I had to do just one more post in honor of fellow blogger and soldier Vladimir Solaratov, who passed away earlier this month after living his last few months at the Grunt Ranch in Colorado among friends. He was sent off with good whiskey and toasts from a whole house full of people on the day of his passing, and I exhort him with his own favorite Latin plea: “Seek and ye shall find,” from the Gospel of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. It seems appropriate for him. His whole life was lived in pursuit of understanding of what this life was all about. He read more books of philosophy than I could count. And his favorite movie was the 1999 Israeli western “Purgatory,” which was about old warriors trying to find their way into Heaven. I know he’s figured out much of it by now. Enjoy the knowledge, Bill, and resquiescat in pace, dear friend.
It’s no longer necessary to keep his identity a secret, but I don’t spill the beans on Bill Burtnette gratuitously, rather for the purpose of finally showing this photo of his esteemed war hero father, Claude Burtnette, who was even more a badass than Bill, if that’s possible.
1st Lt. Claude S. Burtnette flew primarily P-40 Warhawks during WW2 in the Pacific, getting a few shot out from under him, including one downed by Japan’s infamous fighter ace, Saburo Sakai, I think, who made such a close pass by him during a battle over Port Moresby, as “Burt” was hanging from his parachute, that he could see the gold tooth in the ace’s grinning mouth while he saluted an honored but defeated adversary. His most esteemed decoration, however, came as a fighter-bomber, dropping a bomb down the snoot of a Japanese ship and single-handedly sinking her, despite the almost suicidal danger of doing so with all the ships guns blazing away at him. Here he is getting the Distinguished Flying Cross pinned on by Lt. General George C. Kenney (below).
Bill, himself, served three tours in Vietnam during the earliest days of that conflict, where he wore the beret as an Army Airborne Special Forces hunter and sniper. During those tours he fought and killed Viet Cong in close combat and through scopes on M-14s and the earliest M-16s, earning Purple Hearts along the way, but refusing to wear or acknowledge the ones earned from personal mistakes (i.e. John Kerry moves), like getting perforated by particularly well-hidden punji sticks.
For the same reason that most don’t speak of their experiences in Vietnam during the 60s and 70s, the secrets and politics and incomprehensible bloodshed of the Indochine conflicts rendered many of Bill’s stories of his time there untellable. But, that can’t completely be said of his later exploits on other continents. Rather than the grim picture of pointlessness painted by Hollywood and the American Left, the reality of Vietnam inspired a vision in Bill that made him take the war on Communism very seriously.
During the next few decades, he hunted American, African and South American communists and assorted terrorists with gusto. This caused him to fall into the company of some shady characters, such as Bill and Bernadine Ayers and Pablo Escobar, as well as world leaders, like Anastasio Somoza Garcia, 21st President of Nicaragua, for whom Bill enthusiastically shed blood, not just because Somoza threw world class parties for the people who served him. It was chiefly because Somoza hated Communists, and also, perhaps, because he and Burtnette had both attended Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.
At some point, Bill ended up, as often happens in his line of business, working out of the Nation’s Capitol, doing some form of “intelligence” schtick. Also not unnaturally, he managed to get married a few times during those days. Lots of times, actually. But his fate seemed to run against any of that type of life enduring for long. That’s a shame. I think he would have made a damn good father. He was a good father to me, actually.
During later years, his decision not to work for people who would find themselves at odds with American soldiers extended his life but kept him more or less humble in means, except when it comes to important things, like dogs, ammo, shooting hardware and good Bourbon. In this very recent photo, all four of those things are close by, since my Aussie shepherd is sitting under the pub table hoping for a few scraps after working hard to break Bill out of a physical therapy center for a drink and a few smokes. You may note the white hospital band on his wrist, indicating that he was in that bar against the rules and after breaking several local statutes.
In this shot, he looks a little worn, but he was really in pretty good shape considering the cancer surgery a few years back that replaced much of his spine with titanium. That didn’t keep him from hitting the high power range every once in a while, as he is here, shooting my M1A at a 600 yard gong.
Since he passed away earlier in July, I’ve been going through his effects. There was nothing that shocked me, much to my surprise. Except perhaps that there was nothing that shocked me. With tales of missionaries’ wives and nuns in the Congo and Southeast Asian comfort girls, I expected worse. What he left behind was surprisingly erudite, classy and honorable. And that’s coming from the guy who was given the normally dirty job of erasing his hard drive. Weird. One thing that struck me was the written correspondence that testified to the number of people he touched deeply. Well done, Bill. You sucked at marriage, but you sure kept cupid busy with those arrows, and you had many good and faithful friends. The world will be a more boring place without you.
Hey, what is that in the blue box? A rosary? Huh. Probably never been used after Sunday school, but who knows? There are all sorts of weapons in this world. So long, Bill. May your purgatory be short and your legacy in St. Michael’s army be glorious.