Phylis Burgh state’s last WAC
FLORENCE, S.C. -- The Korean War is sometimes referred to as “The Forgotten War,” but Florence resident Phylis Burgh remembers very well.
Burgh, 85, grew up in New York and was one of more than 1.8 million Americans who served in the Korean War.
After graduating from high school in 1952, Burgh said, there was nothing that could help her further her education, so she decided to enlist in the military for a chance to see the world.
“I went to the Marine Corps; they didn’t feel I could handle what was necessary,” Burgh said. “I went to the Navy, but I don’t do well on ships. I didn’t know how to fly planes, so the Air Force was out. They asked me, ‘Do you know how to handle a gun?’ I said, ‘Yes, I can do that’ and joined the Army.”
Burgh completed her basic training in the U.S. Army at Fort Lee, Virginia. She said the training included marching and classroom studies, as well as field exercises, including maneuvers, map reading and security.
Following basic training, Burgh went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where she was connected with tanks.
“I told them I’d like to drive one,” Burgh said. “I got inside and they asked me if I knew what the levers meant, and I explained what each one did. When I did that, they were a bit stunned. They asked me, ‘How did you know that?’ I said, ‘I’ve got two ears and I listen.’”
Burgh was later stationed at Fort Hamilton in New York, where she was assigned to the typing pool. After exceptional work, she was offered a job supplying ships.
“They wanted someone to do a manifest and that could put supplies on ships,” Burgh said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted that, but since they requested me to do it, I did it. I fulfilled everything that was on the list. I remember one time they put me on a ship with a crew that was going overseas. They told me that after everything was packed and settled, that I would get off the ship. Well they didn’t. I was 13 miles out in the Atlantic and I was afraid of getting AWOL. But it was taken care of.”
Burgh would eventually meet her future husband, Cpl. Billy Burgh, at Fort Hamilton in 1953 and was discharged.
Burgh is the last WAC (Women’s Army Corps member) remaining in the state of South Carolina. The Women’s Army Corps as a branch was disbanded in 1978, and all female units were integrated with male units.
Burgh said her goal throughout her life has been to help others. She is a part of several different organizations, including The Widows & Widowers of Veterans, The American Legion, The DAV, The Forty and Eight, the Pee Dee Area Veteran’s Council and The Veteran’s Gang Breakfast.
“I come in contact with more than 1,000 veterans each month,” Burgh said. “I’m able to connect veterans together and really enjoy just being able to help them in any way possible. I learned to listen. Many people don’t take time to care for others, because they’re so focused on what they’ve got going on.”