Sam Walton may well be the most well known achiever in Arkansas but there are 25 others we need to remember, they are the 25 Medal of Honor recipients who called Arkansas home. Lloyd L. Burke “Scooter” would be one of the deadliest of them. He managed to overrun several Communist Chinese bunkers in Korea killing at least 100 Communist Chinese soldiers.
Lloyd Leslie “Scooter” Burke is among the most-decorated Arkansans to have served in the military. He served in the U.S. Army for more than thirty years and fought in three wars. He was wounded several times during his career and, in addition to receiving the Bronze Star three times and the Purple Heart five times, he received both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s two highest military honors.
Lloyd Burke was born in Tichnor (Arkansas County) on September 29, 1924, one of five children of A. D. and Belly Burke. In 1930, A. D. Burke was working as a foreman at a lumber mill in Clarendon (Monroe County). Lloyd Burke graduated from Stuttgart High School in 1942 and enrolled at Henderson State Teachers College, now Henderson State University.
In 1943, Burke was eighteen years old when he dropped out of Henderson State College nowHenderson State University in Arkansas. He joined the United States Army and served two years during World War II with combat engineers in Italy.
After the war, he returned to school at Henderson, where he participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, which is now named “Burke’s Raiders” in his memory. He was also a member of the Phi Sigma Epsilon fraternity. In 1950, he graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate. After graduation, Burke was commissioned a second lieutenant in June 1950.
Five months later, he was in Korea as a company commander in the First Cavalry Division. It was in this role that he greatly distinguished himself as a soldier. At the time, he was the leader of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment. When Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River, Burke managed to lead his platoon to safety. As a result of his action, he was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and two Purple Hearts.
Burke’s tour of duty was almost over in October 1951. At the time, Burke was found at the rear of his regiment. He had a plane ticket in his pocket and was eager to see his wife and infant son. Two miles away, Burke’s company was attempting to cross the Yokkok-chon River. The company was hindered by a large and well-entrenched Chinese force on Hill 200. The battle enraged for days as the 2nd Battalion’s attacks were constantly being repelled. At first, Lieutenant Burke kept up with the reports. Eventually, he no longer tolerated what was going on and decided to enter the front lines. As he himself stated, “I couldn’t see leaving my guys up there without trying to do something.”
When Burke was at the base of Hill 200, he was shocked to witness his company’s strength mitigated to thirty-five traumatized survivors. Burke described the condition of his company clearly: “These men were completely beat. They lay huddled in foxholes, unable to move. They all had the thousand-yard stare of men who’d seen too much fighting, too much death.” Burke dragged up a 57 mm recoilless rifle and shot three rounds at the closest enemy bunker. The bunker itself was a wooden-fronted structure covering a cave, which was dug into the overall hillside. The Chinese attacked American troops by hurling a plethora of grenades from their trenches. Burke aimed his M1 rifle at the trench line and shot at every Chinese soldier that rose to throw a grenade. Unfortunately, the grenades were still being thrown. After having used an eight-round clip, Burke decided to take more drastic measures. As he recalled, “I considered myself a pretty fair shot, but this was getting ridiculous. I had to do something.”
After laying down his rifle, Burke took a grenade and ran approximately thirty yards to the Chinese trench line. He avoided enemy fire by hurling himself at the base of a dirt berm that was two feet high. When the Chinese momentarily stopped firing, Burke jumped into one of the trenches with a pistol in one hand and a grenade in the other. He shot five or six Chinese soldiers in the forehead. Burke also fired at two Chinese soldiers from further down the trench. Afterwards, he threw his grenade in their direction, jumped out of the trench, and placed himself against the dirt berm.
The Chinese were aware of Burke’s location and began throwing grenades at his position. Most of the grenades thrown rolled down the hill and harmlessly exploded. Some of the grenades, however, did explode nearby Burke’s position. Burke himself managed to catch three grenades and tossed them back at the Chinese. At the same time, troops from Burke’s company threw grenades. However, some of the grenades did not reach their Chinese targets and they exploded in close proximity to Burke’s position.
Burke abandoned the dirt berm by crawling off to the side where he found cover in a gully. The gully itself ended further up Hill 200 at a Korean burial mound. After having edged his way up the hill, Burke peeked over the top of the burial mound. He witnessed the main Chinese trench, which was approximately 100 yards (100 m) away from his position. The trench was covered in enfilade, was curved around the hill and contained a myriad of Chinese troops. Surprisingly, the Chinese were in a state of ease as some of the soldiers talked, sat, and laughed while other units were throwing grenades and firing mortars. Burke went down the gully to Company G’s position and told Sergeant Arthur Foster, the senior NCO, “Get’em ready to attack when I give you the signal!”
Burke then dragged the last functioning Browning model 1919 machine gun along with three cans of ammunition back up the hill. On top of the burial mound, he set up his tripod, mounted his machine gun, set the screw to free traverse, and prepared his 250-round ammunition box. He began firing at the nearest part of the Chinese trench where the mortars were located. After Burke shot at all of the Chinese mortar squads, he then fired upon a machine gun emplacement. Afterwards, Burke fired up and down the trench with the Chinese too shocked to react. Eventually, the Chinese fled down the trench in a panic. Burke continued to fire until his Browning was jammed. While he attempted to clear his weapon, an enemy started throwing grenades at his position. Burke not only ignored the enemy unit, but he also ignored the grenade fragments that tore open the back of his hand. Eventually, Burke was able to clear his weapon and kill the Chinese grenadier.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Foster was leading a small group to Burke’s location and was summoned by Burke to provide extra firepower. Burke and company were convinced that they were under siege from a full-sized force instead of a few adamant skirmishers. As the Chinese retreated, Burke wrapped his field jacket around the Browning’s hot barrel sleeve and tore the 31-pound weapon off its tripod. He then wrapped the ammunition belt around his body, walked towards the trench, and fired upon retreating units. Naturally, Sergeant Foster and his men followed Burke. When Burke depleted his Browning ammunition, he utilized his .45 automatic and grenades in order to clear out bunkers.
At Hill 200, Burke managed to kill over one-hundred men, decimate two mortar emplacements, and three machine-gun nests. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on April 11, 1952.
Burke also served during the Vietnam War until a helicopter he was flying was shot down. This, in turn, forced him to return to the United States and undergo hospitalization for a long period of time. Overall, he spent thirty-five years in the US Armed Forces, served as the Army’s liaison officer to the United States Congress, and retired with the rank of full colonel in 1978.
Burke first marriage to Virginia Fletcher Burke ended in divorce. They had three children. His second wife Maxine preceded him in death. Burke suffered a massive heart attack and died at his home on June 1st 1999. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery Plot: Section 7A, Grave 155, Map Grid U-23.5
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army
Company G, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
Place and date: Near Chong-dong, Korea, October 28, 1951
Entered service at: Stuttgart, Arkansas Born: September 29, 1924, Tichnor, Arkansas
G.O. No.: 43.
1st Lt. Burke, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. Intense enemy fire had pinned down leading elements of his company committed to secure commanding ground when 1st Lt. Burke left the command post to rally and urge the men to follow him toward 3 bunkers impeding the advance. Dashing to an exposed vantage point he threw several grenades at the bunkers, then, returning for an Ml rifle and adapter, he made a lone assault, wiping out the position and killing the crew. Closing on the center bunker he lobbed grenades through the opening and, with his pistol, killed 3 of its occupants attempting to surround him. Ordering his men forward he charged the third emplacement, catching several grenades in midair and hurling them back at the enemy. Inspired by his display of valor his men stormed forward, overran the hostile position, but were again pinned down by increased fire. Securing a light machine gun and 3 boxes of ammunition, 1st Lt. Burke dashed through the impact area to an open knoll, set up his gun and poured a crippling fire into the ranks of the enemy, killing approximately 75. Although wounded, he ordered more ammunition, reloading and destroying 2 mortar emplacements and a machine gun position with his accurate fire. Cradling the weapon in his arms he then led his men forward, killing some 25 more of the retreating enemy and securing the objective. 1st Lt. Burke’s heroic action and daring exploits inspired his small force of 35 troops. His unflinching courage and outstanding leadership reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.
Burke’s awards include:
Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.
Photos courtesy of Ron Moody, contributor to Find a Grave, US Army, and Wikipedia.