The Eulogy of Joseph Earl Burlas III, Given on 07/23/2015
This evening I am faced with the next-to-impossible task of finding the words to commemorate a man that was larger than life itself. Everyone in this room has had their lives touched by my father, and many of you understand just how amazing a man he really was. He was a man of principle, and a person who was committed to what he believed was important in life. Yet in contrast, he was also quick to tell a joke and did not stress about the little things in life. He lived his life in a way that I imagine many of us only wish we could, and that is with a clear definition of what mattered to him and what didn’t. With that, I can tell you what DID matter to my father fell into three categories, consisting of his love for our Lord, his love for his family, and the love he had for his country. I would argue that he loved those things in that exact order. And I believe it is safe to say that many of us know or have known someone that claims to stand for principles, but in my personal experience it is a rare thing to see systematically frame their life completely around only those things.
Growing up, I got to see first-hand that if he wasn’t doing something as a Commander, or later in life as an Army Journalist, then he was at home spending the rest of his time and energy with his family. He approached the duties and responsibilities for each area of importance with the utmost care and seriousness; and with everything outside of that, he brought with him a carefree sense of charm, understanding, and easy going spirit that I just loved to be in the presence of. And I know many people here have their own stories that agree. I believe that if you were to ask my father what he did with his life, he would tell you that “He was a Soldier”, and he certainly was. He would tell you that he knew he wanted to be a Soldier from a very early age, and in asking my Grandfather what the best way of accomplishing that would be, he was told that if he wanted to join the Army, become an officer. If he wanted to become an officer, go to West Point. And so he went to West Point and in 1982, he graduated with “The Select Few”, a name for his graduating class that my father took the utmost pride in. But honestly, that’s where he would leave that story. You see, my father was a humble man, and what he wouldn’t tell you is all the hard work he had to put into it. He wouldn’t tell you that he was told ‘no’ at first when seeking an appointment to the school, and he wouldn’t tell you that he gladly did an extra year at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School in order to make the dream a reality. He would probably also leave out that he was an Eagle Scout, and that he won multiple national awards, and that he was a nationally ranked marksmen in competition. He would leave all that out, because the pride he felt inside for having done all of that was enough, and after much deep reflection, I can never remember him bragging. Ever. What I do remember of these listed accomplishments, and the real reason I know all of this, is that they came as part of a lesson. And in hearing of what he did when he was younger, he also told me that he had to work three part-time jobs, and that hearing ‘no’ only made him try harder. And that lesson concluded with him telling a very young me, with “no matter who tells you no, if you want something bad enough, you can do it – I did”. It is a lesson that has helped me through the hardest and most self-doubting moments of my life, and one I very much hope I am passing onto my own son.
My father sure did love teaching each one of his children lessons, and he had a way of doing so that each of my siblings can agree, have lasted our lifetime. And it’s funny when you look back. I realize I wasn’t the easiest child to raise and was quite rebellious at times, but with the most important lessons as I got older -- he had some sort of old wisdom about him, where he rarely shouted to make a point. He often didn’t even insist on his own point of view. He would tell you what he thought, he would point to where he thought you could do better, he’d relate with a personal story, and then he would let you make your own mistakes. And that has continued from my mid-teenage years to the present. He’d be very clear, and then he would withdraw and wait for you to seek his advice if you needed it. In that way, he helped each of his children to find their own place in the world, and to be independent in a world where we often have to set out on our own and be alone for a little while in order to find our place in it. And as children we saw how hard life can get, but I can tell you that we rarely ever really felt it. When the Army downsized in 1993, my father was a part of helping the Army to ‘get smaller’ and went from being an Active Duty soldier to a reservist. This meant that he could no longer be a full-time Soldier, and had to find other employment. Before he was even fully out of the service, he had already taken up a job selling water purification systems on commission. A very pricey item back in 1993 that today would be equate to a reusable Britta water filter. Looking back I can really see how much stress both my mother and father were under, but as kids we knew nothing of the sacrifices they made. There was food on the table, a roof over our heads, and we knew how much they both loved us. Now my father was a Soldier, but I can tell you that he never treated anyone at home like we were Soldiers. He put us above his work and sometimes I wonder how, because as kids we misbehaved with the best of them and it certainly sometimes drove my mother crazy, all of which he would come home to after a long day at work. But my father was the rock that we could all lean on and be comforted by, and I like to think that we, his family, were also his refuge from the storm that can sometimes rage on in life.
But like I said, his life was built around God, his family, and his country, and it was only a few months before my Dad found a job working for the Government again as an Army Journalist. And I think he found his true calling there. In the Army my Dad was a Field Artillery officer, which meant he coordinated the firing of cannons and other indirect fire to support Soldiers on the battlefield. While he was proud of this and found meaning and importance in it, I can tell you that the pride he took in, as he would say, “telling the Soldiers story”, was second to none and he excelled at it. In the first five years of being a journalist, he won over 20 district and national awards including the Journalist of the Year multiple years. He was so successful in this, that he was able to take a job working for Army News Service at the Pentagon. For a time, and if you Google his name, you can see that he was also the Pentagon spokesperson for the Army and is quoted in thousands of articles and references in a few books on then current events.
When our Nation was attacked on September 11th, he, and I know at least one other person in this room, was working in the Pentagon when it was struck. While he has never really talked much about it, I know that he lost good friends and co-workers that day, some that he worked really close with and I believe it haunted him for the rest of his life. But my father was not someone to stand idle and when the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, asked for my father to accompany him in travelling abroad and visiting Soldiers engaged in operations, he jumped at the chance. I can remember my father coming into my room one Friday morning and telling me that he was leaving the country that afternoon with the Chief of Staff but he’d be back on Monday… like it was no big deal.
I think our Dad was realizing what his children and wife already thought of him, that he was important and his beliefs and commitment to them set him apart. What I don’t think he realized was that to us, he had always been a real-life superhero. When he got sick in 2003, and was diagnosed with Amyloidosis, the prognosis given to him was not good. He sought treatment for it but for a while his condition continued to worsen. Now I joined the Army in 2002, and in 2005 I found myself very involved in the conflict in Iraq. It was around midway through my tour, in the summer of 2005, that he was told by doctors that there was a medical trial that consisted of Chemotherapy and stem-cell replacement but that they did not know how much longer he had. At some point after that I called home and was told the news; that he would start the chemo, but that they didn’t know how long he would live. I asked if he would go to the Red Cross and try to get me a compassionate release that would allow me to come see him and he told me, “no, I’m proud of you, I believe in what you’re doing, and I’m okay right now. You have a job to do”. He assured me that if it did take a turn for the absolute worse he would send for me, but that I was his hero and I shouldn’t worry about him. And with all the stories I could tell, and there are a lot of them, I think that sums it up. My father’s life was dedicated to putting his God, his family, and his country before himself. One of the last things he said to us as a family was that he felt as though he didn’t do enough in this life. And when I got a chance to speak to him alone, I told him that it made me SO proud to hear him say that. Because, I explained, that if you really believe in a mission you will never feel like you did enough until the mission is complete, and that no matter how long he lived, he would never outlive the mission of ‘Telling the Soldier’s Story’. But I reminded him how he spent the latter part of his working life dedicating it to giving Soldiers – young kids like me when I was overseas – a voice that they would never have without him. And that makes me so, so proud.
When I look back on my father’s life, I see a beach at sunset – ever so beautiful as the sun shined down upon it – and steadfast in its resolve to be morally unmoved despite the chaotic and violent waves that life sometimes brought to crash down upon it. My father’s mission here is complete. He leaves behind a family who loves each other, each having taken his lessons and served society in a way much like his. Both of his sons having joined the Army at 17 years old. Daughters who became a firefighter/paramedic and one who works with Special Education children. Each knowing that the gifts in life are each other and the relationships we forge while protecting the fabric of what you stood for. You are our hero, sir, and while you were a Soldier here, I know you’re helping to guard the gates of heaven now, until we see you again. I love you, Dad.
I am so happy that out of all the people to get to have a Dad, I got to call you mine. Rest easy pop and I'll see you soon. Happy Father's Day, sir.
"I watched the affect my father’s love and humor had on the world around me, and I thought: That’s something to do, that’s something worth my time." - Jim Carey