When his B-24 bomber was shot down over Yugoslavia during World War II, Richard Burt was taken prisoner and sent to a camp in Poland. Toward the end of the conflict, he joined a forced-march of POWs across Germany 550 miles over three winter months before he was liberated.
Brother Burt, 82, is now one of the patriarchs of a large, extended family that paid special tribute to him and all its other members who have served in the military for the United States. The patriotic ceremony was held on the Burt family ranch on Monday, July 3, as part of a traditional gathering in the picturesque mountain setting on the north slope of northeastern Utah's Uinta Mountains.
What, for more than 50 years, had been a loosely organized family gathering during the Independence Day week was this year augmented by the highly structured, emotionally impacting ceremony, said Brother Burt of the Centerville 5th Ward, Centerville Utah South Stake, during a Church News interview. He said the idea came from his sons, Neil and Russell, and the ranch's current owners, his nephew Roger Burt and Roger's wife, Ginger.
Preparations began over the Memorial Day weekend on the property originally purchased by his and his six siblings' parents Reginald Nelson and Mary Amelia Wight Burt and now used by their descendents. A 33-foot-high log flagpole was constructed in the center of a grassy field where the event would take place. Holes were drilled along a log fence for the flying of a U.S. flag for each of the family's 37 veterans. (There were actually only 34 flags, Brother Burt pointed out, because there were three couples in the family where husband and wife both served in the military.) Russell Burt created a special family brass medal to honor the vets that includes the Latin motto adopted by the family: FACTA, NON VERBA, which means "Deeds, not words."
For the ceremony, "those who could get into a uniform, and wanted to, wore a uniform," Brother Burt said. The ceremony opened by honoring the U.S. flag. Uniformed Eagle Scouts in the family conducted the flag ceremony. Then the family veterans, covering four generations and representing service in World War II and every U.S. conflict since, were honored. The Eagle Scouts escorted them to special presentation stands and put the medals strung on red, white and blue ribbons around their necks in front of a family group of about 170.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the veterans moved to the fence where the 34 flags were flying and found a folded flag on a stand emblazoned with their names. "We thought it would be nice for the veterans to get a flag before they are buried," said Brother Burt, referring to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program of giving a flag to the next-of-kin of deceased veterans.
Activities continued on Independence Day with a traditional breakfast of buttermilk pancakes and a Dutch oven dinner.
Thinking ahead, Brother Burt said there are tentative plans for next year to honor the missionaries in the family. He will again be leading out; he and his wife, Evelyn, have served four missions as a senior couple. He continues to volunteer one day a week in the Church's Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
E-mail: [email protected]