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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: Burl Huffman

Burl Huffman's Photos

Burl and his class at Parris Island

Burl is on the next to top row, sixth proud Marine from the left.

Brushy Mountain Detachment #1187 of the Marine Corps League

This photo from 2011 shows a dedicated group. Burl is on the far left. Not long ago, they organized under a new name in honor and memory of Marvin Williams (center back row, between curtain and picture frame) and Edwin J. Canter (not in this photo), so now they are the Williams-Canter Detachment.

Burl and family

Dee, Tracy, Burl, and Jessie

Another fine football star in the family, Jessie

Starting quarterback for the Wilkes Central Eagles. This is his senior year photo from 1999.

Tracy graduates with her Masters Degree

Tracy attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Burl with extended family, grandkids included!

Front row: Dee's Mother Betty Miles, Kelly (Jessie's wife), Blake, Eli, Emerson, Daughter Tracy

Back row: Son Jessie, Dee, Cad (Tracy's husband), and Burl

Huffman family brothers and sisters

First row:  Dorothy (eldest) and Marie
Second row: Burl, Don, and Harold

Huffman Home Place in McGrady, NC

Burl's father Frank sits on the porch. Burl's mother Lillie would not have been far away.

Burl Huffman's Story - interviewed by Nancy Putzel

Burl Allen Huffman was born in Wilbar, NC on September 28,1943.  His father was a farmer, but also worked for public works and in the furniture business.  His mother took care of the home place.  

Burl recalls that his Uncle Ed was wounded in the Army (shot through the legs).  His dad never served because of his age, at the time of WWII. 

“My dad was a fine man, a good example. He didn’t drink and he was a good influence.  Growing up it was to get up in the morning and go slop the hogs, feed the cows, and hoe corn–that, football, and school were priorities.”

He has an older sister, Dorothy, who taught school for 31 years.  And he has a younger sister, Marie, who worked as a lead surgical nurse at St. Johns Hospital in New York City.

Burl graduated from West Wilkes High School on June 2, 1961.  While in school Burl was involved in sports and played football.  His coach, a former Marine, inspired him to volunteer for service.   

“I wanted to be just like him . . .”

Burl entered the Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, on June 22,1961.  

“After being there a short time, I thought, What in the hell have I gotten into?  Parris Island was a whole different experience than what you could imagine.  There was a lot of screaming and yelling, a lot of discipline.”  

“Reveille was at 4:30 in the morning.   The drill instructor would take the top of a garbage can and slide it down the hallway and by the time it hit the wall I was out of the bunk.  I would be dressed within a couple of minutes and then we would go out and run around the big parade deck, about six times. It didn't hurt . . . because you’d still be asleep!  We would then go in to eat breakfast.    Of course it would still be dark. The training was rough, but as time went on you appreciated it more. They just didn’t mess around there.  They got me in the best shape I have ever been in my life.”  

After boot camp Burl went to Camp Geiger, a complex of Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina.   There he was assigned to an Infantry Training Regiment where he successfully completed and received his 0300 Classification.  Following this training, Burl was sent to the Sanford Naval Air Station in Florida, located just north of Orlando.  

“I was living in the Marine Barracks and there were less than 100 of us.  This was at the upper end of the base, all by itself.  There were a few older guys who were married and lived off base.  When I first got there, I thought there was no way I could sleep.  We were next to the end of the runway where the planes took off.  We could hear the aircraft taking off at 2:00 in the morning and it sounded like they were screaming at you.  After a while you didn’t pay any attention to it.   We had about 100 Marines on the entire base and probably 3,000 naval personnel.  But we had rooms there, which was so much better than living in a squad bay, so that was a plus.”

“I had to have a secret clearance to work in a building that was called Integrated Operational intelligence.  Mind you, this is at the time when we were having trouble with Cuba.  The Cuban Missile Crisis* would be the biggest event that we faced.  So I could only go to certain parts of a building that I had a security clearance for.  I was charged with protecting the perimeter of the base and spent most of the day just checking people out. I made sure people were where they were supposed to be and not somewhere else.  It was serious, like an MP sort of thing.  We were in charge of security for the whole base.” 

“With Integrated Operational Intelligence. I was aware that they were flying C-40’s and stuff, reconnaissance flights over Cuba.  I remember going back and looking at some old film.  They had the whole world mapped!  I recalled getting a map that showed where I grew up.  It showed a logging trail in Wilbar on that map.  It was amazing then, that I worked in a place where I could pull up a map, in their files, of a place where I grew up!”

“I was very aware of things that were going on in the Cuban Crisis.  The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a disaster that had happened just before I went into the service.”

When thinking about the whole service experience and considering the times during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Burl recalls the stressful experience of dealing with other military branches.           

During that time, where we were located, we were getting the Army units to come into the base. They were bivouacking next to the roadway.  In other words, if they needed to go somewhere, they could go rather quickly.  So we dealt with the Army there.  Of course you always have some ‘smart guy.’ We wound up with a division of Army guys there, and we had only about 90-some Marines.  They allowed a percentage of them to come to the clubs and stuff and that could get us into kind of a rough situation.  Especially if you had some loud Marine, who might get us all killed (laughs).”

“During this time, I ended up working in an office with a gunnery sergeant/E-7 who was getting involved in education with the Marine Corps Institute.  I took two really important courses:  Individual Protective Measures and Guerrilla Warfare.  At that time guys leaving for Vietnam had to learn about Guerrilla Warfare.”

“After finishing my four-year term, they offered the ‘shipping over’ talks (reenlistment).  I had a sergeant major who had probably been in 30 years who gave me that shipping over talk.  They offered me State Department duty, and drill instructor duty.  I would attend drill instructor school at Parris Island.  I passed up on the offer because I was set up to go to the University of Tampa in 1965.  They had me signed up to play football.  But, unfortunately, I hurt my leg hurt and never got to do that.  They did treat me nice, even after I couldn’t play ball for them.”  

Burl graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in History with help from a GI Bill.  

“I had 34 semester hours of history, which is quite a bit.   I had planned to teach school and coach football.  But, the Police Department in Tampa paid $1,000 more than teachers.  So in 1969, I went to work for the Police Department.   They were looking for Marines . . . especially if you had been involved in security in any way.  Just being part of security, that I was involved in during service years, was ideal for the police department.   As a rookie police officer, I went to work in the Tampa ghettos . . . areas of high crime.  I had to learn fast there!” 

“I basically liked my job, but I met a couple of ‘old drunks’ in a bar who were ‘superintendents of stuccoing.’  They wanted me to work with them on my days off.  I started working with them stuccoing huge buildings.  And soon I resigned from the Police Department and went to work with them.  I later became superintendent of a project and about tripled my pay.” 

“We had a recession in 1974 and building pretty much just stopped. So I would look for things that needed to be done and I started talking to people.   One day I saw an old well house.  I talked to the owners, sold them on stuccoing and got a $100 job. This led to three houses on the street.  This led to more work and a 63-house project. I had more work than I could handle.  I hired the two guys who had originally hired me, and I started a Subchapter S Corporation . . .  I owned the company.   I declared myself president for life and ran the company for a few years.” 

 While in Florida, Burl met a girl named Dee Miles, who was from Rochester, New York.   

“I went to church one morning and she just happened to come in.  That is where I met her.  Right away I bought her an ice cream cone.  I can recall I dropped the top of mine off.  What an impression!”

Burl always had it in the back of his mind that he wanted to go home to help his parents while they were still living. So in 1980, after his month-in-law died, they sold their home in Florida and moved back to North Carolina.  They lived about 17 miles from his parents and raised their family.  They had two children; a son named Jesse and a daughter named Tracy.  

With his stucco experience, Burl began working for a contractor to accent the front of buildings with stone.  He did stonework for years.  Today his son, Jesse manages the stone business and Tracy works as a school counselor in Mooresville.

When Burl moved to Wilkes County, he was “burned out on construction,” so he took a government job with the Department of Human Resources.  

“Going back to office work seemed like there was nothing to do . . . just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.   As time went by, people asked me about doing things.  I could make more in one day than I could make all week with the state.  I started doing little stucco jobs here and there.  One of the first jobs I did in Wilkesboro was the Palmer building and people began to notice me then.  One thing led to another and I left the state job and went back to stone work.  I did 35 houses in Leatherwood Mountain Resorts. Over the years, at least 1000 fireplaces. I did a lot of work!”

When asked about his advice for young folks seeking a career in the military Burl says . . .

“It is a great idea because I really got a lot from it, in the long run.  But I would say, join the AirForce.  I think these guys are pretty smart guys, and they have some real good programs.   The thing about it is that I worked when I was a contractor back in Tampa . . .  I went to do some work at McNeil Air Force Base, on the hospital, and was allowed to go to their mess hall.  Those guys were eating steaks and stuff!  I remember a time when the Marines would put out a jar of peanut butter, some bread and jelly, at Camp Geiger.  I thought, these guys are living good!  No really, I think the Marines would be fine.”

“I don’t know if I had just gone to college right out of high school if I would have been so motivated.  The thing about the Marine Corps is that it motivates you.  It is not a status quo.  They have something going on all the time.  Overall, it is a terrific experience.”  

"You are not going to like everything all of the time anyway.  But as time goes on, in the Marines, they treat you better and better with this and that.”  

Burl has always felt a part of the Marines, even after college. He has been a member of the Canter/Williams Detachment 1187 Marine Corps League (Wilkes Co.) for over twenty years and currently serves as Judge Advocate.   He talked about the opportunity to keep learning and is for anything educational.  

“The service experience is definitely a way to mature for college.”  

“And, the Marine Corps League was established in 1923, by a Lt. General.  It was started for veteran Marines to have fellowship, and I think that is important.  I’ve always been pretty close to the Marines, even after I left active duty, because we have a lot in common.”  

“With my mindset today, I wonder why I didn’t spend 30 years.  I could have got up in the officer’s rank.  But I didn’t, and luckily I was able to avoid going to Vietnam.  That was a mess.  I think that war should never have happened.” 

“Even though I found the Marine Corps a pain in the ass, it was also good.  I am glad I have that experience behind me, but I am still concerned about things.  Being in the Marine Corps League, I am like that.”  

*The Cuban Missile Crisis, was a 35-day (16 October – 20 November 1962) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which escalated into an international crisis when American deployments of missiles in Italy and Turkey were matched by Soviet deployments of similar ballistic missiles in Cuba. Despite the short time frame, the Cuban Missile Crisis remains a defining moment in US national security and nuclear war preparation. The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.(from Wikipedia)