Friday, March 31, 2023

A Mendocino County Native Son Reflects on His Father’s Sacrifice of Serving in the Vietnam War


– Eric Lee Burch is an eighth-generation Mendocino County resident who spent 15 years as a photojournalist and graphic designer for The Willits News, Lake County Record-Bee and The Ukiah Daily Journal. His work has also appeared in the Willits Nickel & Dime, The Mendocino Travelers Guide and 101 Things to do in Mendocino County. Though Mr. Burch lives a somewhat quieter life these days, he continues to write and shoot photos; capturing the essence of Mendocino County and California’s north coast. – 

The following is an essay Burch wrote about his father and the sacrifices he made as a soldier in the Vietnam War.

Eric Lee Burch’s Father [Photographs provided by Eric himself]

My mother married on August 17th, 1986. It was an elopement in Reno. Her new husband was a roofer, had a son, and lived out in Pneumonia Gulch. I was 10.

As we all got to know each other more as a new family, I learned that he served in the Army during Vietnam. It didn’t mean that much to me at the time. I didn’t really know about the war and it’s consequences. However, for my step-father, the war was still very fresh. He’d talk about some of the things he did on occasion, but it was the downtime experiences only.

We saw Platoon in the theater and that’s when the gravity of the war hit home a little. He began to tear up almost immediately and held it together as best he could. When we got home, he lost it. He and my mom stayed in their bedroom with the door closed as he sobbed and sobbed. That was heavy.

The older I got, the more my dad (because quite frankly, he’d become more of a father to me that my own blood) began to open up a little more about Vietnam. Of course, I was at a point in my own life where I was reading up on history and had become a bit more fascinated by the wars of the 20th Century. Yet, there was a lot he kept suppressed.

When my dad was 17, he had a bit of a wild streak about him and one incident landed him in court I guess. The judge had given him a choice: jail, or the military. He chose the Army and a ticket to Southeast Asia.

Two tours in Vietnam. Was there during the TET offensive. Came back to the world as a bronze star recipient. The world wasn’t quite ready to welcome these veterans though. Like so many others, he was called a baby killer, was spit on and was forced to flee from mounting hostilities.

He lived in San Francisco after his time in service and eventually wound up here in Willits.

I believe it was close to 12 years ago that he started going to the VA a lot. A tough old warrior, his body was beginning to fail him and numerous surgeries were called for. And I guess as part of the VA experience, he met with a psychiatrist who eventually cracked the suppressed memories of the war. From what I was told, his experiences over there were incredibly heroic as well as terribly traumatic; more so than anyone should ever have had to deal with, especially as a kid.

For the most part, my dad is still a tough old warrior. He’s slow down a bit, yet still makes the best of the life that’s been given to him. It is something I respect and admire about him.

Today is Veterans Day. It’s a good time to thank those who served. Let them know they are appreciated. Because quite frankly, despite we civilian’s opinions on war and service, what these men and woman have done, the sacrifices they’ve made (not for their country so much as for their brothers and sisters they served with); we can never truly understand and comprehend. Acknowledging this is the least we can do to honor them.

So to my friends and family who’ve given a piece of themselves in defense of this nation, thank you.



  1. A huge Thank You to ALL Veterans! For all that you won for us AND all that you lost of yourself. For being brave and willing. May God bless you ALL!

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