RICHMOND, Va. – Jack Burke said he wanted to know where the time has gone. How can 70 years slip by so fast?
Some memories may fade, but one moment will forever remain razor sharp.
“I was in the 5th Rangers. ‘A’ Company,” Burke said. “But I just don’t consider myself tough.”
On June 6, 1944, the then 21-year old found himself wading through a sheet of murderous steel.
“The Germans wouldn’t fire till they dropped the ramp. And then they shot them as they came off,” Burke said. “We had a primary assignment and that was to knock out the guns on Pointe Du Hoc.”
Jack Burke stormed ashore at Omaha Beach in northern France on D-Day.
“This machine gun opened up right in front of me. ‘Chick. Chick. Chick.’ That was the first inclination that someone was after old Jack Burke,” he recalled.
He and his fellow soldiers pushed ahead. Their ultimate goal? Liberate Europe from the Nazis grasp.
“We had a high casualty rate, but we hung together and accomplished every mission we went after,” Burke said. “The rifle fire and machine gun fire was very heavy. The ones that got up there were the lucky ones. They didn’t have any talent any more than the ones that got killed. They were just fortunate.”
The soldiers efforts did not come without heavy losses.
“I lost a lot of guys who were wounded and who were killed,” he said.
A few months after D-Day Jack received terrible news. His brother, Tom, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. Years later he would visit Tom’s grave in Luxembourg.
“I walked down and about three graves down from my brother was Charlie Portell who was in the same unit of “A” Company, 5th Rangers. He was one of my best buddies. I cried a lot,” he said.
All these years the 91-year-old spry veteran said he has appreciated the handshakes and “Thank yous” offered by strangers. But he said he was uncomfortable with the label “hero.”
“There are so many guys who were there that will never get the credit because they’re buried,” he said.
With the 70th anniversary of D-Day upon us, Jack said he counts his blessings that he survived one of the most daunting days in U.S. History.
“I proved to myself. That I held myself together both physically and mentally. I’m proud of that,” he said.
After the war, Jack Burke graduated from college and went on to successful career in sales. Mr. Burke has returned to Normandy four times over the years to visit the D-Day beaches and his brother’s grave.
Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email firstname.lastname@example.org.