Veteran's lengthy effort to find a photo of a soldier who died in Vietnam pays off

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website's Wall of Faces had only the blurry photograph of the late Army Spec. 4 Ralph Burkhalter, Jr. shown on the left. Thanks to a Vietnam veteran, Burkhalter is now honored with the photo on the right.


By GREG JORDAN | Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va. | Published: December 8, 2020

BLUEFIELD, Va. (Tribune News Service) — After reaching out for help, a Vietnam veteran in Kentucky was able to get a photograph of a Tazewell County native who lost his life in Vietnam while serving his country and added it to a website memorializing veterans.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website's Wall of Faces had a photograph of the late Army Spec. 4 Ralph Burkhalter, Jr., a resident of Boissevain, Va. and a graduate of Pocahontas High School, but it is extremely blurry. According to his obituary in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Burkhalter was killed in Vietnam on April 21,1969 when the gasoline tanker he was driving overturned.

Vietnam veteran Bobby Bazzell, 74, of Farmington, Ky, who has been working for several years to find photographs the Wall of Faces lacked, tried to find a better photo of Burkhalter. To locate one, he sent a letter to the newspaper asking the public for help. A story was published in the Daily Telegraph's Sunday edition, and some residents recognized Burkhalter's name.

Connie Pauley of Bluefield, Va. saw the name Burkhalter in Sunday's story and remembered that her husband, Eddie, had known him. She soon found Burkhalter's high school photograph in the 1967 Pocahontas High School yearbook.

"He was with him when he was called up to be examined for service," she recalled.

Debra and Ty Cox, also of Bluefield, Va., saw the Daily Telegraph story and remembered Burkhalter. Debra Cox said they attended Pocahontas High School with him. Ty Cox went to get their yearbook and found the photograph, too.

"We didn't know him personally, but they were very good people," she said. "They didn't have a lot, but they were good people. I think he went into service as soon as he got out of high school."

Ralph Burkhalter, Jr. came from a large family. His sister, Carolyn Graves of Bluefield, Va. said she was the youngest of 12 children. She estimated that her brother was 18 or 19 years old when he joined the Army.

She remembered the "huge, enormous" garden that her family kept along with hogs and chickens. The children supplemented their family's income by delivering the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in Boissevain before going to school.

"We delivered it every single day, rain or shine," Graves said.

Bazzell said he was able to obtain the yearbook picture with help from Chris Wilkes, assistant director of the Tazewell County Public Library, who gave him a contact in Pocahontas, Va. The new picture has been posted to the website, and others can be added. Graves said she had been speaking with her family in New York state to get additional photos.

"It's a really good picture," Bazzell stated. "I'm just tickled to death."


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