February 12,2016

Stories from the Wall

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has stood for 33 years, in polished black granite, a somber and moving tribute to over 58,000 men and women killed or missing during the war.  Name after name powerfully illustrates the magnitude of the number of lives lost.  However, as decades move us further away from the realities of the war, we must keep alive the memories of the individuals who sacrificed for us.  To honor them, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is building The Education Center to tell stories of the war and our fallen heroes, unfortunately, too many of our soldiers are missing one personal item to help us remember: a photograph.

WHRO realizes the importance of honoring our military and began a movement to engage communities throughout Virginia to find the remaining 554 photographs for the 1,307 Virginian Veterans on The Wall.  Since the 2015 launch, over 50 photos have been found and powerful stories uncovered.  For information how you can help, go to whro.org/walloffaces.

Below is one story of bravery in battle against terrible odds that was submitted by Robert Eugene Williams of Norfolk about his uncle, Marine Corporal Jerry C. Burkhead and the story of Hill 64.

uncle jerry burkhead hill 64 radcliffes roost withCPL Jerry Burkhead was an M-60 Machine-Gun Squad Leader in Weapons Platoon reinforcing 1st Rifle Platoon of Alpha Company 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment (A CO 1/9) in I Corps, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).  The 1/9, the “Walking Dead”, were rapidly moved from Camp Evans and flown in by helicopter to the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) on 22JAN68.  The 1/9 mission was to protect the southern perimeter of the 26th Marines (reinforced) at the KSCB.

At 4:15 a.m. on the foggy morning of 08FEB68 the battle for Hill 64 began with a barrage of mortars, recoilless rifles, satchel charges, RPG’s, automatic weapons, and a determined multi-pronged assault by a reinforced battalion from the 101D Regiment, 325C NVA Division against the “Walking Dead” platoon on Hill 64.  The NVA simultaneously fired 100’s of mortar shells against the 1/9 perimeter to further isolate Hill 64.

The overwhelming attack by the NVA on the waiting 1st Platoon (reinforced) of A CO 1/9 Marines on Hill 64 was to be an example of some of the most brutal combat of the Vietnam War.  These foes were locked in savage trench warfare, often hand-to-hand combat.  The 1st Platoon (reinforced) of A CO 1/9 Marines held against a numerically superior NVA force on Hill 64.

From the United States Marine Corps 1/9 perimeter Alpha Company Commander Captain “MAC” Radcliffe bravely led twenty volunteers from 2 squads of the 2nd Platoon A CO 1/9 to relieve his brave Marines on Hill 64, and systematically clear all remaining NVA early on 08FEB68.  CPL Jerry Clark Burkhead was 21 years old as he and his “Brother” Marines fought for each other, Hill 64, A CO 1/9, the “Walking Dead”, the KSCB, I Corps, the RVN, and America with nearly 100% casualties.  Sadly, 28 brave Americans were killed in action that foggy morning in 08FEB68 during the Battle for Hill 64.  The Battle for Hill 64 was the last all-out attack by the NVA on the KSCB American and Allied Forces during the 77-day siege of the KSCB. All KSCB veterans from 20 January to April 1, 1968, received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action against the numerically superior NVA forces.  Devotion to duty by A CO 1/9 Marines was exemplified during the Battle of Hill 64 08FEB68.