For Burke, a hero's burial in Annapolis President leads mourners of father of the modern Navy

January 05, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Kris Antonelli | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS -- They gave Arleigh Burke, father of the modern Navy, a hero's burial yesterday at the academy that taught him his craft, beside the water he loved to sail, and among the sailors he commanded for so long.

"Every life is a lesson," said President Clinton. "His life in particular. For in 94 years on this Earth, at sea and on land, Arleigh Burke gave nothing less than everything he had for his cherished Navy and his beloved country."

Mr. Clinton was foremost among notable mourners as the admiral was laid to rest beneath a black marble slab engraved only with the outlines of the destroyer named for him and a simple inscription: "Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Sailor, United States Navy."

Nothing was there to tell posterity that here lies a hero of World War II who won a chestful of medals, a warrior who changed the rules of sea fighting, a leader who helped usher the Navy into the nuclear age.

" 'Sailor' defines what Admiral Burke wants others to know about him," said Rear Adm. D. K. Muchow, the Naval Academy chaplain.

"He was a sailor's sailor," said retired Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III, one of Admiral Burke's former shipmates. "He instinctively understood the world of going to sea and of sailors."

Admiral Burke died this week, a veteran of 42 years of Navy


There for their final moments together was Mrs. Burke, the former Roberta Gorsuch. Now 97, Mrs. Burke, a frail, white-haired figure in black, sat as a widow in front of the same altar she ## stood before as a bride 72 years ago. Ensign Burke married his beloved "Bobbie" in the chapel the day he graduated, June 8, 1923.

Inside the funeral program was a black-and-white photograph of the gnarled hands of an elderly man. One hand clutches a walking stick; the other tenderly holds the thinner fingers of his wife.

It was taken when Admiral and Mrs. Burke attended the commissioning four years ago of the USS Arleigh Burke, the lead ship in a class of guided missile destroyers named for him -- and the last ship on which he sailed .

Typical bluntness

He told the crew with typical bluntness: "This ship is built to fight. You'd better know how."

The chapel rang with applause to celebrate the man who helped his nation win a war, secure a peace and prepare for conflict.

Joining the applause were Mr. Clinton, top brass of the last half-century or more, veterans, diplomats and politicians, including Ross Perot, academy Class of 1953.

"The Navy all Americans are so proud of, the Navy that stood up to fascism and stared down communism, and defends our values and freedom even today -- that Navy is Arleigh Burke's Navy," Mr. Clinton said.

Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the chief of naval operations, stood with Gen. Charles C. Krulak, the Marine Corps commandant, Adm. Charles R. Larson, the academy superintendent, and representatives of the other armed services.

Exhibit to open Jan. 18

For hours before the ceremony, hundreds of mourners filed past Admiral Burke's open casket where he lay in blue full-dress uniform, his sword beside him, his medals and gold surface-warfare officer pin on his chest.

Before the coffin was closed, the regalia was removed for display in the U.S. Navy Museum at the Navy Yard in Washington, which will open an exhibition on Admiral Burke's life Jan. 18.

Yesterday's ceremony was marked as much by affection as by grief, earned by a man who spent a lifetime building a reputation embodied by his many citations for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity," for "exceptionally meritorious conduct," for "extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy," and for the "explosive offensive power of his task force in its bold and determined execution of measures designed to force the capitulation of the Japanese Empire."

Arleigh Burke was the unlikeliest of sailors. Born in 1901 far from the sea on a cattle ranch in Boulder, Colo., he seemed destined to be a landlubber.

Applied for sea duty

He tried to get into West Point but was too young, but in 1919 -- at age 17 -- he was accepted at Annapolis.

When World War II began, he found himself filling a shore billet at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C. Not for long.

He applied for sea duty and was ordered to the Pacific, where he would make his reputation as a destroyer squadron commander against the Japanese and earn the nickname that was to stick with him -- "31-Knot Burke."

It reflected his tactic of attacking at high speed, squeezing the last knot of power out of his destroyers. In tribute, Mr. Clinton yesterday ordered all Arleigh Burke class destroyers to steam at noon for five minutes at 31 knots.

The admiral's most famous command was of Destroyer Squadron 23, known as the "Little Beavers" for its cartoon insignia.

Committed to the admiral

"I thank God Almighty at night for having him as a squadron leader," said Art Broszeit, a 72-year-old World War II veteran who served on one of the squadron's ships, the USS Claxton.

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