JOHN C. BURKHARDT
Patriot, Chapter 1919
John C. Burkhardt was born in Austin, Texas in 1946.
He was the youngest of four children in his family while growing up in South
Austin and attending public schools. He went through Becker Elementary and
Fulmore Junior High, and then graduated from Travis High School in 1964.
Also graduating with John in the Class of 1964 were neighborhood friends
James L. Brown and John Eli. Raymond Diaz and Bennie Matias, Jr. were two
years younger, but they were also among his group of friends that lived
within a few blocks of one another and all played sandlot baseball together
in the vacant lot next door to the Burkhardt home.
The first job that John ever had was with a local
electric equipment repair company where Gabriel Tamayo (now also Patriot in
Chapter 1919) was his supervisor. John also took some Business College
courses after high school, and then in January 1966, he found permanent
career employment with the Post Office. He started out as a postal clerk at
a time when our nation was devoting increasing resources to the war in
Vietnam. Predictably, he was drafted the next year. Patriot Max Noe was
his last supervisor at the Post Office before John left to go on active duty
in the Army on May 1, 1967.
After Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana and Advanced
Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, John
received orders for Vietnam. He had this to say, “I reported for
in-processing in Vietnam on September 23, 1967, about midnight, at 9th
Infantry Division Headquarters in Bear Cat. After filling sand bags all day
on the 24th, I went to the Club (a big tent) that evening. As I walked in
someone yelled out my name, strangely enough it was a guy from Austin that I
had attended Business School with. He bought me a Lone Star beer. I’ve
never seen him since.
After processing in I was sent, together with a group of
12 other guys that I had gone through AIT with at Fort Jackson, to the 9th
Infantry Division Base Camp at Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta. We were at
Dong Tam for several days, working at filling sand bags, while being shifted
from one company to another. On October 7, 1967, I was sent to Company E,
4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, which was part of the Mobile Riverine Force,
newly created to patrol the Mekong Delta waterways. I reported in to the
unit aboard the USS Benewah – Barracks Ship, and was placed in 4th Platoon.
The first person I met was the Platoon Sergeant, he had less than a month
left in the Army, and he welcomed me in and passed me off to another guy.
He was an experienced old hand who was from Texas, I don’t remember exactly
where from, but my mentor had to quickly show me around the ship and make
sure I had all the right equipment because we were to go out on a mission
the next morning. He fitted me out with a radio so I immediately became the
RTO although I had not had that training, and he briefed me on the mission.
We were to go into Toi Son Island (aka: Cong Island) at daybreak, and could
expect to encounter lots of booby traps and a few snipers. He said, “Don’t
worry about the snipers, they can’t hit s - - - , besides they only want
your radio” (but, I wasn’t sure the enemy knew that).
We were awakened about 4AM, ate breakfast and loaded onto
the Navy landing craft about 5AM. We landed on Toi Son at daybreak, about
6AM. Sure enough they were blowing bunkers before I even got off the
landing craft. Most of the morning was relatively quiet, just blowing
bunkers and wondering how long it was going to take before all hell broke
loose. We broke for lunch about 11:30 and the C-Rations were wonderful.
Then, about noon we moved out with my squad on the point. My mentor from
the day before was point man, not far in front of me. Within just a few
short minutes we were ambushed. Since I was just out of training my first
thought was – “The Aggressors,” but; those were real bullets hitting the
ground around me. As I passed the point man, his eyes were rolling back in
his head – he had been shot between the eyes. It was then that I realized
how bad the situation really was. Artillery was called in and that took
care of that initial action. That was when I was informed that the Platoon
Sergeant (behind me) had been shot in the chest (he died enroute to the
hospital). As we continued up the path we were ambushed several more
times. After the sixth attack, we had taken two more wounded, and had an
ARVN Scout also wounded, before my squad was relieved from the point. There
were a few more encounters that day, but to my knowledge all the dead and
wounded were from my squad in 4th Platoon of Company E.
I had reported in to my platoon less than 24 hours
before. That was my first day in the field and the first two men I had met
were gone after the first six hours. I probably saw more action on my first
day than many see in a lifetime – and I was not injured on that day.
Unfortunately, it just didn’t get any better.”
January 12, 1968, John was wounded during an operation on the Saigon River.
He was taken to the “Aid Boat” and transported from there by helicopter back
to the hospital at Dong Tam. His wounds were not serious, just seven
stitches near the left eye, and he was returned to duty the next day. The
next time, he would not be so lucky.
Two weeks later, on
January 30, 1968, he was wounded a second time. It was the beginning of
TET-68 at Dong Tam, as they were just about to learn. John was part of a
13-man patrol being sent out from the base on a routine mission to establish
an overnight ambush site when, enroute, they came under enemy sniper fire
and were hit by a command detonated claymore-type directional mine. John
was one of five men wounded by the blast. They were only one kilometer
outside the perimeter so the “dustoff” helicopter arrived quickly and within
minutes he was back in the Dong Tam hospital again. He had been hit in the
head, was lapsing in and out of consciousness, had a large wound in the
abdomen, three wounds in the left leg, one in the left arm and one in his
left hand. He was critically wounded, triage initially judged he would not
survive, and that fact was not concealed from him. By that time, Dong Tam
was being pressed by the enemy, and for the next five days the base was hit
by mortar fire. John says, “Every time we took incoming fire
they moved me from the bed to underneath the bed, that happened so
often they finally just piled some flak jackets on top of me and left them
there.” After five days they were able to
get a plane out of Dong Tam and flew the casualties out to the field
hospital at Vung Tau. After four days there he was flown to Cam Rahn Bay
for an overnight, and then it was on to Japan and the 249th General Hospital
in Tokyo. John says, “They didn’t even close my open abdominal wound
until I was in the hospital in Japan.” After five days in Japan, he was medevac’d to the United States, to
Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio. Although he had had surgical
reconstruction of an eye socket and part of his jaw and huge abdominal
incisions and he was far from having healed, after only one week at Brooke
in Beach Pavilion he was ambulatory and so was released without convalescent
leave. He was ready to go.
Upon his return to duty,
he was reassigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, 2nd Armored
Division in Fort Hood, Texas. He says, “After a few months I was
detailed to duty in III Corps Headquarters. I had a car and Austin was just
an hour away, so I spent every weekend at home in Austin. During one of
those weekends at home, I met my future wife, Elaine Weisner. I consider it
a blessing that I was wounded and returned home early because otherwise we
may never have met.
On Christmas Day, 1968, I was enjoying the day with my
parents in Austin. I was sitting on the sofa reading the paper when one
particular article caught my attention. My childhood friend,
Benny Matias had been killed in
Vietnam. Benny had also been in Company E, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry –
and in the same squad of the same platoon where I had been assigned. He had
reported for duty there after I left, and I had not known he was there.”
Burkhardt was discharged from the Army at Fort Hood on April 30, 1969. He
immediately went back to work at the Post Office in the same job he had
before, without even a day off. He also started to school at Southwest
Texas State University (now Texas State University). During that first
semester, John and Elaine were married in December 1969.
years after having left the military service, John had earned: Associate of
Arts and Associate of Science degrees in Business Management from Austin
Community College; a Bachelor of Science in Law Enforcement from Southwest
Texas State University; and Master’s Degrees in Business Administration -
Management (MBA) and in Public Administration - Management (MPA) from St.
Edwards University – all while working full time with the Post Office in
Austin. As soon as those educational goals had been completed, life changed
1977 John attended the Postal Inspection Service Academy in Bethesda,
Maryland. After completion of that training he was assigned in Los Angeles,
California to the first in a succession of positions of increasing
responsibility, all related to postal security, that took him through to
completion of a distinguished career of almost 33-years service, and
culminated with his retirement in October 1999.
John’s most noteworthy assignments was as Task Force Leader of a
Multi-Agency team of Postal Inspectors and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives Agents that were under his direction when the “Unabomer,”
Theodore Kaczynski, was captured. Another personal accomplishment, from
when he was responsible for postal security for all military mail on the
west coast, was the updating of the Military Postal Service for the first
time since before WWII (convincing all branches of the military and the
Postal Service that it needed to be done was the hard part). He was awarded
the Department of the Army Commanders Award for Public Service for his
Promotions and career opportunities had taken him to moves to Anchorage, Alaska;
California; Memphis, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; and Atlanta, Georgia, and his various duties took him to work in all 50
states, and that had been one of his personal objectives. He also had
multi-national postal security assignments that led to much time spent in
the far east, especially Singapore, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the
Upon retirement, John and Elaine had a
home built in Fredericksburg, Texas and moved there as soon as it was ready
in December 2001. They moved into a home they purchased in Austin in July
2004. Two years after that John joined the Military Order of the Purple
Heart and in his first chapter meetings he discovered and renewed
friendships from his childhood days with Patriots Jim Brown, John Eli, and
Raymond Diaz. This month, PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot John C.