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Walter Joseph Buran
1917-1943

"Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters. "

Randall Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”

U. S. Army Air Forces Staff Sergeant Walter Joseph Buran was born in Ohio in the year 1917. His mother and father were Stella and Frank Buran. There is little other information available regarding his early life. At some point he would move to Benwood in Marshall County, West Virginia. It is here that he would live out the rest of his life prior to the time he entered the service. From the lack of a draft record, it can be inferred that he was not drafted but chose to enlist. This and the fact that he was considerably older than many other servicemen of this time suggests that he felt a calling to serve in the armed forces to keep his country safe during a time of war. This requires a special type of man who can disregard his personal safety for the greater good. His exact enlistment date is unknown, but it was presumably near the beginning of the war.

Upon enlistment Walter would be assigned to the 535th Bomber Squadron in the 381st Bomber Group, Heavy. He would serve as a ball turret gunner. This position is one of extreme danger and one that carries with it a very high mortality rate. The courage required to function in these circumstances is astronomical and serves as a testament to Walter’s mettle. His squadron would be deployed to England in April of 1943 and would engage in extremely long-range bombardment of military, industrial, and transportation targets, seeing much action throughout the war. He flew many combat missions with his squadron and would survive far longer than could be expected of him as a turret gunner. Yet another testament to his dedication, and obvious skill.

Walter would die on the 19th of August 1943 in a B-17F nicknamed the “Man O’ War,” which was on a mission to Gilze-Rijen and would crash five miles south of Rotterdam. It was flown by a crew which was a composite of men from both the 535th and the 533rd Bomber Squadrons. The following is a quote from Second Lieutenant William F. Cormany Jr. and is a recounting of the plane going down from his point of view, a nearby aircraft:
Buran marker

Marker for Walter J. Buran, Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten. Courtesy Astrid van Erp

We had made the second run on the target, dropped our bombs and turned on course to return to England. My position in the formation was Nr 3 in the second element of the low squadron, low group. The formation met attacks by enemy aircraft and during an attack from 9 o’clock level, Lt Koenings aircraft was hit, evidently by 20 mm cannon fire. I saw the Nr 3 gas tank and, soon, the entire in board section of the right wing, burning furiously. The aircraft was definitely still under control of the Pilot or Co-Pilot as it left the formation in an easy, slightly diving turn to the right, turning back into enemy-occupied territory. The Tail Gunner of my airplane, S/Sgt Frank C. Rumberger reported seeing himself 6 parachutes from Lt Koenings airplane. Because the airplane was so well under control, it is the opinion of the undersigned that all uninjured personal on board should have parachuted safely. (Source: “Buran, Walter J.,” Fields of Honor Database, Web, accessed 15 June 2015.)

Based on this account, it can be assumed that Walter, along with four members of his crew, was killed by the enemy cannon fire prior to the plane’s descent.

During his service time Walter Buran would be awarded both the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and a Purple Heart. The Air Medal is an award given for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Due to his position as a turret gunner, it can be inferred that he was awarded this particular medal for shooting down enemy aircraft. Also, his Purple Heart was likely awarded for typical gunshot wounds which a ball turret gunner would experience. Both of these awards serve as a testament to his bravery and his commitment to service. Walter felt the need to serve his country and would pay the ultimate price to protect it.

Netherlands American Cemetery

Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

After his death, he would be buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten in Plot J, Row 3, Grave 19. During his service he would achieve the rank of staff sergeant, and despite his death, was an incredibly successful and courageous airman. He would die a true hero and a courageous role model for future generations to follow.

Article prepared by Eaven Allison, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015

Honor...

Walter Joseph Buran

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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