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Howard Burks, left, and Peter Turnbull at Burks' home in Cotaco. Burks, a World War II veteran, and Turnbull, from Great Britain, have formed a bond spanning the years and the miles.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Howard Burks, left, and Peter Turnbull at Burks' home in Cotaco. Burks, a World War II veteran, and Turnbull, from Great Britain, have formed a bond spanning the years and the miles.

A bond across
the pond

Cotaco World War II veteran
inspires young British author

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

COTACO — Although there's a 50-year difference in their ages, the young Brit and the World War II veteran have a lot in common.

That's why each time they meet, their discussions never lag.

Peter Turnbull's visits to Howard Burks' home in Cotaco have become so frequent, Burks says the relationship with his guest makes him "feel just like one of my own."

Turnbull, 33, of Sunderland, England, on his fourth trip to America and his third visit with Burks, 83, returns the favor.

"He's a top bloke," said Turnbull. "In your parlance, he's a good guy, one in a million. I think a lot of him."

Burks was a paratrooper with the 307th Engineer Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division. He fought through the Battle of the Bulge to reach Berlin.

He had a heart attack in June 2002. While in recovery from triple bypass surgery, he had a stroke.

Turnbull, who arrived May 19, assists Burks whether they're walking around the yard or fishing at Guntersville Lake. He also drives for him. And this year, their Memorial Day will be different. They will attend an event sponsored by a Somerville family.

Turnbull spent 12 years in the Territorial Army in his country, equivalent to the National Guard, as a "sapper" or private. He is jump qualified.

His last leap was June 6, 2001, at Normandy during a re-enactment of D-Day. When he and about 30 in his group leaped from a C-47, he carried full equipment and wore a 307th Engineer uniform.

The friendship of Turnbull and Burks began after the Englishman visited a friend in Holland in 1999 and found shreds of a parachute and shards of Plexiglas from the shattered window of a glider on farmland. It matched one like Burks sailed during the Sept. 17, 1944, invasion.

The area had been a drop zone and the treasures were there for Turnbull after a farmer plowed them up. Through the Internet, Turnbull's Dutch friend, Frits Janssen, also a student of the American military, had previously located Burks. Turnbull mailed him the relics.

Turnbull decided as a hobby to write a book about the 307th "because I have always been interested in the war and in all the materials I read, there wasn't much about support units."

His first trip to America was in 1996 to review records at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"I looked at things such as fortifications, demolitions and camouflages, and essentially I found that the basics are similar," he said.

He published the book in 2005. He mailed Burks the first copy.

And it will be a keepsake. In January at Fort Bragg, the 307th laid its colors to rest.

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