John C. Burkhardt was born in Austin, Texas in 1946. He was the youngest of four children in his family while growing up in South Austin and attending public schools. He went through Becker Elementary and Fulmore Junior High, and then graduated from Travis High School in 1964. Also graduating with John in the Class of 1964 were neighborhood friends James L. Brown and John Eli. Raymond Diaz and Bennie Matias, Jr. were two years younger, but they were also among his group of friends that lived within a few blocks of one another and all played sandlot baseball together in the vacant lot next door to the Burkhardt home.

The first job that John ever had was with a local electric equipment repair company where Gabriel Tamayo (now also Patriot in Chapter 1919) was his supervisor. John also took some Business College courses after high school, and then in January 1966, he found permanent career employment with the Post Office. He started out as a postal clerk at a time when our nation was devoting increasing resources to the war in Vietnam. Predictably, he was drafted the next year. Patriot Max Noe was his last supervisor at the Post Office before John left to go on active duty in the Army on May 1, 1967.

After Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, John received orders for Vietnam. He had this to say, “I reported for in-processing in Vietnam on September 23, 1967, about midnight, at 9th Infantry Division Headquarters in Bear Cat. After filling sand bags all day on the 24th, I went to the Club (a big tent) that evening. As I walked in someone yelled out my name, strangely enough it was a guy from Austin that I had attended Business School with. He bought me a Lone Star beer. I’ve never seen him since.

After processing in I was sent, together with a group of 12 other guys that I had gone through AIT with at Fort Jackson, to the 9th Infantry Division Base Camp at Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta. We were at Dong Tam for several days, working at filling sand bags, while being shifted from one company to another. On October 7, 1967, I was sent to Company E, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry, which was part of the Mobile Riverine Force, newly created to patrol the Mekong Delta waterways. I reported in to the unit aboard the USS Benewah – Barracks Ship, and was placed in 4th Platoon. The first person I met was the Platoon Sergeant, he had less than a month left in the Army, and he welcomed me in and passed me off to another guy. He was an experienced old hand who was from Texas, I don’t remember exactly where from, but my mentor had to quickly show me around the ship and make sure I had all the right equipment because we were to go out on a mission the next morning. He fitted me out with a radio so I immediately became the RTO although I had not had that training, and he briefed me on the mission. We were to go into Toi Son Island (aka: Cong Island) at daybreak, and could expect to encounter lots of booby traps and a few snipers. He said, “Don’t worry about the snipers, they can’t hit s – – – , besides they only want your radio” (but, I wasn’t sure the enemy knew that).

We were awakened about 4AM, ate breakfast and loaded onto the Navy landing craft about 5AM. We landed on Toi Son at daybreak, about 6AM. Sure enough they were blowing bunkers before I even got off the landing craft. Most of the morning was relatively quiet, just blowing bunkers and wondering how long it was going to take before all hell broke loose. We broke for lunch about 11:30 and the C-Rations were wonderful. Then, about noon we moved out with my squad on the point. My mentor from the day before was point man, not far in front of me. Within just a few short minutes we were ambushed. Since I was just out of training my first thought was – “The Aggressors,” but; those were real bullets hitting the ground around me. As I passed the point man, his eyes were rolling back in his head – he had been shot between the eyes. It was then that I realized how bad the situation really was. Artillery was called in and that took care of that initial action. That was when I was informed that the Platoon Sergeant (behind me) had been shot in the chest (he died enroute to the hospital). As we continued up the path we were ambushed several more times. After the sixth attack, we had taken two more wounded, and had an ARVN Scout also wounded, before my squad was relieved from the point. There were a few more encounters that day, but to my knowledge all the dead and wounded were from my squad in 4th Platoon of Company E.

I had reported in to my platoon less than 24 hours before. That was my first day in the field and the first two men I had met were gone after the first six hours. I probably saw more action on my first day than many see in a lifetime – and I was not injured on that day. Unfortunately, it just didn’t get any better.”

On January 12, 1968, John was wounded during an operation on the Saigon River. He was taken to the “Aid Boat” and transported from there by helicopter back to the hospital at Dong Tam. His wounds were not serious, just seven stitches near the left eye, and he was returned to duty the next day. The next time, he would not be so lucky.

Two weeks later, on January 30, 1968, he was wounded a second time. It was the beginning of TET-68 at Dong Tam, as they were just about to learn. John was part of a 13-man patrol being sent out from the base on a routine mission to establish an overnight ambush site when, enroute, they came under enemy sniper fire and were hit by a command detonated claymore-type directional mine. John was one of five men wounded by the blast. They were only one kilometer outside the perimeter so the “dustoff” helicopter arrived quickly and within minutes he was back in the Dong Tam hospital again. He had been hit in the head, was lapsing in and out of consciousness, had a large wound in the abdomen, three wounds in the left leg, one in the left arm and one in his left hand. He was critically wounded, triage initially judged he would not survive, and that fact was not concealed from him. By that time, Dong Tam was being pressed by the enemy, and for the next five days the base was hit by mortar fire. John says, “Every time we took incoming fire they moved me from the bed to underneath the bed, that happened so often they finally just piled some flak jackets on top of me and left them there.” After five days they were able to get a plane out of Dong Tam and flew the casualties out to the field hospital at Vung Tau. After four days there he was flown to Cam Rahn Bay for an overnight, and then it was on to Japan and the 249th General Hospital in Tokyo. John says, “They didn’t even close my open abdominal wound until I was in the hospital in Japan.” After five days in Japan, he was medevac’d to the United States, to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio. Although he had had surgical reconstruction of an eye socket and part of his jaw and huge abdominal incisions and he was far from having healed, after only one week at Brooke in Beach Pavilion he was ambulatory and so was released without convalescent leave. He was ready to go.

Upon his return to duty, he was reassigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, 2nd Armored Division in Fort Hood, Texas. He says, “After a few months I was detailed to duty in III Corps Headquarters. I had a car and Austin was just an hour away, so I spent every weekend at home in Austin. During one of those weekends at home, I met my future wife, Elaine Weisner. I consider it a blessing that I was wounded and returned home early because otherwise we may never have met.

On Christmas Day, 1968, I was enjoying the day with my parents in Austin. I was sitting on the sofa reading the paper when one particular article caught my attention. My childhood friend, Benny Matias had been killed in Vietnam. Benny had also been in Company E, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry – and in the same squad of the same platoon where I had been assigned. He had reported for duty there after I left, and I had not known he was there.”

John Burkhardt was discharged from the Army at Fort Hood on April 30, 1969. He immediately went back to work at the Post Office in the same job he had before, without even a day off. He also started to school at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). During that first semester, John and Elaine were married in December 1969.

Eight years after having left the military service, John had earned: Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees in Business Management from Austin Community College; a Bachelor of Science in Law Enforcement from Southwest Texas State University; and Master’s Degrees in Business Administration – Management (MBA) and in Public Administration – Management (MPA) from St. Edwards University – all while working full time with the Post Office in Austin. As soon as those educational goals had been completed, life changed dramatically.

In 1977 John attended the Postal Inspection Service Academy in Bethesda, Maryland. After completion of that training he was assigned in Los Angeles, California to the first in a succession of positions of increasing responsibility, all related to postal security, that took him through to completion of a distinguished career of almost 33-years service, and culminated with his retirement in October 1999.

One of John’s most noteworthy assignments was as Task Force Leader of a Multi-Agency team of Postal Inspectors and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agents that were under his direction when the “Unabomer,” Theodore Kaczynski, was captured. Another personal accomplishment, from when he was responsible for postal security for all military mail on the west coast, was the updating of the Military Postal Service for the first time since before WWII (convincing all branches of the military and the Postal Service that it needed to be done was the hard part). He was awarded the Department of the Army Commanders Award for Public Service for his leadership.

Promotions and career opportunities had taken him to moves to Anchorage, Alaska; Los Angeles, California; Memphis, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; and Atlanta, Georgia, and his various duties took him to work in all 50 states, and that had been one of his personal objectives. He also had multi-national postal security assignments that led to much time spent in the far east, especially Singapore, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Upon retirement, John and Elaine had a home built in Fredericksburg, Texas and moved there as soon as it was ready in December 2001. They moved into a home they purchased in Austin in July 2004. Two years after that John joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart and in his first chapter meetings he discovered and renewed friendships from his childhood days with Patriots Jim Brown, John Eli, and Raymond Diaz. This month, PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot John C. Burkhardt.