Monday, March 10, 2008

Army Spc. Donald A. Burkett

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Donald A. Burkett, 24, of Comanche, Texas

Spc. Burkett was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas; died March 10, 2008 in Balad Ruz, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. Also killed were Sgt. Phillip R. Anderson and Capt. Torre R. Mallard.

Family mourns soldier who had turned his life around
By Doug Myers (Contact)

Three-year-old Mason Burkett can't quite fathom that his father went away to war and isn't coming back.

Mason's dad, 24-year-old Spc. Donald A. "Wesley" Burkett of Comanche, and two other soldiers were killed Monday when their vehicle came upon an improvised explosive device in Balad Ruz, Iraq.

Soon, however, Mason will have a reminder of his dad, a birthday present Burkett planned to give his only child when he came home on leave from Iraq in September.

"We were supposed to go out and get the puppy, so his daddy could give it to him when he came in," said Carolyn Gray, Burkett's mother.

Now, she said, the family plans to obtain a puppy and give it to Mason, months before his fourth birthday, in remembrance of his late father.

Plans are to tell Mason, Gray said, "That was what Daddy was going to do."

"He was like my grandson. They're both extremely intelligent," the 53-year-old Gray said.

She then chuckled and added: "I don't know where they got it from actually."

A Zephyr high school dropout who received his GED (General Educational Development) in February 2001, Burkett entered the U.S. Army in April 2006 as an armor crewman, and since August 2006, he was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, according to Fort Hood officials.

Before his death, Gray said, her son had told his family he was "reading the Bible over there and that he wanted us to get Mason into Sunday school and start taking him to church on a regular basis."

He had his life straightened out, she said.

"He wanted to go forward in the Army," Gray said. "He was very proud to be in the military, and I was very proud he was in the military."

While he acknowledged recently that he'd "goofed off" and had trouble finding focus over the years, Gray said her son had married, bought his wife, Brandi, a house in Killeen and made plans for the future.

"I was supposed to go down to CTC (Central Texas College) in Killeen Wednesday and sign him up for online classes," she said. "To further your career in the Army, you have to take classes, and he wanted to get his associate (degree) at CTC and bachelor's from Tarleton."

His goal was to become a sergeant, she said, and he was extremely serious about his Army duties.

"He would tell us nothing," Gray said. "Any information we got was through the grapevine."

Zephyr ISD Superintendent David Whisenhunt said Burkett was "a real smart kid" who was looking for direction in his life. He was well-liked but quiet, he said, and a UIL academic competitor before he withdrew from high school and later earned a GED.

"Wesley was a little ol' skinny thing back then," said Gary Bufe, Zephyr school principal for 25 years. "I remember him being really intelligent."

In fact, Bufe said, Burkett was "extremely smart," noting he generally scored in the 96th to 99th percentile range on pre-ACT college readiness tests.

However, as Burkett got older, "He really didn't know what he wanted to do."

"It saddens all of us very much, especially with someone you knew personally," Bufe said of his death. "I'm very proud of him for serving. I'm very proud that he changed things."

On Monday, Burkett was killed along with Capt. Torre Ramoine Mallard, 27, of Oklahoma, and Sgt. Phillip Reid Anderson, 28, of Everett, Wash. The soldiers deployed in November 2007.

Burkett's awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal and Army Service Ribbon.

According to Gray, Burkett's body will arrive at Brownwood Regional Airport on Wednesday and a "small ceremony" will be held. He then will be taken to Heartland Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements. A graveside service will be held at a yet-to-be-determined time in Killeen, she said.

Army Spc. Donald A. Burkett was killed in action on 3/10/08.

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