Get to Know … Sam Burney

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By Susan D. Brandenburg
mail@floridanewsline.com

At age 85, Sam Burney is a local treasure. Born and raised in a house at the intersection of Orange Picker and Brady roads in Mandarin, he has many stories to tell.

Q. You’ve had a lot of jobs in your life. What was your first job?

Yep, I’ve been a jack of all trades and a master of none. I was 13 years old when Miss Ivy Nichols asked me if I wanted a job mowing her yard for 10 cents an hour. I told her I couldn’t do it for 10 cents, so she paid me a quarter for two hours. After I graduated from eighth grade at age 14, I rode on the bus to auto mechanic school at Florida Normal in St. Augustine.

Q. What did you do in the Navy?

I worked in the engine room of the ship, but I didn’t stay in the Navy long – just two years – from 1950 to 1952. I didn’t like it. So I came back and worked for Mr. Walsh at his company, US Royal Tires at Park and Roselle Street. I rebuilt engines for a while until I got interested in tile work and started working for Stevenson Tile Company. I worked for Stevenson Tile Company on and off and ended up being an apprentice tile mechanic and then, later, a foreman for a couple of big jobs. There was never a job I left that I couldn’t go back to. I’m proud of that.

Q. What was it about the Merchant Marines that you liked better than the Navy?

Well, I could make my own decisions in the Merchant Marines – stay as long as I wanted and come home if I was needed. I was out at Naval Air Station Jacksonville working as an aircraft mechanic when I took a leave of absence and joined the Merchant Marines. My first trip was on an LST (Land and Sea Tanker) that went to Greenland in 1956 and on to the South Pacific and Guantanamo Bay and other places. Dad got sick in 1958, so I came home and stayed here until he passed away, and went back to work for Stevenson Tile for a few years and then back to the Merchant Marine.

Q. Were you ever in danger during your years at sea?

I went to Vietnam twice. We took runway material the first time and the second time, we took ammunition from Sunny Point, N.C., and nearly exploded. There were bombs in metal cases and we dropped two of them when we were loading them on board. One of the boxes heated up and the captain was told by an Army officer, “We’ve got 20 minutes to get it overboard.” We eased it overboard and then got gone. If we hadn’t, we would have been gone with it! Another time, I volunteered to go on a special project to South Africa. It was supposed to be a supply ship, but we had 30 military people aboard. We always came into Capetown, but when we went to Durban, South Africa, I read in the newspaper, “The Ghost Ship is finally in Durban.” We were on a spy ship. It was said, “The ones that talk don’t know and the ones that know, don’t talk.”

Q. Do any of your brothers and sisters still live in Mandarin?

No. The Lord took them all home but me. I’m the only one left in my family and I just take things day by day and thank the Lord for being alive.

Photo courtesy Mandarin Museum & Historical Society

Sam Burney in the One Room Schoolhouse