Thursday, May 2, 2019

End of the Rainbow

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Homecoming: May 1919. Sergeant Robert Gober Burton  kneels left beside Sgt. Augustus Williamson. Burton's mother,
Ida Burton, is seated before Williamson.  Georgia Guard Archives.

While enroute to the United States, the U.S.S. Minnesota and the Soldiers of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion were rerouted. Instead of arriving in Newport News, Va. as expected, the men debarked April 26, 1919 in Hoboken, N.J. That evening, the battalion proceeded to Camp Merritt, N.J. Here, the men were provided with post cards to send home to inform their families that they had arrived in the United States.

April 24, 1919 to Mrs. P.F. Burton
Date: April 26, 1919
I arrived in New York today on the transport U. S. S. Minnesota
Will go at once to Camp Merritt, New Jersey and will write from there as soon as possible.
Signed Gober Burton
Unit Co. A. 151 M. G. Bn[i]

Over the next several days, members of the battalion were arranged into detachments and dispatched to camps in states such as Michigan and Wyoming for discharge and return to their home states.[ii] While these men were being arranged in casual companies Sgt. Burton excitedly wrote home to his family relating his joy at being back in the states.

Merritt Hall, Camp Merritt, New Jersey
May 4, 1919
My dearest Mater,
Well here I am in the good ol’ USA. What do you know about that? As you know by the card, we landed on the 26th and I think that I have kept you informed from then till now by wire. I suppose you think that I have been rather extravagant since I landed don’t you? Here is the way I figured it. I have been away for 18 months and have not had a chance to have a good time. I really think that I am due a little fling don’t you? But mater dear, I haven’t done anything bad but go to the theatre and dance. I learned to take care of myself. I have seen lots of suffering from unwise living over there and I don’t hanker after any of it. I have come back as clean as I went away.
You remember my writing about the friend in N.Y.? Well she has been grand to me since I landed, and she has done everything possible to make me have a good time.
We had quite a nice trip across only two nights were rough and I could stand them for we were coming home.
We parade in Macon before we are mustered out. I suppose that you still receive the Macon papers and know all about the preparations that are being made for the 151st. I would lots rather that no fuss was made over it, but it seems as if there is bound to be, so I am submitting with the most grace possible.
I don’t know but it is said that we start south soon. I sho do hope so.
I believe that before long I will be an American again, but these people certainly have funny ways. They speak English and don’t wear wooden shoes or shrug their shoulders and they treat you as if you were real humans instead of being just a cog in a machine.
I think that I am going to like this country real well however I don’t like N.Y. I have seen so much of crowds and jams and things until I am sick of the whole works. I want to get in some place where there is plenty of room.
Do you know that next Sunday is Mother’s Day? Do you recall another Mother’s Day Oh! so long ago? Wouldn’t it be good if I could be at home next Sunday?
This is enough for this time mater. Hoping to see you soon.
Your devoted,

As Burton predicted, on May 7, 1919 the remnant departed for Macon with 17 officers and 248 enlisted men. Upon reaching Macon two days later, the Soldiers received an enthusiastic welcome home. The citizens of Macon had decorated the streets with rainbow colors and welcome home signs and Soldiers were embraced regardless of their home town or state.

Commemorative card presented to the Soldiers of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion
by the citizens of Macon, Ga. Georgia Guard Archives.

Two years earlier in 1917, upon returning from Mexican border service the Soldiers of the old 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment had paraded down Cherry Street and received medals presented by the city of Macon. As Burton had feared, an attempt was made the afternoon of May 9, 1919 to form the 151st MGB for a parade but the press of the welcoming citizens and reuniting families was so overwhelming that the parade plans were quickly scrapped. Instead, the Soldiers were treated to a lunch at the Hotel Lanier provided by the ladies of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion Auxiliary followed by a reception at a park where ground had been allocated for a memorial to fallen members of the 151st. A particularly poignant moment was experienced by all when former members of the battalion who had previously returned home as casualties were reunited with their returning comrades.

May 9th ended with an outdoor dance which lasted well into the night. The following morning the battalion loaded onto railcars bound for Atlanta and departed with the sound of cheers echoing over the rails. Arriving in Atlanta, the battalion was again greeting by cheering citizens. The battalion marched through the business district of Atlanta and was feted at the Capital City Club. During the luncheon the battalion was addressed by the governor and other distinguished guests. Following the luncheon, the battalion assembled for what would be its final formation and marched back to the train depot for the final trip to Camp Gordon. Arriving the afternoon of May 10, the men were assigned to various companies to begin the process of discharge. The next day, Burton wrote home to advise his mother on his impending discharge.

Camp Gordon
Sunday Afternoon
Dearest mater,
I know how you feel for I feel the same way and I want to come home mighty bad. Won’t you be patient till Tuesday? Then I can come home for good. I think that we will be discharged by then.
Don’t tell anyone when I am coming home or anything. I am going to disconnect the phone when I get home.
I will tell you about all the things people have been doing for us when I get home.
I am as well as can be.
Listen, I may come home late Tuesday night, I don’t know. I think that I shall.
Won’t write anymore now.
Don’t fix that big dinner till I get home and tell you when I feel like eating it.
With heaps of love,

By May 15, all of the Soldiers of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion had been discharged and begun their final journey home.[v]

The Battalion History of the 151st MGB, written in 1919 summarized the unit’s 18 months of overseas service during which time the battalion was in contact with the enemy for 167 days and within enemy artillery range for 194 days. The 151st MGB established headquarters in 77 different locations, conducted movement by rail six times and marched approximately 1,200 kilometers. After serving in ten separate engagements the battalion served as part of the American Army of Occupation in Germany for 140 days. From March 1 to November 11, 1918 the battalion suffered 57 killed in action or mortally wounded, 385 wounded and one missing in action. Nine Soldiers died of disease or non-battle related injuries bringing the battalion's total losses to 452 casualties. Originally composed exclusively of Georgia Guard Soldiers with an authorized strength of 581 officers and men ultimately 1,237 Soldiers served in the battalion. Only 236 of the original Georgia Soldiers returned with the battalion.[vi]

Burton and his longtime friend Sgt. Ed Williamson returned to Monroe, Ga. almost 20 months after they set out together with Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry bound for the Mexican border. When Privates Burton and Williamson left in 1916, Gober’s brother Frank had written that they would return “loaded down with glory.” When they came home in 1919, they returned as non-commissioned officers in one of the most storied divisions of the war. But by then, Burton was long past his boyhood dreams of medals and parades. He moved back in with his parents, and as in 1916, pondered whether to seek employment or enroll in college. By September he informed his family of his decision.

Certificate of Matriculation for R. G. Burton for the University of Georgia
fall semester of 1919. Georgia Guard Archives.
Athens, Ga. September 1919
Friday night
My dearest mother,
Well, your son is now a full-fledged student at the University of Georgia.
I am now taking five courses: economics, accounting, Spanish, English and history. While I had the chance, I figured I might as well polish myself off a bit by taking English and history and Spanish. It is now or never.
The original entrance cost me $34.00 and my books so far have cost me about $7.00 and I have yet another one to buy.
So far, I am well pleased with everything, professors and my courses and the arrangements and everything.
I don’t have any classes in the afternoon, and I think that I will be able to get me a position.
Everyone is or are well and getting along fine.
I have met several boys that I know. I saw Harris King and see him most every day. You can imagine how pleased I am about that.
Have received the letter from Auntie and am going to write her when I have finished this letter to you.
Your devoted son,

Augustus Williamson with Ida Burton
May, 1919. Georgia Guard Archives
By 1920, Burton was still in school and still living at the old home on Broad Street. Williamson meanwhile was instrumental in the reorganization of the Monroe National Guard unit. In 1925, Howitzer Company, 121st Infantry Regiment was federally recognized in Monroe with Augustus Williamson as captain, commanding. Williamson commanded the Monroe unit for seven years before being promoted to lieutenant colonel and the office of United States Property and Fiscal Distribution Officer for the state of Georgia. His successor as commander of the Monroe unit was his brother, Donald Williamson who would command the unit until the eve of World War II.

Burton meanwhile eschewed further military service. He married Emily Grovenia and settled in Jacksonville, Fla. in 1930. He worked as a salesman for a wholesale grocery company and raised a family.

Burton’s father, Phillip passed away in 1935. His mother Ida followed in 1941. Burton’s Auntie, Mary Eualia Nunnally who had presented him with the testament that saved his life in July 1918 died in 1952.

Robert Gober Burton died at the age of 60. He is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery with his family and within walking distance of Augustus Williamson and Capt. John Aycock, his former company commander. 

Robert Gober Burton's grave at Rest Haven Cemetery in Monroe, Ga.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Post Script:
With this, the 25th and final chapter, the story of Sgt. Robert Gober Burton ends. It has been an effort three years in the making. This research journey has taken me from Macon, Ga. to El Paso, Texas and ultimately to the battlefields of France following in the footsteps of the Georgia Soldiers of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. In the course of this research project, I transcribed nearly 300 pages of letters written by Burton his fellow service members and family in the order they were written. I therefore did not know how the story would end or whether Burton would even survive. Over the years, Burton, his family and the Soldiers of the 151st have become good friends and it is hard to consider that I now must leave them. Nevertheless, as we are approaching the 75th anniversary of the Normandy campaign, there are more stories to tell and more friends to meet from the past. 


[i] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. P. F. Burton. April 24, 1919
[iii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. P. F. Burton May 4, 1919
[iv] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. P. F. Burton May 11, 1919
[v] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 24.
[vi] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 25.
[vii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. P. F. Burton September 16, 1919

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