Jinnings Burruss was born December 23, 1920 into a very different world than we live in today. His life would span almost a century and he saw extraordinary change. When Jinnings was born neither the star spangled banner or the pledge of allegiance had been officially adopted. The President of the United States was Warren G. Harding. Harding was the 29th President of the United States and Jinnings would live to see 15 more presidents. Jinnings lived through the roaring twenties, the great depression, the Second World War, the Cold War. He saw the berlin wall go up and watched it torn down.
I don’t know who wrote Jinnings’ obituary but they did an excellent job honoring Jinnings life. The obituary said Jinnings was raised during hard times. That is exactly how Jinnings would describe his childhood. Jinnings was born at a time when most rural Americans had no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing and the Burruss family had less than most. There was no TV, no radio and only one newspaper. It was not distributed to much of the state but it didn’t matter since most Arkansans could not read.
I love history and I love talking to people older than I am about the historical events they lived through. Unfortunately it is getting harder and harder every year to find people that are older than me. One day I was talking to Jinnings and I asked him what he could remember about when the stock market crash in 1929. Jinnings said, well, I recon I probably heard about the stock market crash but it didn’t mean anything to us we were already poor. Jinnings and his brother Hugh were helping support the family at an age when kids today aren’t allowed to stay at home without supervision.
Jinnings Burruss was a proud veteran of World War II and it was suggested that I might wear my old army uniform today in honor of Jinnings service. I would love to have worn my uniform but regrettably I no longer fit in my uniform. The only part of my uniform I can still get on are these airborne wings. Today I proudly wear my airborne wings in honor of my fellow veteran Seaman Jinnings Burruss.
When Jinnings joined the Navy he boarded a train in rural Arkansas and got off at the “U.S. Naval Training Center, the Bronx, New York City. It was a great adventure. One he never forgot. The last time we talked when he was still at home he was still amazed and went on and on about what it was like for a small town country boy from Arkansas to end up in NYC.
He would go from there to California and then cross the ocean. Jinnings would eventually take part in the Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, the battle was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater of World War II. Four army Divisions and 2 Marine Divisions were landed on the Island. The 82-day-long battle lasted from early April until mid-June 1945.
On the first day of the battle Jinnings was piloting one of the lead landing craft in the second wave that was to hit the beach. Jinnings could see in front of him that the landing craft in the first wave were getting stuck on a reef and were dropping their load of Marines in water that was waste deep or higher. Jinnings orders were to drive straight into the beach. Jinnings told me, “I knew that if I went straight in I was going to get stuck on that reef and those Marines would be sitting ducks.” I may not get this part right. I don’t know much about boats and can’t remember exactly what Jinnings said he did but somehow Jinnings turned his boat in such a way that he was able to drive it either around or over the reef. Jinnings deliver those Marines to the beach safe and dry. Jinnings took great pride in accomplishing his mission and putting that handful of Marines on the beach safe and dry. That first landing was only the beginning of the battle and Jinnings would spend weeks piloting his landing craft back and forth to shore carrying men, supplies and eventually wounded.
Jinnings like millions of other veterans serve his country with honor and then he came home and lived the rest of his life with the same honor. He worked hard and raised a fine family that I am proud to have married into. When I met Jinnings he was retired but he was still working hard. He was working hard at fishing, picking pecans and tending to his garden. Every time we went to Bradford he insisted we take a bag of pecans home.
I met Jinnings and many of you in the summer of 1991 when Mandy brought me to a family picnic. I think it was the 4th of July. We had a whole table full of casseroles and ham. For dessert we had pecan pie and homemade ice cream. After lunch I fell asleep in a lounge chair. I don’t think the ladies in the Burruss family were too keen on my first appearance in Bradford but before I left Jinnings eased up beside me, he put his hand on my arm, and said, “that Mandy is something special, take good care of her” and then he invited me to come back any time. He always made me feel at home. Jinnings honestly made me feel like family from my very first visit to Bradford.
In preparing this eulogy I of course racked my brain trying to think of the right words to describe Jinnings Burruss. I was of course looking for something that would sound profound, perhaps spiritual with a little lawyer twist but what I kept thinking was Jinnings Burruss was a happy man. Jinnings Burruss was a happy man. I began to think about how hard it is in this world of ours to be happy and how rare truly happy people are. I have been thinking about little else for three days and I am convinced that the secret to Jinnings Burruss happiness was contentment. He loved his family, his community and he loved his life. Jinnings Burruss coveted no man and he was content with what God had given him. Jinnings Burruss lived the fruits of the Spirit every day. In him you could see, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
Jinnings life was anything but perfect. He endured many trials and much loss but somehow he never dwelled in the past. He faced loss, he grieved, and then he looked to the future and lived every day with joyful anticipation. If Jinnings could speak to each of you today I believe he would tell each of you to celebrate his life, grieve his loss and then look to your future. Live your life with joy and anticipation being content with what God gives you and most of all, be sure to make time to go fishing.
Delivered November 5, 2013, by Lloyd Warford