Holding their annual four day "Camp Gridley" is not a new endeavor for the Northern Recon Group but to take over a good portion of the fairgrounds property is new and exciting as they plan celebrations honoring veterans.
"Camp Gridley" Living History Day is planned for Saturday, September 16 from 11 a.m., to 3 p.m., and the public is invited to come view the many military vehicles members will drive here along with their tents and other artifacts. All veterans with special attention to World War II veterans will be honored Saturday at 1 p.m., at Camp Gridley at the Pearl Harbor Memorial near the Courtyard Stage. One veteran to be recognized is Ensign Fran Burke, United States Merchant Marine of Petaluma, California. Ensign Burke served in the United States Merchant Marine during WWII. Fran has supported the Northern Recon Group at numerous North Bay Military Vehicle Club events in Petaluma with his son, Rory Burke.
Fran entered the very first class of the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1942. He was one of the first graduating classes in 1943. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is located in Kings Point, New York. After graduation in 1943, Ensign Burke served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II. He supported Guadalcanal, Soloman Islands, and New Guinea campaigns in the Pacific. Each troop ship had over 5,000 marines, supplies, and support personnel on board his ship to Australia. On the return his ship would transport the wounded personnel to San Francisco with a complete hospital staff providing comfort.
Fran served on the S.S. Matsonia, S.S. Mariposa, S.S. Monterey, and S.S. Loraline all part of the Matson Shipping Lines which were operated by the U.S. Merchant Marines. Many ships and all the crews were lost to submarines. It is very difficult for many of us today to imagine the amount of life lost in just one ship
being sunk. It was not until the 1980’s that Merchant Marines were recognized for their service during World War II. Fran helped to set the standard for all future Merchant Marines that continue an outstanding service to the United States.
After World War II Fran continued serving with the Merchant Marines until 1952. He then began his civilian life and served as a coach with the Petaluma Leghorn Football from 1949 to 1955. He also served as the St. Vincent Coach from 1955 to 1957. Fran also served over twenty years selecting future Merchant Marine Academy recruits.
Fran will have as many family members present to help him be honored during the Living History on Saturday, September 16, 2017. A honoring ceremony is scheduled at 1 p.m., with a group photo and then a military vehicle pass and review will happen at 2 p.m.