Whence comes the spark of excellence that drove Lloyd Burke, Medal of Honor winner?
Lloyd Burke was having a bad year.
Lloyd Burke from Tichnor Arkansas exemplifies the spark of Excellence that is in all of us.
It was October 28th, 1951 and First Lieutenant Lloyd Leslie Burke, his friends called him Scooter, was in Korea.
Scooter Burke had been the commander of Company G, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division for 13 months. He had arrived with his men just in time to defend the perimeter at Pusan, when the American and South Korean forces had been forced to make a perilous stand. He had then attacked up the peninsula, following the landings at Inchon, all the way to the Yalu River. Then, his unit was among those attacked by the 1.4 million Chinese who counter-invaded. For the past 11 months, the Chinese had driven the outnumbered UN forces back, the 1st Cavalry Division among them.
But Scooter Burke was now on his way home. He had been ordered back off the front lines and was now at a command post in the rear. The ticket for the airplane ride home was in his front breast pocket.
Up on the front line, the Chinese were attacking again and a force of over 300 were attacking the remnants of Lieutenant Burke’s former company – whittled down to a strength of only 35 combat effective soldiers. As the Chinese closed in on the demoralized defenders with machine gun fire they had closed enough to a range where they were now lobbing grenades into the American trenches. It looked like Hill 200 was just going to be another defeat.
But Lloyd Burke heard about the imminent rout and, airline ticket still in his pocket, returned to the front lines.
There, he found a dispirited, demoralized and defeated group. They were in imminent danger from 3 Chinese bunkers in advantageous positions.
Exposing himself, he attacked the first bunker with grenades and his M1 rifle, wiping out the position. He then went on to the next bunker and killed its occupants.
By this point he had attracted significant fire from the Chinese lines and dove for the cover of a small berm. Unable to hit him with direct fire, the Chinese lobbed grenades over the berm. Lt. Burke caught several in midair and hurled them back at the enemy while maintaining a deadly fire with his rifle. Lt. Burke’s men, inspired by his actions, stormed forward and eradicated the third bunker.
The immediate threat to the company removed, Lt. Burke now secured a machine gun and moved forward to another exposed position. While under enemy fire, he set up the machine gun and poured a crippling fire into the ranks of the enemy, killing 75. During this assault he was wounded but refused to retire. Instead, he ordered more ammunition and attacked and destroyed 2 mortar emplacements and an enemy machine gun position.
The remaining Chinese began to retreat, pursued by Lt. Burke and his company who killed another 25.
Through Lt. Burke’s heroic action, unflinching courage, and outstanding leadership, he saved his unit from certain destruction at great risk to himself.
He aspired to excellence.
When I think of the characteristics of the most wonderful achievements of the human race I am struck by two things. First, none of them occurred because someone was ordered to do something. Second, they are all done for others.
I believe that the same spark of excellence that propelled Lt. Burke lives in all of us.
It lives in your bosses, it lives in your subordinates, and it lives in you.