William Oscar Burch, Jr., was born June 27, 1904, at Paducah, Kentucky, the son of William O. and Elizabeth Metzler Burch. He attended Paducah High School and was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, entering in June 1923, graduating with the Class of 1927.
He advanced through the ranks, named Captain for temporary service on 27 June, (his birthday) 1945, attaining the four stripes on July 1, 1950, to rank from March 30, 1945. On October 6, 1956, he was named Rear Admiral to rank from July 1 of that year.
Burch was the eighth commanding officer of the U.S.S. Tarawa, taking over on August 8, 1953. He was relieved of command in the Pacific as the ship was in the final stages of the 1953-54 World Cruise.
Upon graduation from the Academy, Burch served as a Junior Division Officer aboard the U.S.S. Medusa, a ship of the Train, Base Force, from July 1927 to August 1928. From August 1928 to March 1930 he served in a similar capacity in the U.S.S. West Virginia, flagship of Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet.
In March 1930 he reported to the U.S. Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, for flight instruction and was designated Naval Aviator on December 12 of that year. The following month he took up duties as Junior Aviation Officer aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania.
In May 1933 he returned to NAS, Pensacola, as an instructor until June 1935. He was then transferred to Scouting Squadron 4-B with duties as Material Officer until June 1937 when he joined Scouting Squadron 42 with similar responsibilities. With these squadron assignments he was based in the carriers Langley, Saratoga and Ranger until October 1937 when he returned again to NAS Pensacola as an instructor until June 1939.
In June 1939 he joined Scouting Squadron 5, and took command in August 1941. In the early months of World War II he participated in raids on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands and Salamaua-Lae, and in the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway.
He was twice awarded the Navy Cross, and received the Silver Star Medal and a letter of Commendation from the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, for heroism in that command.
The citation for his first Navy Cross reads, in part: "Due to Lieutenant Commander Burch's distinguished and capable leadership, the high combat efficiency attained by units under his command enabled them to deliver five aggressive and exceptionally successful dive-bombing attacks, the first at Tulagi Harbor on May 4 in which at least eight enemy Japanese vessels were destroyed or severely damaged, and later on May 7, when an enemy carrier was sunk...On May 8 (his) squadron succeeded in sinking or severely damaging another enemy Japanese carrier...(and) contributed materially to the success of our forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea."
His Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross citation reads, in part: "Lieutenant Commander Burch fearlessly led his squadron over high mountains and dense jungles fo New Guinea in a dive-bombing attack against three enemy airplane tenders or transports...He and his squadron scored seven direct hits and eight very near misses against the hostile vessels, one direct hit being made by Lieutenant Commander Burch personally...contributed materially to the sinking of the three Japanese ships..."
From June to August 1942 he served as Training Officer with Carriers, Pacific, and then as Executive Officer with Advanced Carrier Training Group until October 1942.
He then was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, eventually serving there as Commanding Officer of the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Cecil Field, until February 1944.
In May 1944 he reported to the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, as the prospective Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CV-14). Upon that carrier's commissioning he became her Executive Officer. He served in her from May 1944 to June 1945 in the Pacific. He was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a third Navy Cross for heroic conduct as XO when the ship was hit by a suicide plane and bomb
crashing through her flight deck; he directed the fire fighting though burned and severely wounded by shrapnel.
His Gold Star citation in lieu of a third Navy Cross reads: "...Organizing fire-fighting crews on the hangar deck after his ship had been hit, (then Commander) Burch was the first to take a hose into the fire despite the billowing flames and continuous ammunition explosions although his clothes caught fire on two occasions. After the fire-fighting crews were functioning, he made his way to secondary control and manned his exposed battle station until severely wounded by shrapnel. Refusing to go to Sick Bay, he gave orders to be carried to the flight deck where he directed the fire fighting until the flames were under control..."
Upon his return to the United States, he served from June 1945 to November 1946 as Commanding Officer, Naval Auxiliary Air Training Center, Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and then as CO of the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida, until March 1947.
Then followed a succession of commands, Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Pine Island (AV-12) from March 1947 to February 1948; Commanding Officer, Fleet Air Wing One, from February to April 1948; returning to the Pine Island as Co until May of 1948.
He then became Head, Enlisted Distribution Branch, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, until August of 1951 when he reported as a student to the National War College, Washington, D.C., graduating in June 1952. Then followed a year of duty as Chief of Staff and Aide to Commander, Carrier Division Six.
It was following that assignment, in August 1953, that Burch was named skipper of the U.S.S. Tarawa, a command he held for a year before reporting for two months of instruction with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. From July until October 1954 he served as Chief of Staff with the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Formosa.
His next assignment was a two-month tour with Air Force, Atlantic Fleet, followed in November 1954 by being named Chief of Staff, Fleet Air Wings, Atlantic Fleet. In September 1956 he rose to become Commander Fleet Air Wings, Atlantic Fleet, with additional duty as Commander, Fleet Air Wing Five, all based at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia.
In August 1957 he was named Commander, Carrier Division 18, and in November 1958 became Commander, Naval Aviation Safety Center, NAS, Norfolk. While retaining that post, he took on additional duties from December 24, 1960 to October 1961 as Commandant, Fifth Naval District, and Commander Naval Base, Norfolk.
It was during this time that he was awarded the Legion of Merit "For exceptionally meritorious conduct¼ as Commander, United States Naval Aviation Safety Center, from November 1958 to June 1962.
"Responsible for reducing annual naval aviation aircraft losses to the lowest level ever attained in the history of naval aviation, Rear Admiral Burch consistently exercised a high degree of professional skill and resourcefulness throughout this period.
"Through his constant and meticulous attention to the problems of safety, he has been directly responsible for minimizing aircraft and aircrew personnel losses, resulting in definite increase in operational readiness and substantial monetary savings.
"In stimulating command interest and attention to all aspects of aviation safety, and in initiating the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization Programs, he has made a major contribution to the success of the Navy-wide safety effort. His ability to solve the many and varied problems associated with his command ensured the smooth functioning that provided the most efficient service to the Navy..."
The admiral's Distinguished Flying Cross was won "For heroic conduct in aerial combat as Commanding Officer of Scouting Squadron Five during operations of U.S. forces against the Gilbert Islands on January 31, 1942...(when) he personally made a direct bomb hit on an enemy seaplane tender and sank a four-engined patrol plane on the water by machine gun fire."
On July 1, 1962, Burch was transferred to the Retired List of the U.S. Navy.
The admiral was married on 30 December 1961 to the former Emily Lucy C. Wingert of Scarsdale, New York. They had two children: Laura T. Burch and William D. Burch.
In retirement, Admiral Burch lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was a member of the Galillee Episcopal Church there and of the Princess Ann Country Club.
The shrapnel wounds suffered in World War II plagued him during the remainder of his life, the metal fragments continuing to work their way through parts of his body.
Burch died at his home on 21 January 1989. Services were held in the Galilee Church on 24 January followed by burial in Eastern Shore Chapel Cemetery.
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