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Arleigh Albert Burke
Admiral Arleigh Burke, USN
Nickname "31-Knot Burke"
Born (1901-10-19)October 19, 1901
Died January 1, 1996(1996-01-01) (aged 94)
Place of birth Boulder, Colorado,
United States
Place of death Bethesda, Maryland,
United States
Place of burial U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1923-1961
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg Admiral
Commands held Chief of Naval Operations (1955-1961)
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Awards Navy Cross
Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (4)
Purple Heart

Admiral Arleigh Albert '31-knot' Burke (October 19, 1901 – January 1, 1996) was an admiral of the United States Navy who distinguished himself during World War II and the Korean War, and who served as Chief of Naval Operations during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), the lead ship of her class of Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers, was commissioned in his honor in 1991, when he was still alive.

Early life and naval career

Arleigh Burke. Taken in 1920 while he was attending the U.S. Naval Academy.

Burke was born in Boulder, Colorado on October 19, 1901. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in June 1923, and was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy. He married Miss Roberta Gorsuch of Washington, D.C.

Over the next 18 years, Burke prepared himself for combat, serving in battleships and destroyers, and earning a Master of Science in engineering at the University of Michigan. When World War II came, he found himself, to his great disappointment, in a shore billet at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C. After persistent effort on his part, he received orders to join the fighting in the South Pacific.[1]

World War II

Burke would spend the remainder of the war in the South Pacific. He successively commanded Destroyer Division 43, Destroyer Division 44, Destroyer Squadron 12, and Destroyer Squadron 23.[2] The latter squadron, known as the "Little Beavers", covered the initial landings in Bougainville in November 1943, and fought in 22 separate engagements during the next four months. During this time, the Little Beavers were credited with destroying one Japanese cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, several smaller ships, and approximately 30 aircraft.[1] Burke's standing orders to his task force were, "Destroyers to attack on enemy contact WITHOUT ORDERS from the task force commander."[3]

He usually pushed his destroyers to just under boiler-bursting speed, but while en route to a rendezvous prior to the Battle of Cape St. George, a boiler casualty to USS Spence (DD-512) (a jammed boiler tube brush used for cleaning) limited his squadron to 31 knots, rather than the 34+ they were otherwise capable of. Thereafter, his nickname was "31-knot Burke," originally a taunt, later a popular symbol of his hard-charging nature.[1]

In March 1944, Burke was promoted to Chief of Staff to the Commander of Task Force 58, the Fifth Fleet's Fast Carrier Task Force, which was commanded by Admiral Marc Mitscher. (These same forces were known as Task Force 38 and the Third Fleet when Admiral William F. Halsey took over command from Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.) While serving with this famed carrier force, Burke was promoted to the temporary rank of Commodore, and participated in all the force's naval engagements until June 1945, shortly before the surrender of Japan. He was aboard both USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) when they were hit by Japanese kamikaze aircraft during the Okinawa campaign.[1]

After the end of the war, Burke reverted to his permanent rank of Captain and continued his naval career by serving in a number of capacities, including once more as Admiral Mitscher's chief of staff, until the latter's death in 1947. Burke then took command of the USS Huntington (CL-107) for a cruise down the east coast of Africa. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1949 and served as Navy Secretary on the Defense Research and Development Board.[1]

Korean War

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Admiral Forrest Sherman, then Chief of Naval Operations, ordered Burke to duty as Deputy Chief of Staff to Commander Naval Forces, Far East. From there, he assumed command of Cruiser Division Five, and, in July 1951, was made a member of the United Nations Truce Delegation which negotiated with the Communists for military armistice in Korea. After six months in the truce tents, he returned to the Office of Chief of Naval Operations where he served as Director of Strategic Plans Division until 1954.[1]

In April 1954, he took command of Cruiser Division Six, then moved in January 1955 to command Destroyer Force Atlantic Fleet. In August 1955, Burke succeeded Admiral Robert B. Carney as Chief of Naval Operations. At the time of his appointment as Chief of Naval Operations, Burke was still a Rear Admiral, Upper Half (Two Star) and was promoted over the heads of many Flag Officers who were senior to him. Admiral Burke had never served as a Vice Admiral (Three Star), so he was promoted two grades at the time of his appointment as CNO.[1]

Chief of Naval Operations

Admiral Burke (middle) watching flight of Mercury-Redstone 3 with President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, Jackie Kennedy, and Arthur Schlesinger in the White House Office of the President's Secretary, May 5, 1961.

Admiral Burke served an unprecedented three terms as CNO. Beginning in 1955 he served at a critical time in world history, the depths of the Cold War. The facts that he was relatively young compared to other Flag Officers at the time, and was an excellent manager and organizer, were keys to his success. He supported the touchy Adm. Hyman Rickover in the development of a nuclear Navy. More directly, he promoted the Polaris missile program at a time when others in the Navy were very skeptical of the idea of a missile launched from a submarine.

Admiral Burke as CNO was intimately involved in the Eisenhower administration discussions of "how much is enough?", as to the number of US nuclear submarines needed for deterrence. Burke argued that a force of around 40 Polaris submarines (each with 16 missiles) was a reasonable answer.[4] Burke further argued that land-based missiles and bombers were vulnerable to attack, which made the U.S.-Soviet nuclear balance dangerously unstable. By contrast, nuclear submarines were virtually undetectable and invulnerable.[4] He was very critical of "hair trigger" or "launch on warning" nuclear strategies, and he warned that such strategies were "dangerous for any nation." [5]

Earlier, Admiral Burke was involved in the "Revolt of the Admirals", a near mutiny by the leaders of the Navy in the late 1940s, and was saved from being fired by the intervention of President Harry S. Truman. His terms as CNO were times of growth and progress in the Navy. Upon completing his third term, he was transferred to the Retired List on August 1, 1961.[1]

Last years and legacy

Arleigh Burke and wife sit behind Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney who delivers the keynote address during the commissioning ceremony for the USS Arleigh Burke, Secretary of the Navy Henry Garrett, Ross Perot, and U.S. Senators from Virginia John Warner and Chuck Robb also present, July 4, 1991.[1]

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)

Burke died on January 1, 1996, at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 94 years old. He is buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery, in Annapolis, Maryland, according to his wishes, his headstone simply bears a one word epitaph, Sailor. USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), the lead ship of her class of Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers, was commissioned in his honor in 1991, when he was still alive.

Admiral Burke received numerous combat awards during his forty-two years in the Navy including the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Cross, Legion of Merit, and the Purple Heart. None were more cherished than two awards that came early in his career. In 1928, while serving aboard USS Procyon (AG-11), he was commended for the "rescue of shipwrecked and seafaring men," and in 1939, in his first command, USS Mugford (DD-389), he was commended when his destroyer won the fleet gunnery trophy with the highest score in many years. His ship also stood third in engineering competition and high in communication competition.[1]

Admiral Burke, himself of Swedish descent, was the senior representative of the United States of America on the funeral of King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden in 1973.

The character portrayed by Carroll O'Connor in the 1965 film, In Harm's Way, starring John Wayne, was modeled after Arleigh Burke.

The Assisted Living section of the Vinson Hall Retirement Community in McLean, Virginia is named the Arleigh Burke Pavilion in his honor.

List of citations

For his service in Destroyer Squadron 23, Admiral Burke was awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to Destroyer Squadron 23. The citations follow in part:[6]

Presidential Medal of Freedom


On January 10, 1977, Burke was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford.

Navy Cross



For extraordinary heroism and distinguished the commander of a destroyer squadron operating in the Northern Solomon Islands area during the period from midnight October 30 to noon November 2, 1943. (His) squadron, as a part of a task force, participated in the first bombardment of the Buka-Bonis area and in the first daylight bombardment of the Shortland area... During the night of November 1–2, a heavier gunned Japanese naval force was met and decisively defeated with the loss to the enemy of one cruiser and four destroyers sunk, and an additional two cruisers and two destroyers damaged. The action contributed much to the success of our operations at Empress Augusta Bay. Thereafter, a heavy air attack by sixty-seven enemy dive bombers was fought off with a total of seventeen enemy planes being destroyed...

Navy Distinguished Service Medal



For exceptionally meritorious service to the Government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility as Commanding Officer of a Destroyer Division and subsequently a Destroyer Squadron operating against enemy Japanese forces in the South Pacific Area from early February to 1 December 1943. Throughout this period, Captain Burke led his forces in many offensive operations... His indomitable fighting spirit and great personal courage contributed directly to the success of our forces in that area and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Gold Star in lieu of second Navy Distinguished Service Medal

As Chief of Staff, Commander Fast Carrier Task Force, Pacific (Task Force 38), Admiral Burke was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star Medal, a Gold Star in lieu of a second Legion of Merit, and a Letter of Commendation, with authorization to wear the Commends Ribbon. The citations follow in part:

"For... outstanding Chief of Staff to Commander First Carrier Task Force, Pacific, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific War from 15 December 1944 to 15 May 1945... Commodore Burke was in large measure responsible for the efficient control under combat conditions of the tactical disposition, the operation, the security and the explosive offensive power of his task force in its bold and determined execution of measures designed to force the capitulation of the Japanese Empire...throughout the seizure of bases at lwo Jima and Okinawa, including two carrier strikes on Tokyo, a carrier strike on the Kure Naval Base, and engagement with the Japanese Fleet on 7 April, in which several hostile man-o-war were destroyed by our aircraft..."

Gold Star in lieu of third Navy Distinguished Service Medal

Admiral Burke was presented a Gold Star in lieu of a third Distinguished Service Medal by President of the United States John F. Kennedy at the White House on July 26, 1961.

Legion of Merit (with Combat "V")

Us legion of merit legionnaire.png


For exceptionally meritorious Commander Destroyer Squadron Twenty-three, in action against enemy Japanese forces northwest of the Bismarck Archipelago, at Kavieng, New Ireland, and Duke of York Island, February 17 to 23, 1944... (He) expertly directed his squadron in destroying two Japanese naval auxiliary vessels, one large cargo ship, a mine layer, four barges and inflicting severe damage on enemy shore installations and subsequently effected a skillful withdrawal without damage to his vessels...

Gold Star in lieu of second Legion of Merit

"For exceptionally meritorious Chief of Staff to Commander, Carrier Task Force, Pacific Fleet, from March 27 to October 30., 1944... (He) planned and executed a long series of successful offensive operations in support of the reduction of the other perimeter of Japanese defenses in New Guinea, the Carolines, the Marianas, Halmshera, and the Philippine Islands. Largely as a result of Commodore Burke's superb professional skill, tireless energy and coolness of decision throughout these operations and during repeated air attacks carried out in strength against heavily fortified strongholds in enemy-controlled waters, the Pacific Fleet has been brought within range of the Japanese Empire itself to continue our relentless drive against the enemy."

Gold Star in lieu of third Legion of Merit

From September 1950 until May 1951, he served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Far East, and, for "exceptionally meritorious conduct (in that capacity) from September 3, 1950 to January 1, 1951..." he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a third Legion of Merit. The citation further states:

"Bringing a sound knowledge of Naval Administration and professional skill to his assigned task, Rear Admiral Burke reorganized the rapidly expanded staff to meet its ever increasing responsibilities and, through his unusually fine conception of the essentials of modern warfare, materially improved the mutual functioning of the operation, plans and intelligence sections of the staff...(and) contributed immeasurably to the success of Naval operations in the Korean theater..."

Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a fourth Legion of Merit

While serving as Commander Cruiser Division Five from May to September 1951, and also as a Member of the Military Armistice Commission in Korea, Admiral Burke was awarded an oak leaf cluster in lieu of a fourth Legion of Merit by the Army (Headquarters U.S. Army Forces, Far East) by General Order #5, as follows:

"For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services as a delegate with the United Nations Command (Advance) in Korea, from July 9 to December 5, 1951. Admiral Burke's keen discernment and decisive judgment were of inestimable value in countering enemy intransigence, misrepresentation and evasion with reasoned negotiation demonstrable truth and conciliatory measures. As advisor to the Chief Delegate on all phases of the Armistice Conferences, he proffered timely recommendations for solutions of the varied intricate problems encountered. Through skillful assessment of enemy capabilities, dispositions, and vulnerable abilities and brilliant guidance of supporting Staff officers (he) significantly furthered progression toward success of the United Nation's first armed bid for world peace."

Silver Star Medal



"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Chief of Staff to Commander First Carrier Task Force in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific War Area, May 11, 1945. When the flagship on which he was embarked was hit by two enemy suicide dive bombers, Commodore Burke proceeded to a compartment in which personnel were trapped by fire and heavy smoke, and succeeded in evacuating all hands. When the flagship to which he had removed his staff was in turn hit by a suicide plane on May 14, he again arranged for the transfer of his command to a new ship. In spite of all difficulties, he maintained tactical control of the Task Force throughout, thereby contributing materially to the success of the operations..."

Letter of Commendation

"For distinguishing himself in action with the enemy, while serving as a Chief of Staff to Commander First Carrier Task Force, Pacific on May 11, 1945. When the ship in which he was embarked was hit by two enemy aircraft...with utter disregard for his personal safety, (he) efficiently organized the evacuation of endangered personnel. His courage together with his prompt and efficient action was responsible for saving these men..."

Presidential Unit Citation to Destroyer Squadron 23

US Navy Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon.png


For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Solomon Islands Campaign, from 1 November 1943 to February 23, 1944... Destroyer Squadron Twenty-three operated in daring defiance of repeated attacks by hostile air groups, closing the enemy's strongly fortified shores to carry out sustained bombardments against Japanese coastal defenses and render effective cover and fire support for the major invasion operations in this area ... The brilliant and heroic record achieved by Destroyer Squadron Twenty-three is a distinctive tribute to the valiant fighting spirit of the individual units in this indomitable combat group of each skilled and courageous ship's company...

Presidential Unit Citations

Admiral Burke is also entitled to wear the Presidential Unit Citation presented to the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), the Presidential Unit Citation presented to the USS Lexington (CV-16), and the Navy Unit Commendation presented to the USS Enterprise (CV-6). Those vessels were, at various times during his period of service, flagships of the Fast Carrier Task Forces in the Pacific.


In addition to the above, Admiral Burke earned the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two silver stars and two bronze stars (thirteen engagements); the American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal; the Philippine Liberation Ribbon; Korean Service Medal; and United Nations Service Medal. He also has been awarded the Ui Chi Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation from the Republic of Korea as well as the Order of the Rising Sun, First Class by the Government of Japan. In 1960 he received the Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav from the Norwegian King.

Awards and Honors

In 1991 Admiral Burke was awarded the Lone Sailor Award by the U. S. Navy Memorial Foundation for his distinguished career during World War II and the Korean War.

Admiral Burke was also elected as an honorary member in the New York State Society of Cincinnati in 1974.


Arleigh Burke's grave at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery

The USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), a guided-missile destroyer of the United States Navy and lead ship of her class, was named in his honor. The class is one of the most advanced in service and is the only destroyer class currently in active US Navy service.

An elementary school was named in his honor in Boulder; it was closed in 1982. Thunderbird Park of Boulder, CO was renamed Admiral Arleigh A. Burke Memorial Park in 1997. In October 2001, a dedication of the memorial was held, featuring a 12-foot, 26,000-pound anchor from a World War II destroyer, a memorial wall containing a bronze relief sculpture of the admiral and a plaque with his biography.

The Navy annually awards the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy to "the ship or aircraft squadron from each coast selected for having achieved the greatest improvement in battle efficiency during the calendar year, based upon the Battle Efficiency Competition." Winning the Battle "E" is not a prerequisite.

Center for Strategic and International Studies

In 1962, Admiral Burke co-founded the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. with David Abshire.

Commemorative Stamp

The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp pane on February 4, 2010, honoring distinguished sailors. In addition to Admiral Burke, the other persons on the stamp pane were Admiral William S. Sims, Lieutenant Commander John McCloy, and Officer's Cook Third Class Doris Miller.[7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 McFadden, Robert D. (1996-01-02). "Arleigh A. Burke Dies at 94; Naval Hero of World War II". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-21. 
  2. Crest of the Wave, Commodore Burke
  3. Thomas 2007, pp. 71–72.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "How Much is Enough?": The U.S. Navy and "Finite Deterrence", National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 275
  5. "Document 11: "Dangerous For Any Nation", in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 275
  6. "List of Citations Awarded to Admiral Arleigh A. Burke". Naval Biographies. Naval Historical Center. January 29, 1962. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  7. "Distinguished Sailors Saluted On Stamps", USPS release no. 10-009,


External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Robert B. Carney
United States Chief of Naval Operations
Succeeded by
George W. Anderson Jr.

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