Local soldier is coming home for re-interment

Staff Writer

Newton native PFC John Taylor “Jack” Burke is finally coming home, and Jill Henderson, his niece, wants to share the milestone with everyone.

Burke's remains have been identified after seven decades of being buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as the “Punchbowl.”

Now, they're being flown back to the last place he lived before being sent off to war.

Burke played football for the Newton-Conover Red Devils and graduated at the age of 17 in 1942.

Soon after graduating, he went off to basic training for the Marine Corps.

He was reportedly killed on November 21, 1943 while fighting during the Battle of Tarawa, along with around 1,000 other Marines.

After being buried on the small island where he died, his remains were transferred to be identified in 1947. When attempts to identify Burke failed, his body was flown to Hawaii in 1949 and buried with other unknown soldiers.

The family went for so long with nothing but photos and memories left to hold on to.

Henderson heard stories of Burke from her mother, Jean Burke Bloodworth, while growing up.

Bloodsworth, now deceased, was the half-sister of Burke and wanted to find out what happened to him.

Henderson knew he'd been killed at the Battle of Tarawa 10 years before she was born, but not much else.

She said that there's been a push in the last several years by both the government and by private organizations such as “History Flight,” to identify and recover unknown soldier remains.

“They are focusing on those that died in WWII and the Korean War,” she said. “They encourage the Department of Defense to dis-inter the remains and identify them.”

In 2013, Bloodworth was contacted by an agency trying to identify remains of lost Marines.

“They asked us to donate DNA samples,” Henderson said. “We never thought it would happen. All we could do was wait and hope.”

But, on May 15, 2019, Burke was formally identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

They used mitochondrial DNA and other anthropological evidence to identify his body.

Henderson was informed on Memorial Day, and finally had some questions answered.

For the longest time, she believed that Burke had drowned and been washed out to sea.

“So many of the Marines had to disembark the boats and wade in water over their heads,” Henderson said.

The family was surprised when the remains were discovered.

Henderson said that most of his skeleton is intact, but a few chest bones, including his breastbone is missing.

“It leads me to believe he was shot,” she said.

But even though Henderson and the other surviving relatives may never know Burke's cause of death, they are relieved to have him back.

They are also grateful that he will finally get the proper burial that he deserves and no longer be unknown.

Burke's remains will be flown from Hawaii to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on October 24 at 1:50 p.m.

Around 16 family members will be waiting on the tarmac to greet him when he is brought home.

The remains will then be transferred to Catawba Memorial Park's representatives with a Marine Color Guard assisting.

A police escort from Hickory will accompany the remains, along with the NC Patriot Riders and some other veteran organizations.

Viewing of Jack's military uniform in an open casket will be held on Friday, October 25 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The funeral will be held on Saturday, October 26 at 2:30 p.m. at Catawba Memorial Park in Hickory.

Both the viewing and service are open to the public.