Article by Ted Shockley, Salisbury

Originally appeared in the Eastern Shore News ( 1:45 p.m. EDT May 23, 2014


Shirley Burkhead Johnson felt the need to visit her mother one day in February 1968.

“Something told me to go, to be with her,” she said. They lived near each other in Lee Mont.

As it turned out, she was there to provide comfort when the U.S. Marine Corps serviceman arrived to say Johnson’s youngest sibling, Cpl. Jerry Clark Burkhead, was killed in action in Vietnam.

It was a stunning loss of a popular young man.

“People still remember and love Jerry,” Johnson said.

On Memorial Day, Burkhead will get a special tribute at Riverside Shore Rehabilitation Center in Parksley, the home of another of the fallen Marine’s siblings.

J.D. Burkhead, who has lived at the Parksley center for almost three years, has arranged for a U.S. flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of his brother to be flown in front of the facility.

The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at the center, on Parksley Road near Fishers Corner.

The flag, a Presidential Unit Citation earned by Burkhead and other honors will then be showcased at the center.

The citation is awarded to units of the U.S. armed forces for extraordinary heroism.

For Johnson, the event will complete a mission by her family to find out more about Burkhead’s death.

For a time, the family only had one photo of the serviceman in Vietnam. But they since have received more from a fellow Marine who knew Burkhead.

They also met his commanding officer during a luncheon in Norfolk. Former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb had the flag flown in Burkhead’s honor on Oct. 19, 2010, over the Capitol.

Of the 12 siblings, there are six remaining — Burkhead and Johnson live on the Shore. Janet Williams lives in Poquoson; Joe Burkhead lives in Snow Hill; Maxine Cherrix lives in Hertford, North Carolina; and Judy Zimmerman lives in Nebraska.

All are expected to attend the Memorial Day ceremony, which is being coordinated by Lori Wilson of the center’s staff.

J.D. Burkhead first approached Betsy Justis, activities director at the center, about flying the flag in front.

Burkhead, a 1966 graduate of Parksley High School, was 21 years old when he was killed Feb. 8, 1968.

The war claimed more than 58,000 lives, including 19 from the Eastern Shore.

Today, 46 years later, his death resonates.

“Time has taken care of a little bit,” said Johnson. “But it’s still there. It hurts badly.”

Published: May 28, 2014