Heroism four ways

A look back on some of JBLM's history: part 1

By J.M. Simpson on December 21, 2017

The reading and writing about the servicemembers memorialized in street, installation and building names on Joint Base Lewis-McChord has been a humbling experience.

Many received the Medal of Honor, and most made the ultimate sacrifice. What follows are this reporter's thoughts on some of these men, whose names honor JBLM.

The Logistician: Capt. David Stone

Shortly after arrival May 26, 1917, Stone made the final decision as to the site for Camp Lewis and then concluded the contracts to begin construction. In an impressive display of logistical coordination, he finished the project in three months.

More than 1,500 wood frame buildings were constructed, 105 miles of streets were laid out and a sewer system was installed.

Stone showed common sense skill in managing costs by providing on-site worker housing and paying workers a bonus to prevent a strike. Of the 16 Army camps constructed in 1917, Camp Lewis opened on time and at the lowest per capita cost of $142.

The Stone Education Center salutes his intelligence.

The Choctaw:  Sgt. 1st Class Tony Burris

During the desperate struggle to take Heartbreak Ridge from North Korean forces in October 1951, Burris led by example.

Leading his soldiers up a hillside, he charged ahead and alone, throwing grenades and killing more than a dozen of the enemy.

The following day, he led a second assault on a nearby ridge. Despite being wounded, he continued the assault and reached the ridge ahead of his men.

Wounded a second time, he called for reinforcements and exposed himself to draw enemy fire, which allowed his soldiers to destroy the enemy.

Refusing evacuation, Burris continued leading his men forward until he was mortally wounded by enemy gunfire.

In 1957, at then Fort Lewis, Burris Field was named in his honor. By the mid-1960s, the field disappeared when it was intersected by I-5.

In front of the Lewis Army Museum, a small stone honors Burris and the field once named in his honor.

He deserves better.

The Balloonist:  Capt. Hawthorne Gray

During the 1920s, the Army began to take a keen interest in aviation, and by 1927, the newly renamed Fort Lewis' as-yet-unnamed grass airfield received federal funds for improvement.

At the same time, Gray had established himself as one of the nation's best-known military balloonists.

There was a style to the man; as he ascended in his quest to set a high-altitude balloon flight record, he would listen to jazz music on a seven-tube Atwater-Kent radio.

On a clear November day in 1927, Gray lifted off Scott Field, Illinois, for the last time.  

After reaching an altitude of 42,470 feet, Gray ran out of oxygen. He never recovered.  

His posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross citation reads in part, "his courage was greater than his supply of oxygen."

On April 12, 1938, that still-unnamed airfield was named in his honor - Gray Army Airfield.

The Pilot:  Lt. Col. Joe Jackson

Talk about flying into a hornet's nest of gunfire!

North Vietnamese soldiers rained mortar, artillery and recoilless rifle fire down on the Kham Duc airfield. As South Vietnamese and American forces fell back on that May 1968 day, it appeared that the evacuation had been successful.

It wasn't; three members of a combat control team remained in a ditch by the runway.

Destruction reigned. The camp was in flames and exploding ordnance rained debris onto the runway; only 2,200 feet of the strip remained useable.

Jackson brought his C-123 down in a dive, leveled off, landed and slammed on the brakes.  The controllers ran to the aircraft and scrambled aboard. Jackson pushed the throttles forward and lifted off using only 1,000 feet of runway.

Col. Joe Jackson Boulevard on McChord Field honors him.

See part 2 of this retrospective in next week's paper.