Gold Medals

Just a little history.

Casa Grande Dispatch

Family With Pinal County Links
Receives Posthumous Congressional
Gold Medals

PHOENIX — Three members of the same family, with links to Pinal County, received Congressional Gold Medals posthumously on June 29 in honor of their service with the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.

“We’re proud, honored, humbled, and grateful for our family’s dedication to serving their country, community, and family,” said Ben Franklin of San Tan Valley.

Franklin’s grandmother Phyllis M. Burk, who lived in Apache Junction, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal last week along with Franklin’s great-grandfather, Paul Burk Sr., who lived in Phoenix, and his great-aunt, Frances J. Burk.

“My mother, Sherry Franklin (of San Tan Valley), my aunt Sandee Simmons (of Florence) and my uncle Paul Burk III accepted for my grandmother, their mother, Phyllis M. Burk,” Franklin told PinalCentral. “My cousin John Paul Gruber accepted for his grandfather Paul Burk Sr., who is also my great-grandfather.”

Franklin accepted the medal on behalf of his great-aunt Frances J. Burk-Wheaton and “in honor of my family in Michigan, her daughter and son and family who couldn’t make it down,” he said.

It was Franklin who discovered the three deceased family members were eligible for the award.

“I discovered their eligibility by happenstance,” he said. “I was originally seeking information on my grandmother’s service with CAP during World War II because I had her CAP portrait photo and ID.”

In researching her service, he couldn’t find any archives because some of the records had been destroyed.

“I had no idea my great-grandfather served until months after researching my grandmother’s service, when I found two of his CAP portraits buried behind three family baby pictures in an old 5-by-7-inch cardboard frame. I reached out to other family members for information and discovered my great-aunt served as well. A family affair, I suppose,” he said.

Franklin contacted a Civil Air Patrol historian, a Michigan Wing officer and then the Arizona Wing public affairs officer to confirm their eligibility.

From there, the Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol took the lead in getting the ceremony together.

The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded by Congress and is the highest civilian award in the country. It’s on par with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said Capt. Margo Myers, public affairs officer for the Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.

CAP Arizona Wing Commander Col. Martha Morris spoke at the ceremony, which was held in the Arizona Capitol Museum in Phoenix.

“These honorees, who served the nation as CAP volunteers during World War II, began the tradition of demonstrating that during tumultuous times, CAP is at its best,” Morris said in her remarks.

CAP was formed in 1941. In its early years, CAP members flew patrols in small, civilian planes that discouraged Uboats from threatening the United States. They also patrolled the country’s borders by air, towed targets for military trainees, spotted forest fires, conducted search and rescue missions, provided disaster relief and emergency transport, Morris said.

Today, the Civil Air Patrol is an all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary that operates a fleet of 550 aircraft and performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions. It saves about 70 lives every year and has about 58,000 members nationwide, according to information provided by Myers.

Paul Burk Sr. was born in 1899 in Ohio and died in Arizona in 1980. He served in CAP in Michigan and later had a 24- year career as a police detective.

When he and his wife relocated to Phoenix, he became the deputy director of the Maricopa County/City of Phoenix Civil Defense Organization.

Burk’s daughter Frances Burk-Wheaton and his daughter-in law Phyllis Burk joined CAP while their husbands were serving in WWII.

Frances Burk was a stay-at-home mom when she joined CAP. She later ran a business and died in Michigan in 1993.

Phyllis Burk was born in Canada and married Paul Burk Jr. He was an aircraft mechanic during the war. The couple moved to Arizona after the war and lived in the state until their deaths. Phyllis died in 2013 in Arizona.

“To have them honored posthumously, and have their memory honored and shared by so many of their descendants, is wonderful and emotional. We are all very close, and we very much cherish their memory,” Franklin said.

By Melissa St. Aude 07.07.18

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