
Army and was posted to Fort Grant in Arizona. Bored with chasing illusive
Indians and unable to adapt to military life, Burroughs sought his father’s
influence to obtain a discharge, which he received in March 1897. When
war with Spain came the following year, Burroughs applied for a spot in
Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. With his rejection went Burroughs’ last
opportunity to fight on the front lines of his country’s battles.
By the time the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Burroughs
was a popular writer of fiction. At age 41, he was too old to reenter active
military service. However, he sought and received a captain appointment
in the Illinois reserves. In two of his contemporary novels, The
Land That Time Forgot and Tarzan the Untamed, he
championed the allies’ cause against the Germans.
Residing in Honolulu in December 1941 gave Burroughs one
last opportunity to participate in a U.S. war effort. He volunteered for
civilian guard duty while waiting for his war correspondent credentials
to be approved. In 1942, his dispatches from New Caledonia and Australia
supported the military and bolstered civilian morale. In 1944 Burroughs
followed the advance of American troops across the Pacific. In addition
to visiting the recently taken islands of Eniwetok, Kwajalein, and Tarawa,
he flew as an observer on two daylight missions over enemy territory. That
same year, Burroughs wrote Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion”,
a personal tribute to the fighting spirit of America’s military men.
Ultimately, Burroughs’s Pacific excursions took a toll
on his weakening heart. In October 1945, he flew home from Hawaii to spend
the last few years of his life with his family in Tarzana.
Over the course of his writing career, Burroughs included
American military characters in 17 of his stories. Included were over 50
soldiers, sailors, and airmen, some of whom he borrowed from the pages
of history and others who sprang from his creative and patriotic mind.
All of characters listed below were or had been active
duty U.S. military personnel. Ineligible are Burroughs characters who served
in the military of foreign countries, such as Paul D’Arnot and Tarzan.
Also disqualified are those who fought for the Confederacy against the
U.S. military, the most prominent in Burroughs’ fiction being Captain John
The Monster Men
Although Burroughs’ military characters were almost
always honorable men, the first U.S. veteran to appear in one of his stories
was a villain. Doctor Carl von Horn was a member of Professor Maxon’s South
Seas expedition in The Monster Men, ERB’s eighth published
story, written in 1913. Von Horn had served in the U.S. Navy, reaching
a “high place” in the service before deserting for some unspecified reason.
By the time of his role in the Maxon mission, he had not set foot on American
soil for seven years.
Late in the story, the Navy tracked down von Horn. Lieutenant
May of the U.S.S. New Mexico arrived at Maxon’s island to arrest von Horn,
whom the officer called, “one of the shrewdest swindlers and adventurers
in America.” The deserter escaped a military court martial, however,
when Dyak natives harvested the former Naval officer’s head as a souvenir.
In the closing pages of The Mucker,
written in 1916, men of the Thirteenth Cavalry regiment arrive just in
time to save a group of American citizens about to be overrun by besieging
revolutionaries in Mexico. Burroughs referred to the horse soldiers as
some of “Funston’s men,” who had pursued Pancho Villa’s force into
Mexico after Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916. Burroughs’s
“Funston” was a reference to Major-General Frederick Funston, the
army’s highest-ranking officer at the time. It was Funston who ordered
the expedition into Mexico to punish Villa.
The Moon Maid
Burroughs met Julian 5th aboard the Transoceanic Liner
on June 10, 1967, a full 45 years after he wrote part one of The
Moon Maid in 1922. On the flight from New York to Paris, Julian
told the author of his family’s long history of U.S. military service.
His great-great-grandfather, Julian 1st, a major at age twenty-two, was
killed in France on the day World War I ended. His great-grandfather, Julian
2nd, was killed in battle in Turkey in 1938.
Julian 8th, the great-grandson of Julian 5th, later claimed
the family’s military legacy went back over a hundred years before Julian
1st died in the Great War. “My ancestors fought at Bunker Hill, at Gettysburg,
at San Juan, at Chateau Thierry,” Julian 8th declared. He also claimed
that the American flag revered by down trodden Americans in 22nd century
Chicago had been guarded by his family since his forefather’s regiment
had carried it came back from the Argonne battlefields.
The Girl From Hollywood
One military veteran and another who may have been
one were among the cast of characters in Burroughs’ 1921 mainstream novel,
Girl From Hollywood. Family patriarch Custer Pennington, Sr., had
graduated from Virginia Military Institute and West Point. Serving in Cuba
as a cavalryman during the Spanish-American War, he was shot through the
lung and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Slick Allen, a villain
later redeemed in the story, “might have been a cavalryman once,”
suggested the author. “He sat his horse, even at a walk, like one who
has sweated and bled under a drill sergeant in the days of his youth.”
The Master Mind of Mars
In a letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs, dated June 8,
1925, Ulysses Paxton explained that he had first become aware of John Carter
while reading A Princess of Mars at officers’ training camp
in the fall of 1917. Paxton later met his fate on the western front in
“There came at last to me what had come to so many
others upon those bloody fields. It came within the week that I had received
my first promotion and my captaincy, of which I was greatly proud, though
humbly so; realizing as I did my youth, the great responsibility that it
placed upon me as well as the opportunities it offered, not only in service
to my country but, in a personal way, to men of my command.”
A German artillery shell killed Captain Paxton. Like John
Carter before him, though, Paxton shed in earthly shell and lived another
life on Mars.
The War Chief
In his two-volume quasi-historical account of the
19th century Apache wars, Burroughs utilized the knowledge and insight
he acquired during the military training and experience of his youth. He
used a mixture of fictional and real-life soldiers as characters in his
two Apache novels. Foremost among his fictional soldiers was Lt. Samuel
Adams King, who presented Wichita Billings a cultured, romantic alternative
to the savage Shoz-Dijiji. Other fictional soldiers who appear or are mentioned
in The War Chief are Captain Cullis, Sergeant Olson, and
soldiers Bird, Sondergros, Sullivan, and Ahrens. The only historical soldier
mentioned in The War Chief is Captain E. C. Hentig, who was
one of 11 soldiers killed in fighting with Apaches at Arizona’s Cibicu
Creek on August 30, 1881.
While King, promoted to captain, reprised his fictional
role in Apache Devil, the U.S. army focus in that novel was
on historical soldiers. In the story, Burroughs offered his interpretation
of the events leading to the final surrender of Geronimo in 1886. The author
recounted the exploits of several well-known soldiers of the era, as the
U.S. army made a determined effort to finally put an end to its Apache
The military troops in the region were under the command
of a series of generals, including General George Crook and General Nelson
Miles, both of whom have roles in Apache Devil. Under them
some junior officers were given great responsibility for pursuing renegade
bands that “broke out” and left the reservations. Captain Emmet
Crawford, Captain Henry Lawton, Lieutenant Marion Maus, and Lieutenant
Charles Gatewood, all of whom appear in Apache Devil, earned
for themselves a public degree of renown in U.S. military history usually
reserved for generals. Burroughs, however, was not so generous in his portrayal
of some of the army officers who were so famous in his youth. In Apache
Devil, Burroughs depicted Crook, Miles, and Lawson, in particular,
as often embracing the infamous philosophy that, “the only good Indian
is a dead Indian.”
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core
Robert Jones, cook on the crew of the 0-220’s expedition
to the earth’s core, was a most unusual American military veteran. A “high
private” in a labor battalion in Europe during World War I, the Alabama
born Jones was captured and spent the rest of the war in a German prison
camp. After the war, for some unknown reason, he was left behind when the
camp was evacuated. He made friends among his former captors, learned their
language, and found a job as a body servant in Germany. Promoted to cook
in an officers’ club, he was discovered there by Captain Zuppner, who recruited
him for the 0-220 mission.
In the 1936 Burroughs short story, Pat Morgan piloted
the plane transporting the thawed out cave man, Elmer (later
renamed Jimber-Jaw in a magazine rewrite), back to civilization.
According to Burroughs, Morgan had been a young U.S. fighter pilot in World
War I. “I think he brought down three enemy planes,” noted Burroughs.
“I had that from another flyer; [Morgan] never talked about it.”
Tarzan and the Champion
As World Champion “One-Punch” Mullargan mowed
down a herd of zebras with a machine gun, his manager declared, “That
was some shootin’.” Mullargan responded, “I wasn’t a expert rifleman
in the Marine Corps for nothin’.”
The only other marine in ERB’s fiction is “Jimmy,”
a member of the ill-fated Hollywood film company in Tarzan and the
Lion Man. On being appointed the expedition’s assistant cook, Jimmy
responded, “I don’t want no cinch job. I served in the Marines in Nicaragua.
Gimme a gun, and let me do guard duty.”
One of the final stories Burroughs wrote in Hawaii
during World War II concerned a Civil War veteran. In Uncle Bill,
a woman named Mary uncovered a dark secret in her family’s history. Uncle
Bill married her Aunt Phoebe in 1863, when he was a second lieutenant in
the Army of the Potomac. By the time Lee surrendered at Appomattox in 1865,
Uncle Bill was a captain on General Meade’s staff. About a year later,
Uncle Bill came home to be with Aunt Phoebe for six months. When he returned
to duty after his leave, however, he disappeared and the family neither
saw nor heard from him again.
On the death of Aunt Phoebe in 1934, Mary and her brother
Bob travelled to their aunt’s Connecticut home to handle her estate. In
the attic of her home, they made a startling discovery. In a trunk were
the mummified remains of Uncle Bill, wearing his Civil War captain’s uniform.
There was a bullet hole between the eyes of the skull. The circumstances
of his passing remained a family secret.
When Burroughs wrote the short story in May 1944, American
forces in the Pacific were on the offensive, and probably due to the rising
swell of patriotic pride in him, he couldn’t resist infusing Uncle Bill’s
ancestors with a tradition of military service. Mary and Bob’s father had
been killed in France just before the armistice in 1918. Ten years after
they discovered Uncle Bill’s corpse, Bob, a West Point graduate, was “somewhere
in the Pacific commanding a heavy bombardment group.” Mary was living
in Boston, awaiting the return of her husband, also a West Pointer, who
was with the army in Italy.
Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion”
On June 10, 1944, just three weeks after finishing
Uncle Bill and just four days after D-Day in Europe, Burroughs began writing
his most patriotic novel. Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion”
is a tribute to the fighting spirit of an American B-24 bomber crew. The
Army Air Corps crew of nine was accompanied by RAF Colonel John Clayton
and an army photographer on what was to be a reconnaissance and photographic
mission over Japanese held Sumatra.
The crew of “The Lovely Lady” consisted of pilot
Captain Jerry Lucas of Oklahoma City, an unidentified co-pilot, tail gunner
“Butch” Melrose, navigator Lieutenant Burnham, assistant engineer
and waist gunner S/Sgt. Joe “Dat Dum” Bubonovitch of Brooklyn, ball
turret gunner S/Sgt. Tony “Shrimp” Rosetti of Chicago, radioman
S/Sgt. Carter Douglas of Van Nuys, waist gunner S/Sgt. Bill Davis of Waco,
and an unidentified nose gunner.
Five of the 11 men on board died when flak from enemy
ground fire struck the B-24. The co-pilot and nose gunner died at their
stations, “Butch” and the photographer were lost when the plane’s
tail was blown off, and Lieutenant Burnham’s parachute failed to open.
The other five crewmen and Clayton bailed out successfully. Lucas, Bubonovitch,
Rosetti, and Clayton regrouped on the ground. Douglas and Carter landed
away from the others and were captured by Japanese soldiers. After 83 days
of captivity, they were rescued and rejoined their crewmates and Clayton.
Burroughs had Tarzan deliver the following soliloquy in
tribute to the American airmen and their country:
“As they ate the fruit, he thought; What a country!
What an army! A sergeant who talks like a college professor — and comes
from Brooklyn at that! He thought, too, how little the rest of the world
really knew America — the Nazis least of all. Jitterbugs, playboys, a decadent
race? He thought of how gallantly these boys had fought their guns, of
how Lucas had made sure that his crew and his passenger were out before
he jumped. Of how the boy had fought hopelessly to save his ship.”
After surviving over 200 days in the wilds of Sumatra,
the five American airmen, along with Clayton and two women, were taken
aboard a U.S. submarine commanded by Lt. Commander Bolton and transported
A couple of addenda to Tarzan and “Foreign Legion”:
Burroughs dedicated the novel to Brigadier General Truman
H. Landon, the former commander of the Bomber Command of the 7th Air Force
stationed at Hickam Field near Honolulu during World War II. In the book’s
“Acknowledgements,” Burroughs noted, “to my good friend Capt.
John Philip Bird, A.A.C. of S., G-2, USAFPOA, who arranged my first meeting
with the Netherlanders.” Burroughs also dedicated his Martian novel,
of Gathol, to Bird, an army public relations officer stationed
at Fort Shafter, Honolulu.
In the text of Foreign Legion, Burroughs
paid tribute to another officer and personal friend. The author had Captain
Lucas make the following statement:
“I had a friend in Honolulu when I was stationed at
Hickam, who was as good as any professional I have ever seen. Paint Colonel
Kendall J. Fielder black, dress him up in a breechclout and a feather headdress,
give him some odds and ends of bones and pieces of wood and a zebra’s tail,
and turn him loose in Africa; and he’d have all the other witch doctors
green with envy.”
Burroughs had previously dedicated Escape on Venus
to Colonel Fielder, an intelligence officer, with whom Burroughs had often
played bridge during his time in Hawaii.
In summary, then, Edgar Rice Burroughs honored America’s
fighting men by creating or mentioning the names of over 50 U.S. military
veterans in his works of fiction. Most of them were soldiers, with only
four sailors and one marine on the roll.
Every Veterans Day, then, Burroughs fans should take a
moment to honor all of the author’s fictional veterans, including Uncle
Bill, who served in the Civil War; Custer Pennington, Sr., who was wounded
in the Spanish-American War; Ulysses Paxton, who died in World War I; and
Tony “Shrimp” Rosetti, who served in World War II.
As an interesting final note, Burroughs seemed to have
a prejudice against the navy as opposed to the army. Lieutenant May in
Men and Lt. Commander Bolton in Foreign Legion were
honorable officers, but the other two naval officers to be found in Burroughs’s
fiction were not.
The despicable actions of Dr. Carl von Horn in Monster
Men have previously been noted. Burroughs was also unkind to the
U.S. Navy in his 1940 short story Misogynists Preferred.
The author described Myron Perry, one of the lead characters, as follows:
“He had graduated from Annapolis with high honors; and then, when it
was discovered that he had married while still a midshipman, he had been
discharged. That was bad enough, but worse was to follow: his wife divorced
him and married a lieutenant commander.”
— the end —