Major volunteers as companion for veterans
Capt. Eileen Hernandez
Mission Command Training Program Public Affairs
Fort Leavenworth Lamp
FORT LEAVENWORTH, KS - “He talks about the way it is now, and I talk about the way it was then.”
That’s how Gene Berry, a Korean War veteran, describes his relationship with Maj. Cedric Burden, observer/coach trainer with Operations Group Sierra of the Mission Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth. Burden volunteers with Crossroads Hospice as a companion for Berry and a World War II veteran.
Burden applied for the companion position at volunteer.org.
“I got a response back asking if I would like to be a companion to an African-American Korean War veteran,” said Burden, who is African-American. “I jumped at the opportunity. It’s an honor to meet and talk with any war veteran and hear about their service.”
The two met recently at Berry’s home in Gladstone, Mo., and Berry recalled the first time he saw Burden, whom he calls “the major.”
“The uniform has changed so much. I couldn’t see where his rank was,” Berry said. “I asked him if he was a private or a sergeant. He said he was a major and I thought he was joking. I had never seen a black major during my time in the Army — maybe a captain or two, but never a major.”
President Harry Truman ordered the armed services to desegregate in 1948, and Berry was among the first African-American soldiers to be part of an integrated unit.
“Basic training and my follow-on school were not integrated. But when I got to Korea, I was one of five black soldiers to join an all-white company,” Berry said. “I didn’t know what to expect at first, but there really weren’t any problems. Everyone had a job to do there and they got on with doing it.”
Berry said he enjoys reminiscing with Burden.
“We talk and laugh about the food and how much things are still the same,” said Burden, who served in the Army from 1951-1953.
“We were located next to a subsistence company,” Berry said. “We actually ate very well, we even had beer.”
The Army’s different now.
“No, sir, no beer in a combat zone today,” Burden responded. “Unless it’s the Super Bowl and then you only get two.”
Berry laughed and said it wasn’t beer that he was interested in but rather fresh milk. It was the first thing he enjoyed on his two-day R&R trip to Japan.
“R&R was the first time I had flown in an airplane and they gave us anything we could think of when we got to Japan. Milk, steak, baked potatoes — they treated us very well,” Berry recalled.
Spending time with Burden has brought up a lot of memories for Berry — ones that only soldiers understand.
“(There are) both good and bad memories,” Berry said. “People and experiences I had never even told my wife about in all the years we have been married.”
Burden said he’s learned from the veteran.
“Mr. Berry has taught me a lot in the time I have spent with him,” Burden said. “Mostly about how important it is to persevere and to never let things get you down or get in your way of achieving your goals.”
Burden is not alone in his devotion to community service.
“A lot of members of our team volunteer with different organizations, and I am proud of their service,” said Col. J.P. Silverstein, chief of Operations Group Sierra, MCTP. MCTP supports collective training of Army units to prepare leaders and provide commanders the opportunity to train for mission command in unified land operations.
Burden travels with MCTP to participate in training exercises.
“I never say goodbye to Mr. Berry,” Burden said. “I always say, ‘I will see you next time and I look forward to our visits.’”