William P. Burnham – Major General, United States Army


Retired Veteran Who Commanded 82nd Division in France in St. Mihiel Offensive
Had Served in Puerto Rico
In March 1915 he Fired America’s first shot In World War as Check on German Ship

SAN FRANCISCO, September 28, 1930 – Major General William P. Burnham, retired, who was the commander of Fort McDowell and the Presidio here from 1919 to 1924, died at Letterman General Hospital late last night after an illness of several months.

General Burnham, who was 70, was retired in 1924 after more than forty years of service.  During his long career he served as commander of the Eighty-Second Division in France during the St. Mihiel offense and the battle of the Meuse-Argonne, was in charge of the American Mission in Greece in 1919 and served in Puerto Rico.

In March 1915, General Burnham “fired America’s first shot in the World War,” while commanding an infantry regiment in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The German supply ship Odenwalko was in the harbor preparing to make a run for the sea when General Burnham warned the commander that force would be used if he attempted to leave without proper authority.  The German commander ignored the warning.  When the ship headed for sea, the Americans under General Burnham’s command fired a cannon ball across her bow, forcing her back to port.

He was decorated with the Order of the Bath by King George V, the Greek Military Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre.  He will be buried with full military honors in the Arlington National Cemetery.  His body will be sent East on Wednesday, accompanied by his widow, Mrs. Grace Meacham Burnham, a son and two daughters.

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