Al Burk, who graduated from Milford High School, was inducted into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame recently. Burk, who attended the University of Delaware for over two years before joining the United States Army at the height of the Vietnam War, received the honor at a ceremony attended by his fellow running partners, including Lance Skinner, Tim Foster and Brad Dennehy.
“I’ve known Al for 10 or 15 years now, just through the running community because he and I run a lot of races together. A lot of marathons and 5ks,” Skinner said. “So, since then, we’ve kind of grown a close relationship with one another and we just share stories. And basically, Al was kind of an inspiration to us because of his age. I think he’s 77 years old now. He’s still running a few days a week, runs through town and it gives us encouragement, motivates us younger runners. on staying healthy and how therapeutic running is and it kind of goes into his background.”
Skinner explained that Burk does not talk much about his military experiences, but when he does it is clear there were some traumatic experiences involved. However, it was the death of Burk’s daughter in a car accident many years ago that led him to running. Skinner stated that Burk contributed running with helping him cope with the loss of his daughter as well as the trauma he experienced in the Vietnam War.
“His helicopter was shot down,” Skinner said. “It took like 40 rounds, and he was shot as well.”
Burk attended Warrant Officer Candidate School and Primary Flight Training in the Hughes TH-55 Osage at Fort Wolters, Texas. He completed Advanced Flight Training in the bell UH-1 Iroquois/Huey, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, graduating as an Army Aviator with the rank of Warrant Officer First Class (W01). He then served in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, flying 1,349 combat hours. It was during this tour of duty that his helicopter was shot down, earning him the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He also received a Combat Direct Commission to 1st Lieutenant.
After Vietnam, Burk served in the Army Southern European Theater in northeastern Italy. It was here he met, courted and married his wife Amanda and promoted to Captain. He also earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Maryland. Burk returned to Delaware, serving 28 years in the Army National Guard and qualifying to fly the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk and Beech U-21. He also worked as a Bell UH-1 Iroquois Instructor Pilot. In addition to his flight training, Burk was trained in Aviation Life Support Equipment, Night Vision Flight, Arctic Survival and Medical Evacuation Flight. He flew critical missions supporting the United States Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“One thing I would definitely say about him is that he’s extremely humble,” Skinner said. “He does not talk about his accomplishments at all. I was shocked when we went up to that Aviation Hall of Fame ceremony and I read the story on why he was getting that award. He had never really talked about specifics. Other than he was a helicopter pilot, obviously, but he never bragged about himself. I didn’t know until then that he was a Silver Star recipient. I knew that he had a Purple Heart. He’s got an impressive resume. So, I was kind of surprised that it took this long for him to get inducted into that Hall of Fame.”
Skinner also explained that Burk was a workhouse, especially for someone who is almost 80 years old.
“He never stops,” Sinner said. “He’s a stump grinder and he just does it for something to do. But he never can sit still. He’s out and about bowling or doing something all the time. He does not let his age hold him back in any way. Outside of running, that’s what he does. He just goes round and helps people out if they need stumps ground up and church. Al is at the church quite often; he attends St. John’s.”
The Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame was established to honor aviation greats while also creating public awareness of the role aviation specialists play, not only in support of Delaware, but in defense of the country.
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