Local soldier killed in Iraq

Published 12:24 am Sunday, April 8, 2007

A long time county resident has died while serving his county in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After numerous tours overseas, many of which involved injuries, Army Staff Sgt. Jerry Clark Burge Jr., 39, went on another tour of Iraq to help train new recruits and pass along his knowledge.

During his most recent tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he and two other members of his battalion, part of the 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas, were on patrol at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, Baghdad time, when their Humvee passed over an improvised explosive device somewhere near Baghdad. The device exploded on the right side of the vehicle killing Burge and the medical officer sitting behind him, said Rosalie Gower, Burge’s ex-wife. The driver was injured in the blast. Burge was demolitions expert and engineer with his battalion.

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In previous missions, Burge received Purple Hearts for injuries, said Burge’s friend James Taylor. During one mission in Kosovo, Burge was investigating a bomb in a house. The bomb exploded when Burge was about 10 feet from the house, damaging his eyesight, hearing and giving him a concussion.

In his very first mission, which took place in Baghdad, an rocket-propelled grenade blast injured his shoulder.

“He got injured several times, but he kept going back,” Taylor said.

When he was in high school, Burge lived with his aunt and uncle in Carriere, Bobbie and Glen Kennedy, after Burge’s parents moved to Japan when he was 17. His father, who is in the Navy, is currently stationed in Japan, while his mother is in North Carolina. Glen Kennedy said Burge stayed with them to finish high school. After high school he moved to Japan to be with his parents.

“He was well liked, he loved Picayune. This was his home,” Bobbie Kennedy said.

Burge eventually moved back to Carriere and again stayed with the Kennedys until he met Gower. They married in 1995 and had two children, Tristan, 10, and Trinity, 7. Burge also helped to raise Gower’s eldest son, Matthew Simmons.

Before he joined the U.S. Army, Burge worked off shore on tug boats with Taylor. Even though Burge was a nephew to the Kennedys he was also considered a son to the couple and a brother to the Kennedys son Timothy Kennedy.

During the events following Hurricane Katrina, Burge made it his priority to come home from Fort Hood, Texas. Taylor said he arrived back in Pearl River County the day after the storm hit. While here, he spent numerous hours helping to clear roads and cut up debris, Taylor said.

“That’s how much he cared about his family. He was coming here no matter what,” Tim Kennedy said. “He’s the best brother any man could ever have, cousin or not.”

Even after Gower and Burge went their separate ways, Gower said they remained friends.

Bobbie Kennedy said that before Burge left on his most recent mission he told her that if something happened to him, he was going overseas because his men needed him. Burge felt that there were a number of new men going overseas that he could share his knowledge with.

“He said he would die doing what he wanted to do,” Bobbie Kennedy said.

Services for Burge are tentative, but family members expect them to be set for sometime in the middle of the week. The Patriot Riders are scheduled to escort Burge to his home for his services and internment, Taylor said.