WORTON — Brigadier General Dr. Edward R. Burka passed away on Jan. 9 shortly after this 90th birthday simply of old age, nothing more.
Born of two Russian immigrants in Washington, D.C., both of whom fled the pogroms and arrived at Ellis Island while in their teens. His father, with nothing to his name, opened a small grocery store which he eventually sold, the proceeds of which he turned into real estate, where he was highly successful and, for one thing, was co-owner of the well-known string of movie theaters in Washington D.C. known as the K-B theaters.
As a result of his father’s background and success, Dr. Burka was passionate about America and dedicated to the service of a country he saw as a pillar of freedom and the true land of opportunity.
As a high schooler, he attended Staunton Military Academy and then went to Princeton University, where he was an active member of the track team, the Elm Club and ROTC. He graduated magna cum laude. While a 1st Lieutenant in the Army Reserve, he got his medical degree from Columbia University, where he met his first wife, Susan Swift, who was studying to be a registered nurse. He was an avid fan of the institution of marriage, and his last wife, Jackie Cushman, sported the custom license plate NUMBER FOUR.
An eminent hematologist, he managed the Sickle Cell Anemia Clinic and Blood Bank at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospital while also on staff as a professor, known for his humor and ability to make complicated concepts simple and understandable. As a noted research scientist, he published 80 times and was once a visiting senior scientist at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland. He also served on Pennsylvania’s Professional Advisory Committee on Sickle Cell Anemia, the Hematology Review Board for the American Institute of Biologic Sciences, and the editorial board of Military Medicine.
In reviewing his achievements, the Burka family is amused to learn that, among other things, he belonged to the Red Cell Club, which we imagine to be a place where doctors can mutually celebrate the existence of blood.
He also undertook an ambitious military career. As a doctor in the medical corps, he voluntarily entered the Airborne Special Forces, where he became a Master Parachutist. In 1958 and 1959, he was a Jumpmaster at Weisbaden Air Force Base in Germany. He successfully completed 69 jumps until, on his last jump, a crosswind flung him sideways at the moment of impact, and the shock of the landing travelled up his right leg to his shoulder, dislocating it and requiring the insertion of a pin. From 1979 to 1983, he was the U.S. Army’s Deputy to the Surgeon General for Moblization, responsible for, among other things, planning logistics for the evacuation of U.S. cities in the event of a nuclear or biological disaster.
He was also an avid collector of and expert on U.S. medical military insignia, uniforms and instruments, and was regarded by some as owning the most complete collection of them in the world.
He is survived by daughters Karen and Jane, son Tom and his grandchildren Ella and Greyson Boblitz and Nicholas and Miraya Burka.
Services will be held at the Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home in Chesterton, Maryland at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16; public visitation is from 3 to 4 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.