Akron soldier given final goodbye nearly 65 years after his death
By MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE | Akron Beacon Journal | Published: January 16, 2016
AKRON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Darrell Mullins never met his Uncle David. But his mother, Irene, made sure he knew about the young soldier who never came home from the Korean War.
On Friday, Mullins shared his relatives’ recollections of David Burke, fresh out of South High School and newly enlisted, making the rounds to bid his family goodbye before his nephew Bernard drove him to meet a bus bound for the Army.
“[Bernard] took him to the bus station, and he’s just now coming home,” Mullins said, looking over at his uncle’s flag-draped casket. “Welcome home.”
Burke’s remains were identified last week, 65 years after he was declared missing in action. Family members, childhood friends, military representatives and supporters gathered to honor him Friday at his long-delayed funeral at Sommerville Funeral Home in West Akron.
Burke was just 18 when his unit was attacked on Nov. 25, 1950, by Chinese soldiers near the North Korea-China border. Outnumbered and hemmed in, the Americans were forced to surrender, and Burke was among 136 enlisted soldiers and four officers taken prisoner.
He reportedly died of malnutrition the following spring, but his body was not returned until the 1990s, when North Korea turned over 208 boxes of commingled human remains to the United States. Military officials announced on Jan. 8 that scientists had identified Burke’s remains using dental records and DNA obtained from his only surviving brother, Phornell.
Phornell Burke, who lives in Akron, is in failing health and could not attend the service.
The funeral had all the solemn trappings of a military service, including an honor team from the Ohio Army National Guard and salutes by members of two military support organizations, Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder. Deputy Mayor Marco Sommerville spoke on behalf of Mayor Dan Horrigan, promising that the citizens of Akron would never forget Burke’s sacrifice.
But the friends and relatives who spoke at Burke’s funeral painted a more personal picture. To them, David Burke was the personable, athletic kid who grew up on Bell Street.
There were stories of neighborhood football and basketball games, memories of Burke’s father’s junkyard. His longtime friend Deloris Humbert recalled with a laugh how Burke and a friend pestered her and another girl for answers to a high school biology test, and how Burke rationalized squeaking by in the class when his buddy failed by saying, “Maybe I copied better than you did.”
“We just all really missed him,” she said. “He was a nice young man.”
William Ellison remembered being among some neighborhood kids who rode along when Burke, then just 14 or so, was allowed to drive his father’s dump truck to the dump on Kelly Avenue. When they got there, Burke’s dad gave the other kids a turn at the wheel.
“We’re like 11, 12 years old, and we’re driving the dump truck around the dump,” he said.
Burke, Ellison said, was the neighborhood hero. Being able to say goodbye is “something I’ve been looking forward to all my adult life.”
For Bob Remis, Burke’s loss meant the end of a lifelong friendship.
The two had known each other since they were 3 or 4, and they were always playing at each other’s houses. They used to get their BB guns to go after the rats, Remis recalled.
“Thank you, David, for serving our country and being the best friend I ever had in my whole life,” he said. “There was only one David. He taught me all I know.”
Burke was the youngest of Cleveland and Lonnie Burke’s 10 children and one of four brothers to enlist in the Army, nephew Marvin Burke said after the service. “You could say it was almost a family tradition. He enlisted as soon as he could,” Marvin Burke said.
David Burke’s niece, Sharon Burke Reynolds, was only 7 or 8 when he died, but she remembered him as her favorite uncle. He was more outgoing than his siblings, she said, and he would play with her when the others acted more like adults.
His disappearance left a gaping wound in the family. Reynolds said that even after the Army informed Burke’s parents that he had reportedly died in captivity, his mother still believed he would return. She even urged another son to enlist just so he could go and search for him.
“She would just not accept that he was not coming home,” Reynolds said.
This week, he did.
Burke will be buried at 11 a.m. Monday at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman, home at last.
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