North High School Wall of Honor
Richard Harford Burr
Class of January, 1937
Died KIA; December 14, 1944
Research done by Rick Nehrling, class of 1963, and Claradell Shedd, class of 1953.
Richard Harford Burr
Richard was a member of North High's class of January, 1937. His brother, William Glenn Burr, was a member of North High's class of January, 1938. According to the 1930 census, they were raised by Earl and Mae Reese who lived at 702 Sheridan Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa. Both brothers were killed in World War II.
At the start of World War II, Richard was the Company Commander of the 21st Engineer Battalion, 21st Philippine Division in the Philippines. This was a unit within the Philippine Department (Philippine Garrison-The Battling Bastards of Bataan). The Philippine Department was a regular U.S. Army unit comprised of US officers and Filipino soldiers. Their mission was to defend the Philippine Islands and train the Philippine Army.
In late 1941, Japan invaded the Philippines. Most of the Filipino and US forces defending the country were rapidly overrun or forced to retreat. The Philippine Department retreated to the Bataan Peninsula. After a four-month stand in fighting the Japanese in the Battle of Bataan, on April 9, 1942, Major General Edward P. King, Jr. formally surrendered the remaining approximately 75,000 Filipino and US soldiers to the Japanese.
Richard Burr was among the 75,000 groops that surrendered to the Japanese. On April 10, 1942, the Japanese forced Richard and all of the other POW's to begin to march to Camp O'Donnell, a prison camp that was 100 kilometers away. Out of the 75,000 POWs, approximately 10,000 perished and another 11,000 escaped. Approximately 54,000 POWs reached Camp O'Donnell. Richard Burr was among those POWs who survived the Bataan Death March and reached Camp O'Donnell.
On June 6, 1942, the American POWs were evacuated in small groups from Camp O'Donnell to another POW camp -- Cabanatuan. Richard remained at Cabanatuan from June, 1942 until October, 1944. In late October, 1944, he and other POWs were loaded onto trucks and driven to Bilibid Prison in Manila, Philippines. In December, 1944, a number of Japanese transport ships that would be later be referred to as "hellships" arrived in the Philippines. The definition of a "hellship" is a ship with extremely unpleasant living conditions and/or with a reputation for cruelty among the crew. It also refers to ships used by the Japanese to transport allied POWs to Japan. All of these ships flew the Japanese flag, and none of the ships had any markings indicating that they were used to transport POWs. Among the Japanese transport ships was the Oryoku Maru that was going to transport POWs from Manila to Japan.
On December 13, 1944, Richard and approximately 1618 other POWs were marched from the Bilibid Prison through the streets of Manila to Pier 7. During the day and early evening, all of these POWs were loaded into several holds of the Oryoku Maru. Once loaded with the POWs, the Oryoku Maru headed toward Japan.
On December 14, 1944, dive bombers from the American carrier USS Hornet located the Oryoku Maru off of Subic Bay, Philippines. Since the Oryoku Maru was flying a Japanese flag and was located in enemy waters, the USS Hornet's dive bombers attacked the ship. The Oryoku Maru was badly damaged during this attack. It was not until some time later that the US learned that the Oryoku Maru was transporting allied POWs to Japan.
It was reported that Richard Burr died sometime during December 14, 1944. It cannot be determined if Richard's death was caused from his weakened physical condition after serving 2-1/2 years as a Jpanese POW, or from mistreatment by his Japanese captors aboard the Oryoku Maru, or from the attack by the US dive bombers.
On December 15, 1944, the Japanese and surviving POWs abandoned the Oryoku Maru. Of the approximately 1600 allied POWs loaded onto the Oryoku Maru on December 13th, only 600 were alive on December 15th.
Richard's service number was 0-407971. His death was reported as KIA, killed in action. At the time of his death, his rank was 2nd Lieutenant.
Information obtained from the American Battle Monuments Commission shows that he is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. Award is the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. First Lieutenant. Service # 0-407971.
Route of Bataan Death March   American POWs in Death March
Oryoku Maru in Subic Bay
(activity below ship shows
POW's swimming to shore)
  American POWs in Sun Treatment

The above information was obtained from the following:
(1) The World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel were created by the War Department, the Adjutant General's Office, Administrative Services Division, Strength Accounting Branch. The original records are held at the Modern Military records LICON, Textural Services Division (NWCTM), National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
The documents contain the latest and most complete information available of all Army and Army Air Force personnel who were killed or died, or became and remained missing between the President's declaration of unlimited national emergency on May 27, 1941, and the cut-off date of this report, January 31, 1946. This document includes both battle and nonbattle dead and missing. The records are available online at

The type of casualty is indicated by the following:

    * KIA - Killed in Action. This is an individual who was killed in action at the front, by enemy action in the rear, or if a prisoner of war.
    * DOW - Died of Wounds. This is an individual was who wounded and later died.
    * DOI - This is an individual who suffered fatal battle injuries and died in a line of duty status.
    *DNB - Died Nonbattle. This is an individual who died in a line of duty death, such as from sickness, homicide, suicide, or accidents outside of combat areas (training).
    *M - Missing. This is an individual who is reported as missing and later was determined to be dead.
    *FOD - Finding of Death. Findings of death fall within Public Law 490 and its amendments and are made when there is either conclusive proof that the person is dead or equally overwhelming evidence that under the circumstances the person could not have remained alive.

This document contains the names of those individuals who died in the line of duty status. Those individuals who were not in the line of duty at the time of their death are not listed in this document.

(2) The World War II Army Enlistment Records contain information on more than nine million indivdual enlistments. These records can be found online at

(3) The American Battle Monuments Commission was established in 1923 to commemorate the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. Armed Forces. There are 24 overseas cemeteries that serve as the final resting places for almost 125,000 American war dead. The serviceman and women are either buried at these cemeteries or their names listed are on tablets of the missing that memorialize these men and women and their sacrifice. These records can be found online at

(4) The story of the Oryoku Maru can be found online at

(5) POW Resources regarding information on Camp O'Donnell can be found online at

(6) The Oryoku Maru roster can be found online at

(7) Information regarding the Bataan Death March can be found online at

(8) The comprehensive list of names from North High's 1893-2018 graduation classes are from Claradell Shedd's North Des Moines High School website. The names of North High School graduates can be found online at: Richard Harford Burr's 1937 class page is:
Killed in action: December 14, 1944 while aboard Japanese "hellship" Oryoku Maru which was transporting US POWs from the Philippines to Japan.
Music: "You Raise Me Up"
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