Larkin joined the U.S. Marines in 1934. While in Shanghai, he took several photographs that truly show what it was like in the streets of Shanghai in the late thirties.  Click here to view some of those photographs.

Sergeant Larkin Jay Burt was born on the family farm in Improve, Mississippi on 15 October 1911. He was a particularly wayward boy, once hopping a freight train and riding all the way to New Orleans. He then helped unload a shipload of bananas in order to make enough money to make it back home. He once hopped a freight train and traveled to Texas and back.

At age twenty-two, he saw a Marine Corps recruiting poster that advertised that joining the Marines would be a good way to see the Orient, and in particular China. On 6 December, 1934 he enlisted in the Marine Corps in New Orleans, Louisiana after leaving junior college.

After basic training at Paris Island he was deployed to various places, but spent the most time in China. He was the last Marine to leave Shanghai, purposely lagging behind at the foot of the gangplank to claim this honor.

He was captured at Fort Mills on Corregidor on 6 May 1942, beginning an imprisonment that would last for the next forty months. He says that he was asleep when the bombing began on Corregidor, and that the bombing was “incredibly heavy.” Artillery barrages would last for twenty-four hours straight. He remembered that when the shelling would cease for a time, men would climb out and talk to one another, but no one could hear anything. Many of the Marines had tunnels dug into the hillsides to afford some protection, but many, like Burt were “in the open.” He said that if the Japanese hadn’t captured them, they soon would have starved to death anyway.

To the best of his recollection, from 6 May to 26 May 1942 he stayed on Corregidor under guard. From 26 to 28 May 1942 he was moved to Bilibid Prison, in Manila. From 29 May to sometime in October of that year, he was imprisoned at Cabanatuan #3, and then moved to Cabanatuan #1. From then he served the remainder of his imprisonment in different places in Japan. One of the last camps he was in was Camp Tokyo #5-B, in Niigata, Japan.

During has captivity, he contracted scurvy, beriberi and dengue fever. He remembered; “we lost twenty men a day for a long time, then we started getting Red Cross supplies and got straightened out. We mostly ate rice, sweet potato vines and seaweed. We were filthy; we had fleas and lice in our clothes and everywhere else.”

On 16 April, 1944 he managed to get a prisoner card home, which simply read: “Dear Mother, I am well. Had some snow yesterday. Received seven letters. Tell everyone hello. Can not answer all letters. Hope all of you are well. Love to all, Larkin.”

One Japanese guard had a name they couldn’t pronounce so they called him “the Goon.” Several prisoners had built a rapport with him and would ask him for war news. One day he said “pretty soon there are going to be a lot of Americans here, and I’m going to the mountains.” The Japanese distributed paint to the prisoners and instructed them to paint the letters “PW” on top of the camp buildings. On 25 August, 1945, American planes came out of the east and flew right over the camp. “They began to circle and swooped down over the camp and dropped a pack of cigarettes with a note that said they’d be back with food.”

Before his death in 1997, he remembered, “When I was a POW, I would dream about being home, and everything in the dream was good, but when I got home, I’d dream about being in Japan, and everything was bad.”

He was released on 5 September, 1945 at Yokahoma, Japan. Upon his release he was diagnosed with malaria, pleurisy and pneumonia and nearly blind with retinitis. He had broken his back and dislocated his wrist when he fell off of a railroad trestle while working in coal yards in Japan. During his imprisonment, Larkin Burt went from 220 pounds down to 132 pounds. He finally returned to the United States early in October, 1945.

Larkin Jay Burt died on 8 April 1997, his body cremated and the ashes buried at the foot of his mother’s grave.


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