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  • John Howard

Memorial Day

Today is a day to remember the fallen. I want to remember my college classmate, Jim Burns. In the few times I have visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall, I always visited his name and made an impression of it on a piece of paper.

Jim and I were in NROTC together at the University of Texas. He was a year ahead me. We both lived at a Midshipmen dorm together and we both went into the Marine Corps after college. He was the commander of the Buccaneer drill team and I was the guidon bearer. Jim received numerous leadership awards in college. He went on to be the honor man in his OCS training and again in his Officer's Basic Course class. After the basic course and Vietnamese language training, he served in Vietnam as a platoon commander and, later, as executive officer of Co. L, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in the 3rd Marine Division. He was killed on September 13, 1969 in Quang Tri Provence. You can see more here.

Jim was the guy we all looked up to and not just because he was 6' 4". We assumed he would have a long and successful Marine Corps career. So when he was killed, it was shocking especially since I was in the middle of combat training myself when I found out. The story came back to us that he was leading a patrol when they were ambushed by NVA forces. He was severely wounded at first contact but continued to direct his Marines and call for artillery until he lost consciousness from blood loss. His company gunny said that he died like a Marine. Even now almost 51 years later, I mourn for him as I write this.

Last fall, I went to the 50 reunion of my NROTC class and got to meet Jim's sister, Judith. I was able to tell her some stories she hadn't heard before and, in turn, she connected me with this tribute to Jim put together by a young woman named Alena Hanby as a high school project. I got to meet Alena too because she is now a midshipman in the same NROTC unit at UT where Jim and I were. Alena wasn't born until 30 years after Jim was killed but she joins with us in remembering him. Remembering is important. Join with me in remembering 1st Lt. James A. Burns.


Postscript: I found out that Jim accepted Christ back home in Connecticut about the time he was finished at UT. So I'll see him again. In the meantime, his memory lives on.

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