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Celebrating Veterans: Vietnam vet Larry Burbank on his time in the Army: 'I’d do it again'

Celebrating Veterans: Vietnam vet Larry Burbank on his time in the Army: 'I’d do it again'
Larry Burbank, 81, holds a replica of a Chinook helicopter, which he flew during the Vietnam War, in his Manchester home on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Larry Burbank was just 17 when he joined the U.S. Army.

The now 81-year-old Manchester resident was still in high school, and his parents had to sign a form for him to enter. It was November 1953.

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“The guard unit just returned from Korea and they’d lost just about a third of their people, so they had a recruiting campaign,” Burbank said. “So in our high school class we had 28 total, and five of us went down and enlisted on the same night.”

Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1936, Burbank was the oldest twin. He entered Primary Army Rotary Wing Flight School in March 1961, and completed Advanced Rotary Wing Flight Training in October 1961. He served as an active army aviator for 35 years.

He completed a total of 43 years of service before retiring in 1996 as a CW5, chief warrant officer.

“[It was] about half my life,” he said of the more than four decades of service. “I never had a break in service.”

Burbank served one tour in Vietnam as an army aviator with the Muleskinners, flying Chinook helicopters. He was activated in May 1968 and came back in December 1969, he said.

In Vietnam, he said his missions revolved around supporting fire support bases, transporting United States troops — including those wounded or killed, in addition to the army of the Republic of Vietnam — and bringing supplies to remote South Vietnam villages.

In that time flying, he added, he never once had an accident.

Burbank said he enjoyed his time in the military. It wasn’t always easy though, he said.

“Probably the worst part of the combat tour was family separation. Means of communication back to the states was almost zero then,” he said.

Flying an aircraft was also hard, he said. Some may think it looks easy, but it’s really not. It is a cleaner career though, Burbank said, because you’re not down in the dirt. That is, he added laughing, unless you’re shot down. He was lucky enough never to be, he said.

But it’s all about mindset. There are difficult days, of course, Burbank said. But it’s all about having the right attitude as you go in, and knowing that you’re there for “the good of the country.”

And, Burbank said, being in the military and flying helicopters taught him a lot.

“It makes you grow up in a hurry. It really does,” Burbank said.

It teaches you to take care of your people and your machinery — you have to take care of them, he added.

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After being enlisted for about seven years, Burbank moved around throughout his life. He spent time in Kansas, Missouri and Virginia. He came out of Kansas in the late 1980s and flew with the Maryland Guard in Aberdeen, and then the National Guard bureau in Washington, D.C.

Of those though places, he said, coming to Carroll was one of his favorites. He moved here in 2000, he said.

“Carroll County’s the best-kept secret. It really is,” Burbank added.

The most meaningful missions for him, he said, were those where he got to support his own people and help his community.

Burbank was on flood duty, blizzard duty and hurricane duty, and got to help people and bring medical support.

“That’s the best mission. Bar none,” he said.

On a rainy November afternoon, Burbank sat in his Manchester home, which rests atop a large hill with a winding driveway that snakes its way up to his door. Decked out in his green flight suit, he held a large model of a Chinook helicopter — just like the ones he used to fly — though this one is made of Vietnamese teak wood instead of metal.

He’s got binders full of certifications and documents, and some pictures of his younger years. In boxes, he has the awards he’s won, from the Bronze Star Medal to the Distinguished Flying Cross.

These days are spent with his wife, Susan, and their dog. He chairs the Carroll County Veterans Advisory Council and is a member of the VFW Post 467 in Westminster.

He also volunteers, assisting the Manchester Volunteer Fire Company with fundraising projects, and he is an instructor for the AARP Safe Driving Course on a regular basis, having just completed 17 years in the program.

“We don’t get bored,” he said of his life he’s created with his wife.

He even gives presentations in schools to talk about his time serving his country.

“Our youngsters need to know a little bit about our military when they grow up,” he said.

And while he looks back at those years, and some of them were hard, Burbank said it was all worth it. The good outweighs the bad, he said.

He created a bond and made friendships you can’t get anywhere else, he said. If you go in with the right attitude, Burbank added, you’re going to be OK.

“I’ve been asked if I would do it again,” he said. “I’d do it again. Absolutely.”

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