This week, NewsChannel 9 and LocalSYR.com are honoring Central New York’s servicemembers with a series of special reports from Washington, D.C. for Honor Flight Syracuse’s Mission 15 culminating with a special broadcast on Veterans Day, “Veterans Voices” at 7pm on NewsChannel 9.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSYR-TV) — There was a time of Steve Burton’s life when he may have skipped visiting the Vietnam Memorial wall. Many veterans proudly talk about their military experience, but it wasn’t easy for Burton, from Kirkville.
“I didn’t want anybody to know about my past,” Burton said in an interview with NewsChannel 9 outside the memorial in Washington, D.C. “It was trying and I didn’t want to bother people with it.”
Even his wife didn’t know details for decades until when driving to the Adirondacks, his stories just spilled out.
Burton remembers, “I started shaking and started crying. My wife had to take the steering wheel and took the car to the side of the road, and I told her what I experienced.”
Having been wounded three separate times, Burton had reason to be hesitant, but a lot to be proud of.
People are alive because he kept going back.
When his ammunition storage facility came under attack, Burton jumped in to minimize the damage, especially when he saw fire moving toward a tank filled with chemicals.
He was able to remove live ammunition from the fire’s path.
“There was a charge further down,” he recalls, “and I got blew up, blown off the pad. I ended up in Japan at the general hospital.”
His injury likely avoided dozens of deaths. His bravery earned him a nomination for the medal of honor. He thinks salty language he used toward his commander is why he ended up with the bronze star instead.
Burton knows he’s lucky to have survived. He remembers all too well those who didn’t, including a friend he made at training camp in Colorado.
The soldiers agreed early on to escort each other’s body back to America, if necessary. It’s a promise Burton had to keep when he was called to visit his friend in the hospital in 1970.
Burton remembers, “I went back to talk to the doctor, and while I was doing that, the nurse went to in change his dressing. He had passed away.”
Visiting the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., Burton is looking for his friend’s engraved name. But several minutes of research with the guides turn up nothing for the name he remembers: “Johnny Richard Sargant.”
Without any sign of his comrade, Burton’s mission feels incomplete.
“There are days that I do think about him,” Burton says. “There’d be a smell or a song that will bring it back to me. My wife will see it. She says: ‘You’re thinking about Johnny, ain’t ya?’ I said ya. She says ‘okay.’ She’ll let it be. I’ll just go for a walk just thinking about him. He was a good guy. I miss him. Makes me mad I can’t find his name. He deserved to be on the wall.”
NewsChannel 9 is in touch with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and requesting archival records to track down the correct name or perhaps a mistake leaving a name off the wall so Steve Burton can be at peace knowing his friend will be appropriately honored.