John Burke was born on February 6, 1944, in Poplarville, Mississippi. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on November 30, 1965, and was trained as an infantryman and weapons specialist before joining the 26th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California, in April 1966. CPL Burke deployed to Southeast Asia with the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, in July 1966, and was trained as a Scout Sniper in December 1966. He served as a Scout Sniper in Vietnam from December 1966 until he was killed in action on June 6, 1967. John Burke was buried in Clearwater, Florida.
His Navy Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism while serving as a Sniper Team Leader with Headquarters and Service Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, Third Marine Division (Reinforced), in the Republic of Vietnam on 6 June 1967. Assigned the mission of defending an outpost on Hill 950 at Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, Corporal Burke's team was taken under attack by a numerically superior enemy force. During the initial assault, Corporal Burke was wounded by an enemy grenade. Ignoring his wound, he administered first aid to a severely wounded comrade and placed him in a relatively safe position, covering the wounded man with his own body to protect him from further injury. Heeding a call for help from outside the bunker, he unhesitatingly went to the aid of another Marine. While he and a companion were moving the man to the security of the bunker an enemy grenade exploded, knocking him and his comrade into the bunker. Although seriously wounded, he moved the wounded man to a tunnel to protect him from the devastating enemy fire. With all his team members casualties, Corporal Burke unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own safety armed himself with grenades, and shouting words of encouragement to his men, stormed from the bunker in a valiant one-man assault against the enemy positions. While firing his weapon and throwing grenades at the enemy positions, Corporal Burke was mortally wounded. By his dauntless courage, bold initiative and devotion to duty, he was instrumental in stopping the enemy attack and saving his men from possible further injury or death, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and the United States Marine Corps and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.