Memorial Day 2010: Pleasanton salutes and remembers those who served
Little train bell dedicated to infantry regiment
A story in the Sacramento Bee in November 1950 describes the 184th Infantry Regiment's first landing in World War II, at the island of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands.
"Stomachs, already upset by the rough sea, tightened into knots, muscles became taut, beads of cold perspiration trickled down spines, mouths were dry and hands tightly clutching rifles were clammy," reads the yellowing article from 60 years ago.
The men of the 184th Infantry fought their way across the Pacific as part of the 7th Division after they left San Francisco in 1942.
Before shipping out, the National Guard unit from Sacramento was bivouacked in woods next to Fleishhacker Park. Knowing they could go at any time, the GIs often went out at night and tried to sleep during the day. But their daytime slumber was constantly interrupted by a bell clanging on a children's train in the nearby playground. Even at night, the bell would ring as the wind jostled it. One day the bell disappeared. The soldiers were suspected of having "requisitioned" it but a search of their tents - and the offer of a $25 reward - yielded nothing.
By the time the 84th Infantry landed for battle on the island of Kiska in August 1943, everyone had forgotten the bell.
"Over the side of the ship they went and into the landing craft," continues the story in the Bee. "Faces were white and drawn as the boats touched the beach - and then, above the din of the Navy's guns and the bombs of the cover aircraft, came the sound of a ringing bell. Someone laughed - the tautness vanished. The tension was broken and the 184th was ashore."
The Japanese had already left that island, and the regiment's ship headed for the Marshall Islands. In February 1944 they braced for another landing, on Kwajalein. Except this time the enemy forces were waiting and determined to defend their island: The entire outfit was under fire before the men even reached the shore. Again the sound of the ringing bell eased the tension, and men of the 184th said afterward that they felt many lives were saved that day due to their uplifted spirits.
Pfc. Pat Burke, who is buried in Pleasanton's Pioneer Cemetery, is credited with ringing the bell during both landings. He was mortally wounded at Kwajalein but he managed to pass the bell to a comrade, according to the Bee.
Burke's nephew, Victor Lund Jr., and his wife Patsy still have letters written to his mother, Mercedes Burke Lund. She was living on a farm in Pleasanton at the time and raising three children, and had asked for details about her brother's last moments.
"We were pinned down for a few minutes and Pat ran up to give my part of our line a hand," wrote Sgt. R. Fitzgerald. "He jumped into a fox-hole and a sniper was hiding in the tree just above the fox-hole. The Sniper shot Pat, the bullet struck him in the head and he died without pain. I can assure you that the sniper that killed Pat, lived a few second (sic) more without doing more harm."
The bell continued to ring the 184th Regiment into battle in Okinawa and Leyte, becoming a cherished sound to the soldiers. After the war, the bell was in the possession of Burke's friend, Warrant Officer Glenn Gwinn, and by that time the train at Fleishhacker had acquired a new bell.
When San Francisco Mayor Elmer Robinson heard the story after the war, he saw to it that Gwinn received clear title to the bell. He engraved it in memory of Pat Burke and presented it to the regiment - if it ever goes into battle again, the bell once again will go with it.
Mercedes Lund went to Sacramento for the ceremony in 1950, and son Vic and his then-girlfriend Patsy went, too.
"We were in high school, Amador Valley," recalled Patsy Lund.
Vic Lund was 10 when his Uncle Pat was killed in Kwajalein.
"After he was killed over there one of his friends came by the house and relayed the story of the bell to us for the first time," Lund remembered. "After he was shot, then another one of his friends picked it up."
The Lund family moved to its Pleasanton farm near the Fairgrounds in 1939, he said. His grandmother also moved to Pleasanton and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery near Pat. Vic's brother Larry put together all the clippings about the bell and the photos of Pat.
The train operated from 1925 until 1978, carrying children around the San Francisco Zoo until the tracks were removed to make way for Gorilla World. In 1998 it reopened after an extensive restoration by railroad enthusiasts.
The bell resides in the museum in the National Guard Armory in Sacramento, waiting another call to duty. Kwajalein, after the devastation of the four-day battle that killed Pfc. Burke, has regained some of its lushness and palm trees. It is owned by the U.S. Army and is used to test missiles from Vandenburg Air Force Base.
Vic and Patsy Lund go every year to the Memorial Day event at the Pleasanton Pioneer Cemetery and keep fresh flowers on their relatives' graves. As they honor their Uncle Pat and mourn his life cut short at the age of 26, they also smile at the thought of him ringing that little bell as he landed with his comrades on Kwajalein.