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Recalling a family tradition of service
Sammy Burson Jr. is the father of two daughters, aged 19 and 16, and a 17-year-old son. Burson’s oldest daughter, Jennifer, is currently stationed in Guam serving with the U.S. Air Force. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Sammy Burson Jr. never knew his grandfather and his father spoke little about his time in Vietnam War, but their military service isn’t lost on the Gainesville man.

Memorial Day isn’t just another day on the calendar.

“I think my family has given a lot to this country,” Burson said.

The desire to serve in the military skipped Burson and his siblings, but it caught up to his oldest daughter, 19-year-old daughter, Jennifer M. Burson, an airman in the Air Force.

“I’m proud of my grandfather, my dad and my daughter,” said Burson, recalling his family Sunday afternoon from his apartment off Roper Hill Road.

Burson’s grandfather, Barney C. Burson, was a 27-year-old machine gunner with the 30th Infantry Division, which occupied the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. He died in 1960 in a car accident in Gainesville.

Sammy Burson’s father, Sammy Burson Sr., served in Vietnam, also in the Army, from 1967 to 1969. He served two tours of duty “so his brother wouldn’t have to go,” he said.

“My dad never talked much about the war when he came back,” said Burson, who is 38. “I wished he had. Maybe some of the problems he had would have been worked out.”

Sammy Burson Sr. died in 1992 of heart problems.

His son keeps a framed picture of his father in his apartment. He has other photos stored on the computer, where the former Northeast Sales Distributing driver, now disabled and confined to a wheelchair, is working on a family history.

Other family members have worn stripes as well.

His great-uncle is Melvin L. Burson, a Vietnam veteran.

His uncle, Willie Bernard Burson, served in World War II, earning the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, Meritorious Unit Award and Philippine Liberation Ribbon, among other decorations.

He also was a Japanese prisoner of war for three months and 21 days in New Guinea.

Willie Burson died in November 1991.

He has another relative, Lt. Col. John Burson, serving in Afghanistan, and another uncle, Leon Burson, who served in Vietnam.

Burson’s daughter, Jennifer, started getting interested in the military when recruiters visited her high school in Tennessee.

“She knew about her grandfather and great-grandfather,” he said.

Burson was concerned at first.

“I thought about the way my dad acted while I was growing up and the hard time he had adjusting,” he said. “I wasn’t real thrilled about it, but I was proud of her, so I couldn’t tell her she couldn’t (go).”

Jennifer Burson has been in the Air Force for about a year and now is stationed in Guam.

“She loves it. Every time I talk to her, it’s amazing — the things she’s learning. Mostly, she’s in school right now,” he said. “On weekends, she wanders around Guam. You can’t beat that.”

She has a fiance, David, who serves in the Army and is in California preparing “to be shipped out to Afghanistan.”

Burson’s two other children, 17-year-old Sammy III and 16-year-old Mercedes, also are considering entering the military.

His son also is thinking about working as a motorcycle mechanic.

“But you never know,” Burson said. “He might change his mind. He may (join the military) because he sees all the traveling his big sister has done.”

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