In Memoriam Burl Burlingame (1953-2019)

Daniel Martinez, Chief Historian at Pearl Harbor National Memorial

William G. “Burl” Burlingame was my friend for 33 years. But most importantly he was a friend to the community of history here in Hawaii. I met him in the winter of 1986 thru our mutual friend Bob Chenoweth, who at that time was the curator of U.S. Army Museum at Fort DeRussey. His profession in those early years of our friendship was that of a writer for the Honolulu newspapers. Burl was also an author, exhibit designer and an incredible model builder.

Burl had been a newspaperman for more than 35 years, most of them at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and ultimately the Star Advertiser. He was on the staff of what was called the “Today” section for three decades, with a particular focus on film criticism and music. However, he also covered a wide range of subjects, including his principal expertise in World War II history. He was also known with affection in the model and history communities as “Burl Harbor”.

Burl’s parents, William and Connie Burlingame, had three boys David, Dirk and William (“Burl”). Burl was born in Alaska. Most of Burl’s childhood was spent in Hawaii due to his father being stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in the post-war years. I always suspected that a big part of his passion for aviation and Pacific War history was the fact that his father flew a P-51 fighter plane during World War II. He was a graduate of Radford High School in Hawaii and attended college at the University of Missouri. There he majored in journalism and anthropology. I met his family years ago and was with them on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri where the IPMS National model contest was held. During that visit, I had a chance to spend time with his family that included his wife Mary Poole-Burlingame and his daughters Amelia and Kate.

Frank Bridgewater, Vice President/Editor, Honolulu Star Advertiser, wrote an insightful biography of Burl’s experience and accomplishments in the following newspaper obituary column:

“Burl’s contributions to the Star Bulletin and Star Advertiser for many years were invaluable,” said, the editor of the Star Advertiser. “He could write a story — on just about any topic — take the photos, draw the pictures and design the layout. In addition, his knowledge of and contributions to historical articles and projects was unmatched. Bridgewater noted further that he was fascinated by wartime aeronautical history and immersed in the finest details of the planes themselves, becoming a skilled model-plane hobbyist, first assembling commercial kits and ultimately designing his own. Burlingame founded his own publishing company, Pacific Monograph, specializing in historic interpretation. He wrote numerous books on everything from Hawaii’s iconic collectible milk covers to Hawaiian music. But the overwhelming majority of his titles concerned World War II history, a subject on which he was interviewed for numerous TV and film productions.”

Burlingame left the paper in 2012 to begin a new journey that began when he went to work at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Among his many potions at the museum was as a researcher, then a museum curator and aviation historian.

The day before he passed, we were working on a special product for Pacific Historic Parks. He had replicated the first historic marker designating the Pearl Harbor attack. As usual the design was perfect. Typical of Burl, he had immediately launched in the project and in less than 48 hours had the prototype completed. As one of his many friends I will miss him dearly and still can’t accept that he is not with us. His sense of humor will sustain me at this time of loss and in that spirit… “Let’s Remember Burl Harbor!”...he would like that!