Robert G. Burlingham

  • Captain
  • Vietnam


Captain Robert Gene Burlingham was a native of North Kingstown, Rhode Island and a 1960 graduate of North Kingstown High School. He was a member of the Rhode Island Honor Society and a standout Track star competing in many different Track & Field events. Bob enrolled in the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy in the fall of 1960. Bob enjoyed the academic challenge and was proud to be a member of the Army ROTC program. He was an avid cyclist and enjoyed long rides in the beautiful New England countryside. He lived at home and rode his bike back and forth to URI every day.

Bob graduated from URI in 1965 with a Degree in Pharmacy and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps. Following graduation, Second Lieutenant Burlingham attended Rotary Wing Flight Training in Texas. He excelled as a skilled aviator and received specialized training to become an Air Medical Evacuation (Medevac) Pilot. His selection was at the height of the Vietnam War when there was a growing need for courageous aviators willing to risk their lives to save fellow soldiers.

On 17 Jul 1967, 1LT Burlingham arrived in South Vietnam and was assigned to the 45th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) in Binh Duong Province. He was known as a quiet professional in his unit and was always ready to help out in any task or mission. On the evening of 6 October 1967, during a torrential rain storm, an Urgent Medevac mission was requested from an Infantry unit on the battlefield: one of its soldiers had been seriously wounded by an enemy mortar round and might not make it through the night. However, with monsoon-like rain and winds that night, no medevac helicopters were flying.

This was not a night to give orders, but rather to seek volunteers. His crew agreed, without hesitation; his personal courage was infectious. After takeoff, communication was lost with the helicopter. First Lieutenant Burlingham and his crew never made it to the wounded soldier. Due to the adverse weather, a search was delayed for two days. Finally, the helicopter crash site was discovered. The entire crew had perished.

First Lieutenant Burlingham was pronounced “Killed in Action” on 6 October 1967. The cause of the crash was never determined. “Dust Off” is what soldiers called Medevac missions in Vietnam. The gallantry showed by 1LT Burlingham and his crew resulted at the time in a lengthy front-page article in the New York Times under the headline–“Dust Off Down.”

First Lieutenant Burlingham was posthumously awarded the Air Medal, Purple Heart, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign Medal and was promoted to the rank of Captain. CPT Burlingham’s personal courage, professionalism and selfless service bring great credit upon him, the University of Rhode Island and the United States of America.

Following his death, CPT Burlingham’s family donated his dress uniform to the Army ROTC Detachment to be given to a worthy senior cadet. General Leon J. LaPorte, URI ’68, wore this uniform proudly for many years and rose to the rank of 4-star General. This began the tradition of URI ROTC Alumni providing dress uniforms for all Commissioning Lieutenants.

Captain Robert G. Burlingham’s exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself his family and the University of Rhode Island. Captain Robert G. Burlingham was buried with full military honors at the Fort Devens Post Cemetery, Fort Devens, Massachusetts and his name is engraved on the Vietnam Memorial (Panel27E, Line 57) in Washington, DC.