One family's blood runs AF blue

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sheri Kangas
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
A retired Hurlburt Field major and his siblings have followed their father's footsteps and have not only enriched their own lives, they have also done their part in contributing to the well being of our nation.

Steve Burling, former MC-130H navigator for the 15th Special Operations Squadron, retired Oct. 1 after serving for 22 years. Between Steve and his father, two brothers and brother-in-law, this family of blue-suiters has served a total of 126 years in the Air Force.

"Our father instilled in all of us the importance of serving our country, so it was only natural we would try to follow in his footsteps," Steve said. "Our family takes great pride in our dad's service."

It all started in 1942. After several months of grueling training, Jim Burling, a simple farm boy from Illinois, became an active-duty B-29 navigator in the Army Air Forces. He and his 11-member crew were shipped off to Saipan, a small, tropical island in the West Pacific, in support of World War II. The crew was originally tasked to fly 25 bombing missions, then 30, then 35. His crew was one of very few that completed the required 35 missions.

"Dad and the rest of the crew didn't know it at the time, but sometime during the night on the return flight of their 35th and final mission, they passed the Enola Gay as it was on its way to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima," Steve said. "Once they landed back on Saipan they learned of the Enola Gay mission and the reality that the war would soon be over. I was always intrigued by this story since it was such an historic event that literally changed the world."

After four years, Jim separated from active-duty service to resume his work on the family farm, but became a member of the Reserves where he served for the next 26 years.

Throughout the years, Steve and his brothers heard all of their dad's war stories.

"He really didn't brag about his service to country. Like so many heroes of the 'Greatest Generation,' he just saw it as his duty; he was expected to serve his country," Steve said. "One of my fondest memories is when my brothers and I took our dad back to Saipan in 2002. We actually found the spot where he lived in a Quonset hut ... right in the middle of a beautiful golf course!"

Jim's health began deteriorating in 2004, and he passed away in April 2006 at the age of 83.

"Growing up, our summer vacations were almost always planned around our dad's two-week Reservist active duty stint," Steve said. "We would usually join him at his duty location in the second week and travel somewhere else when his duty was complete. My oldest brother, Jim, remembers going to Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., when he was 5 years old and seeing the Air Force Academy under construction. He remembers Dad telling him that maybe one day he would go to school there."

That childhood dream became a reality. Jim Burling Jr., attended the Academy from 1971-1975. He then began his Air Force career working in missiles, only to move into the space field to eventually become the director of space assignments.

"While he attended the Academy, we would travel up to see him every three to six months," Steve said. "I was only 10 years old at the time he joined the Academy, and he was definitely an influence in my life."

Jim Jr. retired as a colonel in 2002 after 27 years in the Air Force.

John, the middle son in the Burling family, was commissioned in 1982, beginning as a missileer and then transitioning to contracting.

In 1992, John separated from active duty and keeping with tradition, he joined the Reserves.

Carrying on that tradition was not limited to the men in the family. One of the Burling daughters, Becky, kept the tradition alive by marrying a friend of Jim's from the Academy, John Gaughan. He served as a career KC-135 pilot and retired from active duty in 2005 after 31 years of service.

Even the third generation keeps the spirit alive as grandson John Gaughan III, is carrying on the military tradition as an intelligence officer currently stationed at RAF Mildenhall, England.

Steve, the youngest Burling son, was commissioned in 1985.

"At my commissioning ceremony, dad was named an honorary recruiter," Steve said. "Besides recruiting my brothers, he also guided several towns' people into the Air Force, swearing in several of them when they were commissioned."

Not only did members of the Burling family swear in new Air Force officers, they also retired them.

"My oldest brother, Jim, and my brother-in-law, John, officiated my retirement ceremony," Steve said. "I was happy most of my family could attend, but I never imagined my Dad wouldn't live long enough to see that day. At least I know he was extremely proud of my brothers and me.

"We all had wonderful Air Force careers. We loved our various jobs, the locations, the sense of community and most of all, the outstanding people with whom we served. However, none of that would have been possible without Dad's guidance. I know he was proud his sons followed him in his Air Force footsteps."