Recipient: Tony K. Burris
Branch: U.S. Army
Combat: Korean War
Sergeant First Class Tony K. Burris was more than a brave American soldier. His story is one of unwavering commitment to American freedom—and selfless bravery in a bitter battle.
Sfc. Burris was born on May 30th, 1929, in the small town of Blanchard, Oklahoma. He was one of 10 children, and the great-grandson of Gabriel Burris, Supreme Judge of the Third Judiciary of the Choctaw Nation. At the age of 21, Sfc. Burris courageously volunteered for the U.S. Army, beginning what would become his remarkably heroic, and truly historic, military service.
After training at Fort Riley, Kansas, and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Sfc. Burris traded American soil for the unforgiving terrain of Korea. There, as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, he and his brothers in arms earned themselves a gritty epithet: The Fighting Vagabonds of the Second Division. In the months that followed, Sfc. Burris demonstrated his honorable commitment—to his division, to the cause, and to the nation.
In 1951, during the battle for Heartbreak Ridge, Sfc. Burris faced his defining moment. As his company experienced unrelenting fire, Sfc. Burris bravely charged directly towards the enemy’s position, alone, and armed with grenades. He destroyed 15 enemy fighters that day, but the battle was far from over.
The next day, Sfc. Burris renewed his commitment, and focused his attention on enemy positions at the next ridge. Mustering his courage, he successfully charged into a machine gun emplacement, drawing hostile fire towards himself, so his men could safely move forward. He received multiple wounds, but refused to give up the fight.
After receiving only basic emergency treatment, Sfc. Burris then rejoined the attack for a third time. As his final act of selfless valor, Sfc. Burris and a crew of six brave men again charged forward, destroying the enemy’s next emplacement. As shots rang through the air, Sfc. Burris ran ahead, tossed his final grenade to destroy the enemy’s position, and fell to the ground—mortally wounded by enemy fire.
Sfc. Burris’ words from his last letter to home still resonate today, “I’ve learned that a man is in more danger from the enemy if his back is turned retreating than he is while charging.” His courage under fire, his selflessness in the face of danger, and his unyielding commitment to honoring his nation earned this hero the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor, making him the only Choctaw to ever receive this meaningful accolade.
Sfc. Burris’ resilient commitment is an inspiration to us all. From the plains of Oklahoma, to the rugged hills of Korea, his story reminds us that commitment isn’t about doing what is easy. It’s about doing what is necessary—even when the cost is immeasurable.