Back to Online Newspapers

He wanted to serve

A warrior in Korea

The memorial stone honoring Sgt. 1st Class Tony Burris rests in front of the Lewis Army Museum. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Straddling the line between Grady and McClain Counties in the middle of Oklahoma is the town of Blanchard.

It is from such a small place that an American hero emerged.

Tony Burris was born at the end of May 1929. A member of the Choctaw Tribe, he loved to read and hunt. He graduated from high school in 1947. Perhaps from his reading or having grown up during World War II, Burris enlisted in the Army in July 1950.

"He just went off one weekend and signed up and didn't tell anybody," said his sister, Loretta Wilson, in a article published in September 2007. "We were all shocked when he got back and told us.  He felt that he had an obligation to go.  He wanted to serve."

After receiving basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, and advanced training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Burris was ordered to Korea in 1951 where he joined L Company, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.

The Korean War had begun June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces, supported by the Chinese and Russians, invaded South Korea.

In the opening months of the war, American and South Korean forces fared poorly and were on the point of defeat. In September 1950, an amphibious counter-offensive was launched at Incheon.  The action turned the tide of the conflict, but only after American and Korean forces engaged in hard, brutal combat with the North Koreans.

By the end of August 1951, the struggle centered along the 38th parallel, the pre-war boundary between North and South Korea. Just north of the boundary were a number of hills held by the North Koreans. In a flawed decision marked by an underestimation of the strength of the North Korean forces, the 2nd Infantry Division was ordered to take the ridge.

On Sept. 23, the battle known as Heartbreak Ridge began.

After American aircraft and tank fire turned the hillside barren, Burris and his soldiers moved up the slopes, taking out one enemy bunker after another by direct assault.

On Oct. 8, Burris and his men encountered intense fire from an entrenched force.

Burris charged ahead and alone, throwing grenades into the position and killing approximately 15 enemy soldiers.

The following day, he led a second assault on enemy positions on a nearby ridge.  

Wounded by machine gun fire, he continued the assault and reached the ridge ahead of his unit. Wounded a second time, he called for a 57mm recoilless rifle team and then deliberately exposed himself to draw enemy fire and reveal their position.

That position was destroyed.

The wounded Burris refused evacuation, received only emergency treatment and remained with his men to continue the advance.

Counter-fire soon halted the company's advance.  

At this point, Burris rose to his feet, charged and destroyed the heavy machine gun and its crew. Under enemy fire, he then moved to the next emplacement, threw his last grenade and destroyed the position.

He also fell mortally wounded.

Inspired by Burris' actions, his comrades renewed their assault and secured a strategic position on Heartbreak Ridge.

On Sept. 5, 1952, Sgt. 1st Class Tony Burris was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Five years later, in June at Fort Lewis, Burris Field was named in his honor. Sadly, that field no longer exists. When I-5 was built in the mid-1960s, it intersected the field.

The memorial stone honoring Burris and marking the field, however, today sits between the two Spanish cannons outside of the Lewis Army Museum.

Read next close


Shaping the future

comments powered by Disqus