Don Burns was born on January 2, 1929, in Mineral Wells, Texas. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on March 24, 1951, and entered Officer Candidate School at Lackland AFB, Texas, on October 1, 1951, graduating with a commission as a 2d Lt on March 21, 1952. After completing Aircraft Controller training at Tyndall AFB, Florida, Lt Burns served as an Aircraft Controller with the 656th Air Control and Warning (AC&W) Squadron at Saratoga Springs, New York, from July 1952 to October 1953, when he was accepted for pilot training. He was awarded his pilot wings at Bryan AFB, Texas, in October 1954, and then completed Gunnery School and F-86 Sabre Combat Crew Training before serving with the 335th Fighter Day Squadron at Chitose AB, Japan, from June 1955 to October 1957. His next assignment was as a Flight Commander with the 6029th Support Group at Chitose from October 1957 to April 1958, followed by service as an Intercept Controller with the 729th AC&W Squadron at Robins AFB, Georgia, from April to July 1958, and with the 728th AC&W Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, from July 1958 to December 1960. After completing B-66 Destroyer transition training, Capt Burns served as a B-66 pilot with the 85th Tactical Bomb Squadron at RAF Sculthorpe, England, from March 1961 to August 1962, and then as an F-84 Thunderstreak pilot with the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Chaumont AB, France, from August 1962 to July 1963. Maj Burns then moved with the squadron to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and transitioned to the F-100 Super Sabre and then the F-4 Phantom II, serving there from July 1963 to March 1966, when the squadron deployed to Southeast Asia. He flew combat missions with the 389th out of Phan Rang AB, South Vietnam, from March to October 1966, and then from Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, from October 1966 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on December 2, 1966. After spending 2,285 days in captivity, Col Burns was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Sheppard AFB, Texas, and then attended Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from August 1973 to August 1974. His next assignment was on the staff of Headquarters Tactical Air Command, where he served as Chief of the Exercise Plans Division from September 1974 to September 1975, Chief of the Planning Support Division from September 1975 to January 1976, and Director of Contingency/Exercise Plans from January 1976 until his retirement from the Air Force on May 1, 1977. Don Burns died on April 26, 1996, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For the period December 1966: This officer distinguished himself by gallantry and intrepidity in action in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force during the above period while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. Ignoring international agreements on treatment of prisoners of war, the enemy resorted to mental and physical cruelties to obtain information, confessions, and propaganda materials. This individual resisted their demands by calling upon his deepest inner strengths in a manner which reflected his devotion to duty and great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.