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Group of SCOTUS Justice and WWI 91st ID veteran Harold Hitz Burton


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      On this veteran’s day I am excited to share one of those things that just happened to fall into place, a great story combining my passions for preserving military history and the law, a group of military artifacts from a distinguished WWI veteran and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Harold Hitz Burton.


     As a law student and future lawyer, I have a strong love for both these fields so now being able to take care of the military artifacts from one of our nation’s highest jurists, much less one who saw lots of combat in Europe and decided some of our nation’s most crucial legal outcomes, such as Brown v. Board, it has truly just been outstanding to preserve and tell Mr Captain Justice Burton’s story.


     The group shines with Justice Burton’s May 1918-dated officers tunic bearing a tailor tag from Tacoma, Washington where he and the 91st Infantry Division trained prior to overseas service. Interestingly, Burton continued using the jacket after WWI and simply updated it with the insignia from his unit in the Ohio National Guard (of which he was a part from 1921-1940). Also included is Burton’s copy of his regimental unit history which he personally compiled, wrote, and published in 1921. Rounding off the group are various bits of newspaper clippings and paperwork that the Justice saved throughout his career.


You can find my full article here, which includes many more war stories, but below is a brief overview.



      Harold Hitz Burton was born the son of an MIT professor in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts in the summer of 1888. At first hoping to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, a heart murmur instead led Burton to follow his father’s footsteps at Bowdoin College and on to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1912. He worked as an attorney in Ohio, Utah, and Idaho for various firms and utility companies before war broke out in April 1917, enlisting in the U.S. Army a month later. Despite being told a lawyer was “the most useless man in the world,” in a war, Burton persisted and received a commission as a lieutenant in the 361st Infantry Regiment, 91st “Wild West'' Infantry Division. 


      Burton went overseas in the summer of 1918 and by September was promoted to the Operations Officer of his regiment, meaning he oversaw the transmission of orders to units across the regiment and was to make sure they were carried out properly. This meant he was always along the frontline elements, rushing back and forth to issue commands and change them as needed, making sure each unit performed its task. He and the division entered combat on 25 September to the blast of German artillery as they rushed forward to begin the Argonne Offensive with Burton performing his duties right on the front. Below is just one of the many combat stories I was able to find through research, this one about an incident occurring a few days into the Argonne Offensive:


“The fighting was primarily through the densely forested hills of the Argonne and every treeline seemed to hold more of the enemy. Burton learned this well one night when he received telephone orders for the next day’s jump-off after a successful drive the day prior. Going to spread the command, Burton traveled alone back to another telephone station, still vigilant as he knew he was close to the enemy lines. Before long he began to hear voices coming from the trees but was unable to see anyone in the black pitch of night. Moving closer to the sounds, he soon realized that the voices came from a set of Germans put in a sniping post. At this point realizing he had left his service pistol back at the telephone station, he nonetheless proceeded forward alone, sneaking around behind the voices and approaching silently. Once he felt close enough he shouted out the only two words he knew in German, “Gehen Sie!” At this the two snipers were shocked, but unable to see their captor and realize his unarmed state, they put down their rifles and marched out with their hands held high. Burton proudly walked the pair back to the telephone post, netting himself a count of two POWs.”


      In late October he and the division moved to Belgium where they participated in the last-ditch Ypres-Lys Offensive. Here Burton was appointed the temporary commander of the frontline elements after his commanding officer was killed by artillery. The war ended with Burton still holding troops near Audenarde, Belgium on 11 November 1918 and for his gallant service he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre and received a U.S. Army Meritorious Citation from General Pershing.


       Burton returned home in 1919, settling in Cleveland where he formed his own law firm but remained active in the Ohio National Guard. In the late 1920s he became the regional chair of the American Legion which launched a political career seeing him serve as mayor of Cleveland (1936-1940), U.S. Senator (1941-1945), and finally as Truman’s first appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court in September 1945. On the bench Burton was known as a cautious and technical jurist, preferring to rule on technical rather than Constitutional grounds, but was still well-regarded amongst his colleagues. He is most famous for his decision in American Tobacco Co. v. United States, which greatly expanded antitrust enforcement, but is equally praised for his dedication to civil rights, banning segregation on railways with his majority opinion in Henderson v. United States and for later helping Chief Justice Warren secure a unanimous majority in Brown v. Board, arguably one of the most important judicial cases in all of American history. Burton served on the court until 1958 when he retired, moving home to Cleveland where he passed in 1964.


(PS notice that trench knife on his belt in the field pic!)



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Really nice!  
And aside from the great history behind it, that transitional uniform is rather scarce.   Looks to be the exact uniform in the photo (Including DUI’s). 
Any manufacturer hallmark on the DUI’s?   They must be  very early examples. 

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@KurtA thanks! Yeah I really was intrigued by the unique transitional nature to it, especially given he decided to keep it even after we had new uniforms developed in the in-between years. I do believe it is the exact one in the photo as all the insignia does match perfectly. I will have to check on the DUIs when I get it back as I currently have it on display at my law school for the holiday (it’s gotten some great feedback!)



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