KINGSLEY— Hundreds of folks are expected to memorialize John Lawrence Burgess on Saturday morning, paying tribute to a young Native American man whose dreams of a professional basketball career ended with a fiery helicopter crash in Vietnam.
Burgess was honored earlier this summer at the Arlington National Cemetery. Soil taken from the Arlington grave will be put on his grave site in Kingsley, said Jack Pickard, who is organizing the memorial.
“There were five of us from our class in Vietnam at the same time, and all but John came home,” Pickard said. “I got there the month John went down (in June), and I knew he’d gone down in July sometime. That set me on edge for the rest of my tour.”
Burgess was originally born Larry Waukazoo in a family of eight children. He was adopted by the Burgess family, along with a sister and brother when they were preschoolers.
The superb athlete and basketball standout graduated from Kingsley High School in 1967 and joined the Army a year later to serve his country.
Burgess was two weeks away from a leave when he was reported as missing in action when his UH-1H Iroquois helicopter was shot down near the Cambodian/South Vietnam border on June 30, 1970. Only one of the five-man crew survived. The body of Burgess was never recovered.
The final recovered remains of Burgess and two other servicemen were grouped in a single casket and buried at Arlington on July 2.
Pickard attended the ceremony, along with about 20 of Burgess’s friends and relatives.
“The military honor guard took the casket off the horse carriage and carried it into the church ...,” he said. “They did it with such precision. It was just amazing.”
Pickard said a few words in Arlington about their tight friendship.
“I talked about how we had fist fights, real ones, then we’d turn around and grab something to eat,” he said. “How he worked two different jobs and still went to school and did sports.”