Robert C. Burton
Bob Burton (1923-2017)
Gen. Douglas MacArthur quoted an old barrack ballad when he said “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” A total of 372 WWII veterans faded away on September 15, 2017, and one of them was the well-known and highly respected former WRFC radio news broadcaster and news director Robert Charles “Bob” Burton. Bob received eternal peace after having given his heart, mind, body, and soul to help bring peace to millions of people across the world during WWII.
The passing of Bob Burton at age 93 is a great loss. Our nation has lost another member of the “Greatest Generation,” one of many common and humble heroes who persevered through some of the greatest challenges of the Twentieth Century. Bob lived through the great economic “Depression”, the “Dustbowl” in Oklahoma, and WWII. Our local community has lost a beloved and respected radio news broadcaster who, for 30 years, used his strictly professional, old fashioned, perfectly delivery to give his devoted listeners the local, state, and national news in the unbiased manner that is almost non-existent nowadays. His friends, family, and loved ones have lost a modest, simple, and gentle man whose, generosity, kindness, and genuine, devotion to God, America, and family was deeply profound.
Born on December 9, 1923 in Oklahoma City, OK, Bob lost his mother in childbirth and spent the first years of his life with his father’s mother and her sister in Noblesville, IN. He was seven years old when his father remarried and took him back to Oklahoma City. Bob’s family moved to Tulsa, OK and he was a member of the second graduating class of Will Rogers High School in 1942.
Bob attended one year at the University of Oklahoma, playing clarinet in the marching band, before he enlisted in the United States Army on May 11, 1943.
From December 16, 1944 through January 25, 1945, Bob and his fellow soldiers of the famed 99th “Checkerboard” Division fought in the Battle of the Bulge. They survived the surprise attack and stopped the German ground offensive; they severely depleted the Germans’ armored forces, wiped out the German reserves, shattered the Luftwaffe, and inflicted 100,000 casualties on the German forces. In terms of American losses- including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing and captured- it was the costliest battle in all of WWII.
The battle was fought in the worst weather conditions for 20 years in Germany. Bob was one of 10,000 casualties of the horrible, freezing cold, rain, and snow. His feet developed a severe case of frostbite that put him in the hospital for four months. He had trouble with his feet the rest of his life.
After his hospital stay, Bob returned to Germany for occupation duty. Bob was honorably discharged on January 20, 1946. For his courageous service during WWII, he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the American Theatre Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
Bob resumed his college studies at Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State) in Stillwater, OK. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in Advertising-Journalism.
Bob began his radio broadcasting career in Stillwater, OK, then worked in radio stations at Harlingen, TX, and Gainesville, GA. In 1959, he was hired by radio station WRFC and moved to Athens. He served as News Director and Public Service Director, and helped WRFC win numerous broadcasting awards, including a United Press International award that cited WRFC for having the best newscasts in Georgia during the decade of the 1980’s. Bob was the most dedicated and dependable employee WRFC ever had. During his thirty years at WRFC, he almost never took a sick day and was there in the sound room to read the news almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Bob retired in 1988 but never lost his love of reading the news as he was asked to read the news by his fellow Kiwanians at their regular meetings.
While at Oklahoma A & M, Bob met Jean Pantell and they were married in 1949. They were married for 24 years and had three children. In 1979, Bob was remarried to Margaret Semones and was devoted to her until her death in 2006.
Bob’s greatest passions in life were spending time with his family, teaching Sunday school, following the UGA football team for 58 years, watching movies, especially movies about WWII or featuring James Bond, and receiving letters from his granddaughter Emily.
Bob spent his entire life in service of others. He served in the United States Air Force Reserve for 24 years and retired at the rank of Master Sergeant. He was a member of the Athens Jaycees, a member of the Kiwanis Club for 50 years, and served on the committee for Hope Haven School. He devoted much of his time to churches in Athens, having been a member of and a Sunday school teacher at Beech Haven Baptist, Milledge Avenue Baptist, and Central Presbyterian. In one last selfless act of giving, Bob donated his body to the Georgia Medical College.
Bob is predeceased by his father Mark Burton, mother Mildred Ball, step-mother Margaret Burton, older brother Jack, first wife Jean Pantell Sikora, and second wife Margaret Fenn Semones Burton.
Bob is survived by a son John Mark, a musician in Atlanta, Ga.; a son Robbie, a retired communications officer with the University of Georgia Police Department; and a daughter, Dr. Patricia Burton, Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. Patricia is married to Dr. Steve Pollard and Steve and Patti have one daughter, Emily, who is a 2016 graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and who currently works at the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, MO. Bob leaves behind his two dearest friends over the past eighty plus years, Betty Mitchell, 91, of Tulsa OK, and Neal Carter, 94, of Independence, KY.
A memorial service will be held at Lord and Stephens East, Lexington Rd. on Friday, October 20, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. Reverends Bob Bohler and Joe Berry will officiate.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Lord and Stephens, East is in charge of arrangements.