As a child, almost every day growing up Jason Burt would hear the sounds of his grandfather, Julliard-trained Richard G. Burt, playing the trumpet in his home.
“We would go over there every day and he would babysit us,” Burt told Historynet. “You could hear him playing his trumpet…but I wasn’t actually listening.”
Burt’s grandfather, however, had entertained far more than his grandchildren with his talents. At the outbreak of World War II, the classically trained trumpet player volunteered his services and joined the 746th Air Force Band, stationed in the Philippines in 1944.
“I knew my grandpa was in the war, but I didn’t know the details,” Burt stated. “I really wanted him to be this guy who received a Medal of Honor or something. I didn’t appreciate it until I was older. But the impact that he had on those guys just to be able to make them feel like they were at home. It had to be such an honor.”
While overseas, the 746th FEAF Band entertained scores of homesick troops, seemingly flung out to all corners of the Earth. When the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor”—women in the United States Army Nurse Corps who were captured alongside G.I.s when the Philippines were overrun by the Japanese in 1941—were liberated in February of 1945, it was Richard’s band that played at their award ceremony.
“His contribution to the war was doing the thing that he was good at. To be able to make [troops] feel closer to home and not like they were in a war zone—maybe take their mind off what they were doing—was really important to him,” said Burt.
Honorably discharged as a corporal at war’s end, Richard was granted permission to bring the band’s recordings back to the States.
Some of the records include narration from Richard; listeners can hear him describe a guy setting up a stage around blown out palm trees—his commentary accompanied by the sound of gunfire snapping in the background.
However, 40 years after the war the tapes had seemingly vanished. It wasn’t until after his grandfather’s death in 2016 that Burt found the missing records—all five of them—in his grandfather’s attic. The records had been kept in perfect condition and possessed roughly 33 minutes of music.
Burt, an avid history buff and the founder of the J&L Historical—a company that produces historical content for students—decided that the records deserved a home where the public could hear the 746th Air Force Band just as those G.I.s and Marines did in 1944.
After contacting the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Burt was essentially told that the museum was interested, but that it didn’t produce music. There was also concern that the final product could look amateurish.
“The amateur thing really stuck with me,” Burt told Historynet. “I thought, ‘you know, [they’re] kind of right. These guys aren’t going to get that kind of attention just by throwing their album on the shelves, because no one’s going to know their story.’ ” From there, Burt’s idea began to evolve.
After researching sound technicians that won Grammys for best historical albums, he reached out to Gavin Lurssen and Rueben Cohen of Lurssen Mastering in Burbank, California. Both men were enthusiastic to take on the project.
While the project, dubbed “Operation Platinum,” has temporarily stalled due to Covid-19 concerns, avid musicians and history buffs alike can purchase the digitally remastered recordings set for sale by Veteran’s Day 2020. From the proceeds Burt hopes to donate a portion of the earnings to the USO. “It just seems like a seamless fit,” he said.
For Burt, the remastered album is a chance to honor his grandfather and bring to light the band’s contribution to the war. It is also “an avenue to reach young students and show them that history is so much more than some facts in a book,” said Burt.
In the coming months, it’s a project that he hopes to draw attention to.
“How cool would it be if these guys had a platinum album and have this resurgence as a band that made this 75 years ago?”
To follow the progress of the album, check out: