Bridge to be named for Randolph native killed in Vietnam
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Forty-seven years ago, Randolph County native Garry Lee Burgess embarked on a search and destroy mission through the South Vietnamese jungle. During an enemy artillery, rocket, and mortar attack, Burgess was fatally wounded.
He died on June 19, 1966, at the age of 22.
On Saturday, the state Division of Highways plans to dedicate a bridge to Burgess -- the first Randolph County resident killed during the Vietnam War. Located on County Road 46, the bridge stands between Czar and Helvetia -- less than 10 miles away from Pickens, where Burgess and his 10 siblings grew up on Cabin Creek.
Burgess, a Specialist 4th Class in the 11B, 25th Infantry Division, never shirked his military duties, said his sister, Geraldine Poore.
Poore said she offered to move to Canada with him so he to avoid the draft, but Burgess refused. Soon after Burgess arrived in Vietnam, he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart, but still returned to finish his tour.
"At such a young age he was committed to doing what was required of him," Poore said.
Family members remember Burgess as devoted and generous.
"Nobody has anything bad to say about Garry," said Cheryl Motley, Poore's daughter and Burgess' niece. "He was the kindest and sweetest man in the world."
Poore echoed her daughter and said that Burgess took care of the whole family. In fact, he almost single-handedly nursed his mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer shortly before Burgess left for Vietnam.
"He was like a nursemaid for our mom," Poore said. "When he was called to the military, she lost her lifeline."
Motley recalled that Burgess constantly helped out around the house, lighting fires and cleaning rooms, even after working long hours at a local sawmill.
But despite the constant work, Burgess remained happy and upbeat. He always had a smile, Motley said.
Burgess was also unfailingly generous and used his meager wages to buy "moon-pies and candy" for children, including Motley.
Four generations of Burgess family members plan to honor Burgess at the dedication ceremony on Saturday.
"A lot of us are remembered though our family," Motley said. "That is how our names and family memories are carried on."
Burgess never has an opportunity to marry or have children, but Motley said that the bridge would stand as a constant memorial to Burgess.
"This is a way to acknowledge that he was an important person," Motley said. "He's gone but not forgotten."
The resolution to rename the bridge the Garry Lee Burgess Memorial Bridge passed the House of Delegates in March. Delegates Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Dana Lynch, D-Webster, sponsored the proposal.
Reach Laura Reston at email@example.com or 304-348-5100.