Tony Burris Memorial Photos Courtesy of The Tony Burris Project

Pictured is the Tony Burris Memorial in Blanchard, Oklahoma.

Tony Burris remembered as Korean War hero

By Shelia Kirven
November 1, 2021

Tony Kenneth Burris, a young Choctaw man of 21, voluntarily enlisted into the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Korean War in July 1950 without telling anyone he was going to do so. Born one of 10 children on May 30, 1929, in Blanchard, Oklahoma, he was the son of Samuel Jr. and Mabel (Curry) Burris. He was also the great-grandson of Gabriel Burris, born in Mississippi in 1816, who came with his parents to Indian Territory and who in 1849 was appointed Supreme Judge of the Third Judiciary of the Choctaw Nation.

Burris received basic training at Fort Riley, KS., advanced training at Fort Belvoir, VA., and was sent to Korea in February 1951. He served with the 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Burris’ company earned the nickname, The Fighting Vagabonds of the Second Division.

Burris was involved in battles where he helped lead his squad to safety, including one on his birthday, when he said in a letter home that he led “17 men out without a scratch.”

In 1951, his company was destroyed. Burris escaped but was wounded. He then went on to lead the charge at Heartbreak Ridge, where he died a hero near Imok-Chong, North Korea.

By the time he was 22 years old, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Tony K. Burris had given his life for his country, dying on Oct. 9, 1951, in Korea. Burris posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor cited during the Korean War, the only Choctaw ever to have done so.

He was also awarded the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge.

From Burris’ last letter written home to his family five days before his death, he said, “I’ve learned that a man is in more danger from the enemy if his back is turned retreating than he is while charging.”

His Medal of Honor Citation, signed by President Harry S. Truman, cited: “Sfc. Burris, a member of Company L, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty. On Oct. 8, when his company encountered intense fire from an entrenched hostile force, Sfc. Burris charged forward alone, throwing grenades into the position and destroying approximately 15 of the enemy. On the following day, spearheading a renewed assault on enemy positions on the next ridge, he was wounded by machine gun fire but continued the assault, reaching the crest of the ridge ahead of his unit and sustaining a second wound. Calling for a 57mm. recoilless rifle team, he deliberately exposed himself to draw hostile fire and reveal the enemy position. The enemy machine gun emplacement was destroyed. The company then moved forward and prepared to assault other positions on the ridge line. Sfc. Burris, refusing evacuation and submitting only to emergency treatment, joined the unit in its renewed attack but fire from hostile emplacement halted the advance. Sfc. Burris rose to his feet, charged forward and destroyed the first emplacement with its heavy machine gun and crew of 6 men. Moving out to the next emplacement, and throwing his last grenade which destroyed this position, he fell mortally wounded by enemy fire. Inspired by his consummate gallantry, his comrades renewed a spirited assault which overran enemy positions and secured Hill 605, a strategic position in the battle for ‘Heartbreak Ridge’, Sfc. Burris’ indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding heroism, and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest glory upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.”

In 2007, Burris was honored with a statue in his hometown of Blanchard, Oklahoma, where he is buried.
For more information on his life and to read a series of Burris’ letters to his family, visit The Tony Burris Project Facebook page.

A book on his life has also been published entitled Tony K. Burris: The Hero, The Person, The Letters, and is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Provided/Courtesy of The Tony Burris Project