When one thinks of war heroes, images of teeth-gritting combat bravery and military gallantry come to mind. From holding off hordes of enemies to sacrificing one’s life to save wounded comrades, the heroics of a war hero are often associated with the violence and courage of extraordinary circumstances.
But what of heroes before they were thrust into harm’s way?
As it turns out, some men are simply heroes before they ever saw combat. Be it a good upbringing, strong role models or just a big heart, some heroes are born for the role and were always -at their very core- good people.
If one were to ask anyone who knew him, it would quickly become apparent that Dale A. Burger Jr. was such a man.
Born in Maryland to Dale and Maritna Burger back in 1983, Dale was the son of a US Marine veteran who had seen action in the Vietnam War.
“Ever since he was 6 years old, he wanted to be a Marine,” his mother said, recalling how he would don his father’s uniforms.
A natural born protector with a desire to help others, Burger would often sacrifice his Christmas mornings to deliver meals to those who could not cook for themselves and regularly stood up for his seven sisters.
“He was very protective of us,” said his sister, Jennifer Burger.
The man of the house, he would often carry his disabled and revered father up the stairs, holding the Vietnam veteran like one would hold a child.
At seventeen years of age, Burger enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was eventually stationed with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California.
Even before he saw combat, Burger had regularly shown his worth to the Corps, eventually reaching the rank of Corporal. During a training exercise in the mountains, Burger was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for using his own body heat to treat several hypothermic Marines, developing cold weather injuries in the process.
Partaking in the Invasion of Iraq, Burger was in the country for six months before his unit returned home. About a month before deploying to Iraq a second time, he lost his father and was there to bury him with full military honors. At his father’s funeral in Arlington National Cemetery, he told his mother that if anything happened to him, he wanted to be buried near his dad.
Returning to Iraq in 2004, Burger partook in the Second Battle of Fallujah, partaking in some of the deadliest urban combat for the Marines since Vietnam.
On 10 November of 2004, amidst some of the worst urban combat in modern history, Corporal Burger’s squad leader was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion from a rocket-propelled grenade, leaving the Marines without a clear chain of command and threatening to disrupt the tempo of operations.
Taking the initiative, Burger assumed command and shuffled his fire teams to nearby buildings. Grabbing a handful of men, Burger then began to dispatch enemy sniper positions with precision fire, enabling his platoon to continue their advance.
Utilizing two AT-4 rockets and his M-203 grenade launcher, Corporal Burger began pounding enemy positions before he lead an assault into nearby buildings. Seriously wounded in the arm Burger was evacuated.
A few days later, he was ready to head back out with his Marines, calling his mother before heading out.
“I’m going back with my men,” he told his mother on the phone.
“Do you have to go back, Dale?” she recalled asking.
“These are my guys. They need me.”
Back in action on the 14th, Burger was again wounded while engaging the enemy in close combat. Coming across three wounded Marines in the melee, he charged into a house full of insurgents under suppressing fire to recover other Marines that had been hit.
However, Burger’s dash would be his last. After being struck by the enemy, he eventually succumbed to his wounds.
For his heroic actions, Dale Alan Burger Jr. was awarded the Silver Star. He was -as requested- buried near his father in Arlington Cemetery, a mere two headstones away from his old man.
During the Second Battle of Fallujah, 95 US service members were killed -more than half of during the week of Burger’s death – and 540 were injured.
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