Damascus legion founder Burke dies at age 85

He was awarded the Bronze Star in 2002 for his battle service

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

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Rachael Golden⁄The Gazette
Luther Burke (foreground) helped lay flowers during a Memorial Day service last year with two other World War II vets, Orman Rippeon (left) and Ray Luhn.

L. Luther Burke, 85, died Saturday at his home in Damascus following a long illness.

Burke, a decorated World War II veteran, was a founding and lifetime member of Damascus American Legion Post 171 and the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department.

‘‘That was his life — his life was service to his community and civic service,” said Linda Wyche, his youngest daughter. ‘‘He did it well.”

Burke built a house in Damascus when he returned from the war and joined 21 other Damascus veterans to form the legion post in 1945.

From the beginning the post was active in community service. Its first project was to install streetlights on Main Street. Burke was one of three responsible for installing the first streetlights in Damascus.

Burke served as post commander five times. For many years he managed the club building, which he helped construct.

After his retirement in 1982 from Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he was a cabinetmaker, he devoted all his time to community service.

‘‘He was probably the most dedicated legionnaire the post ever had,” said George Bolling, a past post commander.

Burke was the only member of the post elected member emeritus of the executive board, Bolling said.

‘‘More than any single thing he was the guardian of the policies and practices of the American Legion,” he said. ‘‘He was our standard bearer.”

In 2001 the post dedicated its state flagpole to Burke.

Burke was serving his second term as president of the Damascus Volunteer Fire Department when Chief Darron Long joined in 1968.

‘‘I’ve always considered Luther as a cornerstone of the community because of his hard work and dedication to the volunteer fire department and legion,” Long said.

Burke loved riding on the ambulance and doing rescue work, he said. He installed a siren on his garage to alert the other volunteersto emergency calls, Long said. Burke still attended meetings, fund-raising and administrative events after he became a senior member of the department.

‘‘His absence in the Damascus community will be greatly missed,” Long said.

Burke was born May 28, 1920, in Kemptown, the son of the late Leonard F. and Annie L. Sier Burke. He left high school early to help his father on the family farm, Wyche said.

Burke and Hazel Mullinix Burke married in 1941, Wyche said.

When he was drafted into the Army in 1944, he left a pregnant wife and young child at home.

Burke fought in Europe in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive on the Western Front.

Burke was taken prisoner in France in January 1945, shortly before the Germans withdrew. He was marched through hip-high snow to a prisoner of war camp in northern Germany, where he was held for 100 days.

‘‘It was pretty rotten ... didn’t have enough to eat, nothing to keep us warm,” Burke said in an earlier interview about his war days.

Burke earned two Combat Infantry Badges at the Battle of the Bulge and received a Purple Heart. Through the help of Congress, he was finally given the Bronze Star in 2002.

Burke was also a member of Gold Star Post 10076 VFW in Mount Airy and a member of Damascus United Methodist Church.

‘‘My father was a wonderful human being,” Wyche said. ‘‘He loved Damascus dearly.”

Burke appreciated the honors and recognition the community had given, she said.

In addition to his wife and daughter Wyche of Florence, S.C., survivors are son Allan Burke of Union Bridge and daughter Brenda Phifer of Fairfax, Va., two sisters, Anna M. Senseney of Damascus and Madelean Darby of Frederick, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a sister, Lillian Mullinix.

The legion and fire department held memorial services for Burke Tuesday night. Funeral services will be held today at 11 a.m. at the Damascus American Legion Post 171, 10201 Lewis Drive. Interment with military honors will follow in Damascus Methodist Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Luther Burke Memorial Fund, c⁄o Damascus American Legion, 10201 Lewis Drive, Damascus, Md. 20872.