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Volume 7371

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen:
ERB’s Tribute to the American Military
by Alan Hanson 

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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 an instructor. 

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 Carter.

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.

The Mucker
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 Harding 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, The 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 France. 

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.

Apache Devil
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 “problem.” 

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.”

Uncle Bill
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 to Sydney. 

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, Llana 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 Monster 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 —

From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources

The Land That Time Forgot 
Tarzan the Untamed
Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion”
The Monster Men
The Mucker
The Moon Maid
The Girl From Hollywood
A Princess of Mars
The War Chief 
Apache Devil
Jimber Jaw
Tarzan and the Lion Man
Uncle Bill
Llana of Gathol
Escape on Venus

Fort Grant and US Cavalry
ERB: The War Years
 Misogynists Preferred

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Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

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