World War II veteran makes sure funerals have right significance

-A A +A
By Stephen Thomas

 HILLVIEW - A most prominent local military veteran is taking time to honor fellow veterans in a special and proper way.

At age 91, Clifford Burnette does his best to visit area funeral homes, performing a small ceremony in honor of fallen veterans.

Burnette has offered the service for two years in the northern Bullitt area, including Okolona and Fern Creek. He received an official blessing from Veterans Affairs to perform the ceremonies.

“My brother, my nephew and my son-in-law all helped push me into it,” said Burnette. “They took me through (the ceremony). I’ve had good teachers.”

Burnette’s process is simple: As he reads an obituary and notices a veteran has passed away, he saves it and visits the funeral home. 

Once he receives permission from the family, he performs the service.

“My wife and daughters keep all the obits,” he said. “They’re working on a scrapbook for display.”

A World War II Navy veteran, Burnette is pleased to host the ceremony for any veteran from any branch of service during any time period.

“I don’t care if I have to crawl through a drain, I’ll be there,” he said.

Ben Underwood, owner of Schoppenhorst, Underwood and Brooks Funeral Home, referred to Burnette as a “blessing for the community.”

“He took something that nobody else was doing and he does it well,” Underwood said.

Burnette begins each service by visiting the family and friends of the deceased, introduced by a member of the funeral home staff. He always brings a souvenir flag for the closest relative or friend.

“All you have to do is talk to them,” he said.

“He carries a nice spirit with him,” said Underwood. “You can feel that.”

After meeting the family, Burnette asks if there are any other fellow veterans present. If so, he invites them to join him.

“He always asks if there are veterans,” Underwood said. “He gets everyone thinking. Everyone knows a veteran.”

From there Burnette tends to the fallen veteran. He begins his ceremony with a silent prayer.

“That’s between me and the deceased,’ he said.

Following the silent prayer, Burnette and the other veterans perform a slow salute to honor the deceased.

“I keep it simple and brief so the families can continue to receive others,” he said. “I don’t stand there telling war stories.”

The 91-year-old Kentucky native has his share of stories. At a young 21 years of age he became one of the soldiers that landed on Normandy Beach during the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

“We had to chase (the Germans) out,” he said. “It was quite an experience, but I never want to see that again.”

The five-year Navy veteran served on a landing craft tank during the war. He first signed up for submarine duty but a heart murmur kept him above the water.

Burnette was 500 miles outside of Tokyo at the war’s end.

“Then the (atomic) bomb was announced on our P.A.,” he said. “They also announced that there was another bomb pending.”

Following the second bomb Burnette’s craft entered Tokyo Bay to collect Japanese prisoners of war. He was not far from where the peace treaty was signed that officially ended the war.

Burnette recalled trying to call home once and couldn’t get through. He later learned the phone lines were tied up because President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died.

After five years, Burnette decided against pursuing a military career.

“I just wanted to get through the war,” he said. “I wanted to settle down and be a normal person again.”

The son of a Barbourville electrician moved to Louisville, where he worked at General Electric for 30 years.

“I’ve been retired now longer than I worked there,” he said.

In Louisville he met his wife of 60 years, Nora, who is a Prestonburg native. 

The couple now resides in Bullitt County.

“My wife checks email and obits with me,’ he said. “She works with me diligently to make all of this work.”

Burnette said he missed a calling earlier in life that his new opportunity allows him to fulfill.

“I do this with a lot of courage and honesty,” he said. “And I’m always friendly to people. I don’t know what I’d do without making people happy. I’ve got two tons of blessings I carry with me every day.”