Kenneth Burns went from flying fighter jets over North Vietnam to retire as an Air Force major general, moving his family around the world to England, Turkey and the Philippines along the way.
He died June 9 of leukemia at age 82.
Burns' daughters, Pamela Axell and Alison Heft, described him as larger than life, a man who was as fearless as he was sympathetic.
He was in the Air Force for 31 years, flying 225 combat missions, serving two tours in Vietnam, commanding a fighter wing in England and the 13th Air Force in the Philippines. He retired in 1985 as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Near East and South Asia.
Though he would become a two-star general, he taught his family to have respect for people, no matter their rank, his daughters said.
“He had a very illustrious military career, but I don't think he ever forgot where he came from,” Axell said. “He had the ability to look beyond the rank and see the person.”
During his Vietnam tours, he never discussed the risks of his job and “had the ability to make us feel like he was totally in control and that nothing would happen to him and he'd be back,” she said.
Burns had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for about 10 years, and leukemia in his final year.
He was close to death several times, but hung on since he did not want anybody to tell him when he was ready, Axell said.
“He wasn't going to be stopped easily,” Axell said. “He was like that until the end.”
Growing up, the family never stayed in a home for more than two years. Their household was always full of other military families and children.
“If you were in our house, you were in our family,” Heft said.
As a result, the family is expecting a large turnout for today's service, including people from England with fond memories of the welcoming and bustling Burns home.
Heft said she never resented her father for constantly uprooting the family. In fact, she chose the same life for her children when she married a Navy man in 1990.
“My dad taught us home is where you hang your hat. It doesn't matter what house you live in or what school you go to,” she said. “What matters is who's inside the house when you open the door.”
Published in MySanAntonio.com, June 15, 2012