Remember Their Allegiance
● Published by Aimee Cormier
We Salute Dracos Burke On Veterans Day
By Anne B. Minvielle | Submitted Photos
For many, Veterans Day is a day for flag flying, shopping special sales, and perhaps watching a special ceremony on the evening news. For still others, the day takes on particular significance because a family member has actually lived the right to be one of those for whom the day is named. Veterans Day, on the 11th day of the 11th month, is a day to honor America’s veterans, who have not only pledged allegiance to their flag, but have pledged years of their lives for the ideals for which it stands.
One of New Iberia’s most respected veterans is Dracos Burke, a native son who served his country for 30 years in the United States Air Force. Burke was born in New Iberia in 1919, and he was educated at St. Peter’s College. “It was a time when everyone knew everyone else,” he recalled fondly.” He continued his education at Southwestern Louisiana Institute (SLI), now ULL, as a commuter in a model A Ford.
Although Burke majored in history and English with a concentration in pre-law, he knew that he wanted to fly airplanes. In order to join the military and do so, one had to have two years of college and be 20 years old. As soon as he had met those criteria, Burke applied for pilot training and was sent to Love Field in Dallas, Texas. However, pilots were not needed by the Army Air Corps. Half the class was eliminated, and Burke was one of those discharged. Burke was able to finish college, but he continued to long for an Air Corps life.
“I had never been so disappointed in my life,” said Burke. He explained that this was during the depression; no one had any money. Jobs were scarce and pay was nominal. After working for a time as a laborer at his uncle’s concrete business, Burke was ready for a change.
A letter from the U.S. War Department arrived telling Burke that his letter for application for re-instatement in pilot training had been received, but he was not being considered. Ironically, he had never sent such a letter of application. However, the letter from the War Department went on to say that he might be interested in two new programs for flying; as a navigator and as a bombardier.
One Of The First U.S. Bombardiers
Burke applied to be a navigator. A few weeks later, he received a letter telling him that his application to be a bombardier was accepted. Another mistake, and this time, Burke was headed in a new direction. “I didn’t know what a bombardier did, but I was so ready to go that I accepted. New Iberia was in a depression, I had to do something. I think I knew I wanted to make a career of the military,” he said.
By this time, Burke knew that the love of his life was Carrie Dupuy, who lived in New Iberia, and he wanted her to know of his feelings before he left for his military commitment. The two became engaged before he left for Barksdale and then for Lowry Field in Denver for the new program for training as bombardiers.
Burke recalled his days at Lowry. He said, “We were about 120 of us and the first bombardiers in the United States. We were almost all college graduates and almost all had been eliminated from pilot training. We went to school and weren’t allowed to take any notes. We didn’t have any books. All we did was work with the top secret Norden bombsight and fly and drop bombs.”
Those who graduated from that training school were assigned as instructors at training schools at several locales. “Cadets that we trained went on to be the ones who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Burke said.
World War II
Burke considered himself fortunate to be sent as an instructor to Barksdale Field in Shreveport because it was closer to home and to Carrie. In addition to that good news, he learned that he would be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. To a young man trying to gather enough funds to support a wife, Burke was adding a rank raise to his flying pay and regular pay, all adding up to a big day. On Sept. 18, 1941, Dracos and Carrie Burke were married in New Iberia and began a life that was everything but dull!
Married life began at Barksdale, but, as everywhere, everything changed after Dec. 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Carrie returned to New Iberia, and Burke was sent to the West Coast to train bombardiers. Instructors were needed in Albuquerque, however, and he was reassigned. Carrie was able to join him, and they remained there until the training school was closed when the need for bombardiers was met.
Burke was sent to Las Vegas, and Carrie, with two kids in tow, returned to New Iberia. After three months of training with the B-29, he was sent to Gulfport, Miss., to train for an overseas mission in the Pacific. On Aug. 8, 1945, bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war ended. “It was a total surprise to me,” Burke said.
A new phase in Burke’s career began. He was a Major in the newly named U.S. Army Air Forces. With the war over, many were leaving the military. According to Burke, “I knew there was no future as a bombardier in the civilian life. I had done pretty well in the Air Corps, so I decided I would stay in the military.” He prepared for his next assignment, and he knew it would be overseas.
Carrie, of course, returned to New Iberia, and Burke was sent to Germany. It mattered not that Burke was a bombardier; he was needed. Burke recalled, “I was a live body. I was a college graduate and that meant a lot. I was assigned to a Bomb Wing that had a mission of taking aerial photographs of air fields in Europe for a mapping program. It had nothing to do with bombing.”
The Nuremberg Trials
Burke was named the public relations officer of the Bomb Wing, and he began a new career in journalism and photography. Carrie and their two children were able to join Burke in Germany. Burke always speaks with appreciation of his wife when he recalls the sacrifices of a military wife. Carrie and her children were on a troop transport ship 21 days to make the trip from New York to meet him.
Erlangen, Germany, where Burke was stationed, is about 30 miles outside of Nuremberg. Since he was a public relations officer and photographer, Burke was able to secure a pass to attend the Nuremberg Trials. He still has the official program for attendees, including members of the press, which lists all the defendants and the charges made against them.
Burke recalled, “The trial was held in the Palace of Justice, one of the few places not destroyed in Nuremberg. The city was 90 percent destroyed in the war. We looked right down at the defendants that you have read about, and we heard the trial in English. It was one of the first times there were simultaneous translations with headsets. There was terrific security, men with machine guns, and American tanks all around the building.”
With Carrie expecting another child, the couple returned to the states after 18 months. Burke was assigned to the Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona. It was here that he learned about a program that would allow regular Air Force officers to attend post graduate school at a civilian university. He was allowed to pursue a law degree at the University of Denver in Colorado. He was admitted to the federal bar in Colorado and then was transferred to Tampa, Fla., with two more children added to the family.
Next came four years at familiar Barksdale and then an overseas assignment, this time to Madrid, Spain. Burke was promoted to full Colonel. The family spent three years there, and another Burke was added to the clan, now composed of Mary Celeste, Michael, Alan, Patrick, Kathleen, and Thomas.
Stateside, the Burkes were stationed in Columbia, S.C., and Omaha, Neb., Headquarters of Strategic Air Command. Col. Dracos Burke held the position of Staff Judge Advocate, Strategic Air Command, for about six years, until he retired in January of 1970.
The one constant through the years of change was New Iberia. When Burke went from base to base, Carrie intermittently returned to her parents’ home on Marie Street with their children when it was not practical for the family to accompany Burke. “I once counted that we had 22 homes. Carrie was always so gracious and agreeable about every move, and it certainly wasn’t always easy. She enjoyed every place we went.”
When it was time to find a permanent place to settle down, the Burkes decided on New Iberia. Not entirely ready for complete retirement, Burke decided he would like to practice law in the area in some capacity. Burke knew he would have to pass the Louisiana Bar Exam and so enrolled in classes at LSU and actually received a degree before being admitted to the bar. He was hired as an assistant district attorney for the 16th Judicial District.
Burke was well respected as a prosecutor. In 2004, he received the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award presented by local lawyers and judges dedicated to legal excellence. He retired from his job as assistant district attorney on his 70th birthday.
Carrie had discovered a love for painting and was actively involved with Bayou Art Gallery. She exhibited her work there as well as at the Art Center in Lafayette. She was also an active garden club member. Now deceased, her memory lives on in her family, her paintings, and in the pristine gardens of her home, maintained by a most willing gardener, Dracos Burke.
Burke has children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep him busy as well. There are daily phone calls and e-mails, and he enjoys lunches and visits with old friends. He is certainly never at a loss for words. His memory is razor sharp and can test that of someone half his age!
Regardless of what accomplishments Mr. Burke speaks about, he always mentions the people who were “behind him,” or “the men who did the work.” He has a characteristic modesty which is innate and the mark of the true southern gentleman that he is.
Sincerity is a mark on his heart. He enthusiastically declares, “The best people in the world are military people. They are dedicated people. The mission comes first!” The patriotism that he has shown serves as an example for us all this Veterans Day.
Thank you, Mr. Burke, and all Veterans who lived their allegiance!