Burkhammer, Eugene F. (703rd)

Eugene F. Burkhammer 1Eugene F. Burkhammer

Biography:  Eugene Francis Burkhammer “Gene” was born on October 4, 1919, in Weston, West Virginia. He was the son of James Marion Burkhammer and Martha Ann Brady and attended local schools through the 6th grade. He then went to work on the family farm, using his practical intelligence and common sense to help him to build and repair almost anything.

Much of the following text was provided by the Burkhammer family.

Service Time: Gene signed his selective service registration on October 16, 1940. When he was finally called up for service, he was initially sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for his basic training. He was later assigned to Company B of the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion and was with them during their maneuvers at the Desert Training Center, specifically in the Rice Valley of the southern Mojave Desert. Gene frequently spoke of his best friends Adrian Lebeau and Lester Huggins and the the conditions they endured in the desert, incredibly hot during the day and very cold at night. He related how things looked much closer than they really were and remembered shooting jack rabbits and cooking them. He also mentioned how cold it felt for a long time after coming back east, after experiencing the desert heat.

Eugene F. Burkhammer 3Shown on left is Gene and his brother Roy, standing on right, while on leave from the unit.

From there, the unit proceeded to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation for additional training. Gene trained on a number of small arms, qualifying as an expert with the M1 Rifle but he loved to shoot the M3 “Grease Gun” submachine-gun and the M2 Browning .50 cal. machine gun. He also excelled in the “hand-to-hand” judo training the men received. He often mentioned how intense the training was at Indiantown Gap.

He had written home to his sweetheart Helen, informing her that he and the rest of his unit had been given orders to deploy overseas but that he did not know where they were going. Gene was working on his tank destroyer, when a jeep ran over his foot. The injury, although not life threatening or fully crippling, was deemed severe enough that he was not sent overseas. He would require a lengthy hospital stay before he was  discharged from the Army, at the rank of Private.

Now back at home in Weston, the injury would continue to affect his walking, for the rest of his life. It especially bothered him when it was cold. On August 31, 1945, Gene married his sweetheart, Helen Lucille Collins. Helen was the daughter of Chester Collins and Alma Peters and had also been born in West Virginia. The new couple initially lived in Weston but later moved to Racine, WV, where Gene found work as a mechanic in the strip mines.

Eugene F. Burkhammer 2In February 1953, they experienced the birth of their only child, Donna Jean, named after her dad. In 1956, Gene bought a house with 4 acres about 5 miles west of Weston,. At the time, Gene was only making $1.09 per hour, working at another surface mine for Bitner Fuels. Incredibly, they were able to pay the house off in only 6 years. Their daughter Donna grew up in that house and after she got married, her and her husband would put a house on the same property, back a driveway behind the main home.

Gene was a very hard worker, and pretty much lived to work. He worked a minimum of 40 hours a week plus overtime and came home to do the yard work, keep a garden and do all sorts of home improvements and maintenance. Even after his retirement in 1984, from the King Knob Coal Company in Philippi, WV, he would still get up and be busy from early morning until dark. There wasn’t much he could not fix, and he was always rigging up something to make things a little easier. In the evenings, he would sit in the TV room with Helen and watch some of their favorite shows “the Lawrence Welk Show”, “Hee Haw”, “the Porter Wagoner Show” as well as several others. Gene and Helen had reclining chairs and a small table lamp between them. Every evening before bedtime, Gene and Helen would sit and read their Bibles together before they went to bed.

Gene was very active at the Miles Chapel United Methodist Church, seldom missing a Sunday service or a Wednesday night Bible Study/Prayer meeting. He volunteered his labor to help with church repairs and improvements. About 1987, Gene formed the Soul Seeker’s Gospel Singers, where he played guitar with Helen and Donna taking turns playing the piano and singing, along with 3 others from the church. The group was asked to sing all over the state into the early 1990’s. Gene’s family was his life, and he really enjoyed the holidays, especially Christmas, when he made sure the house was tastefully decorated. In 1973, Gene’s first grandchild, Scott was born, followed in 1976, by Michelle, and 1978 by Kelly Jean (named after grandpa Gene). He loved to watch the grand kids open their presents on Christmas Day and bent over backwards to give them all a good life. He loved to spend time with them and he and Scott would tinker together on things in the garage. As Scott grew older, they worked together on even larger projects. Gene helped to teach the grand kids how to drive, and gave them a father figure and role model that was unmatched. In 1993, Gene met his first great-grandchild, Dustin from Michelle and in 1998, he got his second, Brianna from Scott, followed in 2001, by Caleb.

Eugene F. Burkhammer 4Gene developed leukemia in 2000, that went into remission through 2001, but it developed into lymphoma in 2002, which would ultimately take his life on May 2nd. He passed with his beloved Helen at his side. Gene was buried in the Peterson Cemetery in Weston, WV.

About 2 weeks after his death, Scott learned that he was going to be a dad yet again, and in January 2002, Emily Jean was born, also named after her great grandfather. Gene has been severely missed by his family since his passing. He was the patriarch of the family, and part of the glue that held us all together. Holidays and family gatherings have not been the same since.

Scott joined the military in 1991, in keeping with his grandfather’s example. He currently honors Gene and others of the Greatest Generation by participating in World War II reenacting and living history, wearing Gene’s service number and info on the dog tags he wears as his reenactment uniform.

I want to thank Gene’s grandson, Scott for providing the information and photos for this tribute.