Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum Curator Passes Away

By: Bruce Danforth

Arising from the devastation of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, there grew a sense of community around those involved in the deadly assault. In the aftermath of World War II, that community grew even larger, to encompass many others who recognized the importance of memorializing and remembering the history of that day. Among them was journalist, historian, and museum curator William Burlingame, known to all as Burl, who passed away on March 15, 2019 at the age of 66.

While Burl Burlingame had no direct connection to the events of the 1941 attack, he was a son of a World War II fighter pilot, which helped explain his lifelong interest in military aviation and led to his joining the staff of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in 2012. At the museum, Burlingame worked as a research specialist, curator, and historian. He was also a regular participant in events that took place at other historic sites throughout Pearl Harbor.

William G. Burl Burlingame and Lt Gen Cha-Kyu Choi. Vice Chief of Staff of the Republic of Korea Air Force, unveil a F-5 fighter at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Burl Burlingame and Lt Gen Cha-Kyu Choi. Vice Chief of Staff of the Republic of Korea Air Force, unveil an F-5 fighter at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

He was a part of the large community of people who help keep the museums and exhibits of Pearl Harbor running. Specifically, he played a vital role in ensuring the details and exhibits of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum were thoroughly researched and maintained. Research was always a big part of Burlingame’s life, especially before joining the staff of the museum. For more than 35 years, he worked at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Star-Advertiser. Along with providing film and music criticism, Burlingame also shared his expertise in World War II history.

Born in Alaska, William G. Burlingame moved with his family to Hawaii when their father was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base just outside of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. After the father retired, the family stayed on Oahu, where Burl graduated from Radford High School. Later, he majored in journalism and anthropology at the University of Missouri.

Throughout his life he nurtured a fascination with wartime aviation history. This interest led him to become a skilled model-plane hobbyist, even designing his own model kits. It was this modelling expertise, along with an extensive knowledge of World War II history, that he brought to his work at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.

Burlingame may not have been a Pearl Harbor survivor, but he was part of the ever-growing community working to preserve the memories and history of the tragic events of December 7, 1941.

William Burlingame is survived by his wife, Mary Poole-Burlingame, daughters Amelia and Kate, and two brothers.

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