The photo hangs in the hallway of my parents’ home. It has been there since they moved into their home more than 50 years ago. It is a photo of my father’s destroyer escort that he served on while in the Navy.
Soon after graduating from high school my father, Raymond Burke, enlisted in the Navy near the end of the Korean War.
Having a bit of wanderlust and with no real idea of what he wanted to do for a career after graduating, enlisting in the Navy seemed like a good option. He was deployed in the South Pacific on the fringes of the conflict.
He came under direct fire only once while his ship was escorting an aircraft carrier, but it impressed upon him the realities of war and the importance of serving his country.
This coming Monday, Nov. 11, we honor those that have served in the military on Veterans Day. Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on Nov. 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, Nov. 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’”
As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans. In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress at the urging of the veterans’ service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “armistice” and inserting the word “veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Our veterans make up a significant portion of our state and county population. According to the U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey, veterans account for over 210,000 Nevada residents, which is 10% of adults over the age of 18 living in Nevada. The same survey states that we have more than 5,900 veterans living in Nye County that account for 17.3% of our adult population. Of those veterans, the majority served in Vietnam, over four times greater than any other conflict.
One such person who served in Vietnam was Bill Loken, former co-owner of the Pahrump Valley Winery. At the age of 18, Bill enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Vietnam, where he served as a crew chief door gunner on a Huey helicopter. He served in the 174th Assault Company and they were nicknamed the “Sharks.”
Bill said this about being shot down in Vietnam: “I was shot down more than once, but we were always able to land in a secure area except one time when I was shot down in enemy territory. We had no working radio on the chopper. My door gunner was severely wounded, having been shot through the neck, and we had no way to call for help. The engine on the Huey was on fire and spewing tons of smoke so what saved us is friendly troops nearby that saw us go down and rushed to our location to secure the area.
“My commander, Maj. Goodin, was on the first rescue chopper in and got my gunner and pilots out. My commander stayed with me all day until the area was secured enough to sling-load our disabled chopper out. Then they came and got me and the commander out.
“It was August 2, 1969, and I was 18 years old. I continued to crew a gunship for another nine months until I was discharged at the age of 19. By then I had received two Bronze Stars (one for this mission) with V, and a Distinguished Flying Cross, among others. Best learning experience of my life and did more to shape me than anything else other than my parents.”
There are many veterans in Pahrump and Nye County like Bill Loken who have served our country. They served to keep our country free and prosperous against those that would like to destroy us and the ideals that we believe in. Many never came back to American soil. Many more came back with disabilities and other major issues that have impacted their lives since the time they served. We need to honor our veterans not only on Veterans Day but every day for their service.
It’s been many years since my father passed away, but the picture remains in the same spot in the hallway and it will always be there.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Nye County resident.