This is the Colt U.S. M1911 .45 ACP pistol Burgett carried throughout his combat experience with the 101st Airborne Division in Europe during World War II. Nickel-plated and acquired by his father, the pistol was mailed to Burgett in Aldbourne, England, the day before D-Day.
A man should have heroes. And I am proud to say I have come to know some of mine. With familiarity only comes deeper respect.
I lost a friend, hero and fellow NRA life member last week, Donald R. Burgett. His books, starting with Currahee!A Screaming Eagle at Normandy, told the story of the enlisted man in the American Airborne during World War II.
I have been fortunate to spend time with some of my heroes, and through American Rifleman have been able to help tell their stories.
At the NRA Annual Meetings in Pittsburgh I had breakfast with Don and his family, including his daughter Rene, as well as Dr. Sidney Clark Phillips Jr., and his lovely sister Katherine.
Then-NRA-Secretary Jim Land had asked if these two World War II veterans, who were honored guests at the Special Presentations we were running that weekend, would lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the NRA Meeting of members. Of course, they were honored.
Don Burgett, left, and Sid Phillips (not pictured) were presented with Taurus M1911s by the company's CEO Bob Morrison at the 2011 NRA Annual Meetings in Pittsburgh, where the two NRA Life members and World War II veterans were guests of American Rifleman. They led the Pledge of Allegiance at the Annual Meeting of Members.
I recall Don asking Sid, "How do you want to do this?" Sid responded, "I believe we should do the hand salute," to which Don replied, as he wiped his mouth with the hotel napkin, "Then that's what we'll do." And shortly thereafter, they did. As they walked across the stage, they were no longer men in the twilight of their lives, a Detroit factory worker and a genteel southern doctor, they were a swaggering Army paratrooper and a Guadalcanal Marine. Their backs were straighter, and age seemed to fall away from them. They graciously took the standing ovation given them by their fellow NRA members, and then Don, who had been a sergeant said, "Hand salute," and a 17-year-old Marine and a 19-year-old paratrooper, more than half a century after they swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, saluted the national colors and began, "I pledge allegiance... ."
Before heading to New Zealand and the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, Phillips trained stateside with a Springfield '03. Nearly 70 years later, Phillips was still proficient with the rifle on his backyard shooting range.
We lost Sid Phillips in 2015. And we have now lost Don Burgett. I sat down to write about Sid a half dozen times, but could not find words adequate enough to express the gratitude our nation owes such men. Our nation is poorer for their loss. They were but two men. Humble men. Amongst millions. They did their part and more. They did nothing less than save the world from unspeakable evil. We owe our freedom, our way of life, to Don and Sid, and all those who served with them. And we are losing them.
We did TV shows with both Don and Sid. As well as magazine articles. You may have missed them in the magazine, but they are online (see links below). I was fortunate enough to come to know them. But their stories and their words are things every American should know. Know what they did for your freedom. And remember them.
Men like Don Burgett and Sid Phillips safeguarded your freedom. Make their valor, their sacrifice, worth it.
I interviewed Don for American Rifleman TV, and we listened to a man who jumped into Normandy, who fought to keep Hell's Highway open, who fought from a frozen foxhole on the road between Bastogne and Foy, tell us his story. He talked about liberating a Nazi death camp, telling the very souls the Nazis sought to exterminate, that things were different now that "America is here." And when he talked about what the Second Amendment meant to him, I watched the eyes tear and voice break of one of the bravest men I've ever met. Watch the video. Men like Don Burgett and Sid Phillips safeguarded your freedom. Make their valor, their sacrifice, worth it. As Don told me, "It's my Second Amendment." And it's yours too. Because men like him were willing to fight for it.