He didn’t know it at the time, but Burton was recording history with his cartoon-style sketches that captured glimpses of military life — the mess hall, an enlisted club, a drill sergeant giving orders, a Marine in Dress Blues.
One drawing shows two young Marines on Christmas Eve 1953, drinking beer alone, slumped in their chairs at a table in an enlisted club decorated for the holidays. In the background a radio is playing, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”
“It was after the Korean War and I was feeling sad because it was my first Christmas away from home,” Burton said. “I wanted to capture that feeling.”
Another shows a Marine washing his cup and fork and spoon in a trash can filled with hot, soapy water outside the mess hall at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Edenton, North Carolina, after the Korean War. A Marine is waiting behind him, ready to wash his dishes.
Those drawings are among 12 the retired local Marine captain has donated to the Camp Pendleton Historical Society. He had mailed them to his mother back home in Pennsylvania to let her know how he was doing far from home. She saved all his drawings, which he drew from 1952 to 1957 during his early years in the Marine Corps.
Burton, now 84, presented the pencil sketches in a ceremony recently at Las Villas de Carlsbad where he lives, with dozens of veterans in attendance. The artwork is now on loan to the History and Museum Division of Camp Pendleton.
“Capt. Burton’s sketches reflect his observations of life in the Marine Corps during his long career as an officer and enlisted man. They capture both the humor and pathos of those times,” said retired Marine Col. Richard Rothwell, president of the Camp Pendleton Historical Society. “His drawings are a part of history that should be preserved.”
The first drawing he sent home in 1952 depicts a drill instructor at boot camp during recruit training on Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and shows historical uniforms. Burton drew it from his hospital bed while he was recovering from an extreme fever.
“These drawings capture the observations and feelings of a young Marine during his time in service. As with most such art work accomplished after a long day at drill and training, the drawings by Ron Burton were barely saved from destruction, making these images by a service member unique treasures,” said Faye Jonason, Camp Pendleton History and Museum Division Director.
Though he had no formal training, Burton attributes his bent for drawing to his great grandfather who came to the United States in 1838 from France and was an artist. Burton kept drawing and sketching throughout his military career, especially on deployments when he saw something that caught his attention.
After attending Aviation Electronics School at Millington Naval Station in Tennessee, Burton served on the aircraft carrier USS Wright in Marine attack squadron VMA 211 and saw duty in the western Pacific off both coasts of Korea as that conflict was winding down.
When he returned, he re-enlisted in the Marine Corps as an infantryman, serving in the First Battalion, Sixth Marines at Camp Lejuene, where he became a machine gun section leader.
At Camp Lejuene, he was selected for assignment to Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., and became a member of the famed “8th & I” silent drill team for three years, beginning in 1956. While he was on duty at Arlington Cemetery, he met Queen Elizabeth, who was there to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony.
“The encounter with Queen Elizabeth happened because we were part of the cordon lining the steps up to the Canadian Cross which was at the top of a small rise. The ground was wet and the stone steps were loose,” Burton said. “It appeared she was about to fall when she was in front of me and I reached to stop her. The British Security shoved me aside and steadied the Queen. When she had her balance and felt secure she looked right at me and said, ‘Thank you, young man.’”
Again during his time at Marine Barracks, Burton had a brush with fame. He was selected to serve as the Marine orderly for President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a day while the president was aboard the USS Mitscher to observe the 1958 America’s Cup races off Newport Beach, Rhode Island. Burton recalled that it was a hot day in September and the president asked him to fetch a Coca-Cola, and told him to get one for himself. Burton replied, “Sir, I’m on duty.” But the president said, with a smile, “It’s OK. I’m the commander in chief.”
By 1966, Burton had risen to the rank of gunnery sergeant when he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant. Six weeks later, he was ordered to Vietnam and joined Delta Company, First Battalion, Third Marine Regiment as a platoon commander. During his years as Drill Instructor, one of Burton’s students was R. Lee Ermey, who played Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the 1987 movie “Full Metal Jacket.”
After Vietnam, Burton was stationed at Camp Pendleton, where he served as assistant operations officer, commanding officer of “Kilo” Company, and adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. He was transferred to Okinawa, where, as a captain, he was the personnel officer for then Brig. Gen. Robert Barrow, commanding general of Marine Corps Base, Camp Butler, who later became the 27th commandant of the Marine Corps.
Burton returned to Camp Pendleton where, after 22 years of active duty, he retired from the Marine Corps in 1974. Six years earlier, in 1968, he married a former Navy nurse and they raised four children in the Oceanside/Carlsbad area.
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Burton happened to show the sketches to Darcy Clevenger, sales director at Las Villas De Carlsbad, whose husband is a Marine. She suggested he give them to the Camp Pendleton Historical Society.
The loan of this artwork enables the History and Museum Division of Camp Pendleton to research and share the images with other historical museums and collections, and share the rich history of the United States Marine Corps and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Jonason said.
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