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salute to the veterans

page 6 / Thursday, February 24, 2011 / The Daily Iberian Profile 2011 / Celebrating Our Community

Burke goes from flight instructor to JAG BY HOLLY LELEUX-THUBRON THE DAILY IBERIAN

D

racos Burke always wanted to fly. The sure way to get to fly, he thought, was to join the military. To be a pilot in the military, Burke said men had to be 20 with two years of college under their belts. Burke, 91, graduated high school at 15 years old after skipping two grades. He said he would sit often with his mother and sister as they worked on homework when he was a child. He could read when he entered first grade, he said. Burke entered Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now University of Louisiana at Lafayette, at 16. Something to do, he said, until he reached the eligibility age for pilot school. He completed four years of college before he reached 20, he said, one semester shy of a pre-law bachelor of arts degree. “Wanting to fly never left me,” Burke said. “It was during the depression and I didn’t have money to finish the last semester. I joined the cadets and went off to pilot training in 1940 at Love Field in Dallas.” Burke only lasted four months at pilot training, he said. There was little demand for pilots at the time, so he was disappointed. He returned to New Iberia to finish his last semester at the institute at the same time a new program was being developed for bombardiers trained on the “Flying Fortress,” or B-17, four-engine bombers. He was commissioned in June 1941 at Barksdale Air Force Base, a U.S. Army Air Corps facility at the

‘We were the first bombardier officers, so we were called to be the instructors of other cadets.’ Dracos Burke U.S. Army Air Corps bombardier officer ■ time. There was still limited demand for bomber pilots, Burke said. But, that all changed on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. “We were the first bombardier officers, so we were called to be the instructors of other cadets,” Burke said. “They first sent us to the West Coast to defend against the Japs, but it turned out they weren’t going to invade so they moved us to Albuquerque. I was assigned there as an instructor.” Burke was reassigned to a B-29 outfit, he said, the same type of bomber that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. “We were about to go overseas when they dropped the A bombs and everything just stopped,” Burke said. Burke chose to stay in the Army and was reassigned to a B-17 outfit in Germany, where the United States served as the Army of occupation. Burke stayed in Europe for 18 months

before the Air Force was created and he replaced his “khakis” with dress blues and officially became part of the U.S. Air Force. “Because I already had a college degree, they offered to send me to law school,” Burke said. “I went to the University of Denver in 1950 and when I finished became a U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General.” Burke’s first station as a JAG was Tampa, Fla., before he was named Chief of Military Justice at Barksdale. His highest assignment was one he kept longer than anyone else in the history of the Air Force JAG Corps. “I got a call from a friend who told me that they needed a deputy at Strategic Air Command in Omaha,” Burke said. “That was the place to be in the Air Force. It was a general’s position, but I never was promoted. I held that job for six years which is unusual for the military.” After 30 years of service, Col. Dracos Burke finally retired from the military, reluctantly, he said. “I would have stayed there forever and worked there for nothing,” Burke said of his time in Omaha. After retirement, Burke and his wife, Carolyn, moved home. With a law degree from Colorado in hand, Burke would have had to pass the BAR in Louisiana to practice law here, he said. He enrolled at LSU and completed the second of his law degrees. He was thinking of opening a law practice in town, he said, when another old friend and fellow JAG, Knowles Tucker asked him to come on board with the district attorney’s office as his first assistant.

HOLLY LELEUX-THUBRON / THE DAILY IBERIAN

Dracos Burke, who served in WWII, looks at photos from his days as a flight instructor. “Being a prosecutor is a great job,” Burke said. “Working in that environment and with the police, was the closest thing to military life where you tell someone to do something and you know it’s going to get done.”

Burke kept in touch for years with fellow bombardiers and JAGs, he said. But, at the age of 91, colleagues still living are becoming fewer common, he said. Of 105 cadets he graduated bombardier school with, only three are

left now, he said. “We were all very close for years and years,” Burke said. “We started having annual reunions but we’ve abandoned that now because they’re aren’t many of us left.”

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Veterans Profile 2011  

Profile of Teche area veterans