Mike Burkett was the first person to sign up for the 2 Sides Project trip. As he says, he was “all in, all the way” right from the start. We’ve talked a lot over the last few months, but I only just learned that, as owner of a food and beverage distribution company, Mike sells gummi bears. Which means he’s surrounded by them every day. I don’t know why he doesn’t weigh 500 pounds, but I admire him all the more.
Three years ago Mike and his wife Deanna adopted their daughter Jazgul, who was born in Kyrgyzstan. He’s travelled to Asia several times and has been giving us tips about how to survive a long flight.
Tell us about your dad.
My dad was Army SP4 Curtis Earl Burkett. He was killed on February 19, 1971 in the Quang Ngai Province. What I know about that day is from his buddy Ed Clayton. I've talked to him over the years. They were getting ready to cross a river because there were some VC sunbathing on the other side. Clayton said the river looked calm and smooth as can be, and he told my dad he was going to go. My Dad said “no, I’ll go first” and stepped in. He was caught in a swift undertow and carried away. They found his body 30 minutes later. He had drowned. He must have hit the back of his head because they found a big bruise there.
You’re headed to Vietnam in a few weeks. Why is now the time?
I always wanted to see the country and experience what Vietnam was like. But I had no idea that I could actually get to my dad’s site. And this particular trip is unique. I had never thought about the other side, not given them a minute’s thought, good or bad. I mean there are kids over there and they lost their dads like us. This is the first time the two sides will meet. I wanted to be a part of that. And I want to be with the group. It’s a sad reason why we know each other, but the sons and daughters who lost their fathers in this war are some of the finest people I have ever met. I’ve met hundreds who are part of Sons and Daughters in Touch. It’s been very therapeutic.
What do you hope for the trip? What do you expect?
I tell myself I’m not going to be overwhelmed at my dad’s site, but deep down I know I will be. Everything ended there for him. It was the worst thing that could have happened. That one event changed so many other things.
Are you afraid to go?
Honestly, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m looking forward to going.
What are you most looking forward to?
Probably more than anything else just being with five brothers and sisters.
What have your friends and family said about you going on this trip?
I thought people might think it’s a bit weird, meeting the other side. But everyone’s been really positive about it. I’m in a unique situation because most of my grandparents are still alive. My dad’s father is 89. I think he’ll live to be 116. I told him about the trip and he’s really supportive. I didn’t tell my Grandma. She’s a worrier.