Richard “Eric” Burkett Jr. 

“Not only am I a survivor of a tragedy – I have thrived and prospered in the face of adversity.” – U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Burkett Jr., Retired 

Over nine years ago, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Burkett Jr. was faced with the biggest adversity of his life. Burkett was serving as a Marine Corps aviator when tragedy struck on April 11, 2012. The MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that he was flying crashed in Morocco during Exercise African Lion. He was one of two who survived the crash. 

 As a result of the crash, Burkett suffered life-threatening injuries. He sustained severe lower limb damage, lung and ocular nerve damage. Burkett was treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for four days and was then transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He remained at this facility for the next four years where he received extensive rehabilitation. 

 Burkett went through limb salvage treatments, but after 16 months, his right leg had to be amputated below the knee. A few months later, he developed an infection in his left leg, which had to be amputated as well. Burkett was devastated by the loss of both legs, but he also knows there was a reason for it, and he knows he is blessed. As he states, “My legs don’t define me.”  

In June 2018, Burkett and his wife, Melissa, and their six children – Keenan, Josily, Mastin, Lochlen, Roawlynn, and Nolynn—moved into a specially adapted “smart home.” The house is located in Neshannock Township in New Castle, and it was funded through the Gary Sinise Foundation RISE (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program. Burkett and his wife named their house Still Water after the inspiring passage in Psalm 23.  

While Burkett was recovering at Walter Reed, he had the pleasure of meeting Gary Sinise. “He approached me and asked me if we could talk, and we spent about 15 minutes together. Mr. Sinise is genuine, and he is in a class all by himself,” Burkett said. 

Another positive event that occurred for Burkett was when he was at the WRNMMC. “Two ladies that worked with the Wounded Warrior Regiment asked me if I was into sports. I remembered my true passion was rugby, but in lieu of my leg situation, I knew that was out. So I asked them if archery would be a possibility, and they told me it was, “Burkett said. 

Burkett is an expert archer. He has competed in the Valor Games, Endeavor Games, and Invictus Games and has taken home the gold on several occasions. In addition to competing, Burkett coaches archery as well. “For me, coaching is therapeutic,” Burkett remarked. 

Before he served in the Marine Corps, Burkett was a member of the Army Reserves. “I joined when I was 22 to pay for college,” Burkett noted. He trained for different specialties and obtained the rank of Sergeant. Burkett was commissioned into the Marines when he was 28, and he became an assault pilot. 

Northern Connection magazine salutes Marine Corps Maj. Richard Burkett Jr. for his sacrifice and service in the United States Marine Corps and the U.S. Army Reserves.