The Burke Family
September 5, 1990-April 13, 2021
Our eldest son, Nathan R.W. Burke entered the Navy at the age of 29, just one month before turning 30 years old. Having had a full and productive career in Strength and Conditioning with his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Kinesiology from Texas Tech University. He was a full-time faculty member at Coronado High School before changing careers and deciding to enter the Navy. Nathan spent an entire year discerning what branch and type of work he wanted to do. Along with the recruiter, he decided he wanted to enter the Special Forces. He began the process in the summer of 2020.
Nathan could have gone in as an Officer with his credentials, but wanted to truly serve, sacrifice, and earn his way. The Air / Water Rescue Swimmer program was his goal.
He was officially sworn in August 21, 2020 into the Navy. However, due to covid restrictions he did not ship out to bootcamp until December 1, 2020.
He excelled in basic training and was awarded The Recruit Honor Ribbon “for demonstrating superior performance throughout Basic Military Training in the areas of academics, physical readiness, recruit leadership, and commitment to Navy core values.”
Due to covid restrictions we were robbed of one last chance to see our son in person, and witness him graduate from bootcamp, February 11, 2021 at Naval Station Great Lakes. Nathan immediately was bussed to Pensacola, Florida for Special Forces Training, Air and Water Rescue Swim School.
Not only was he determined to complete the challenging and grueling program, but he was committed to supporting and encouraging his fellow teammates to “Never Quit.” Guiding them in prayer, leadership and mentorship. Nathan was performing very well and was so excited to move through the process of training. Sadly, he was not given the opportunity to complete this journey.
Less than two months after graduating bootcamp, on April 5, 2021, we were advised of a “training mishap”. We were so shocked, as we had spoken to him less than 24 hours previously on the phone, Easter Sunday, and all was well.
At the time of the call on April 5, 2021, we were told that Nathan had a cardiac arrest in the training pool and was in an induced coma in the hospital. With only having minimal information about what took place before the pool incident, everyone was optimistic that he would be ok. It wasn’t until it was discovered that he went a minimum of 30 minutes without oxygen to his brain. On April 7, 2021, we were told he had irreparable brain damage, and we would need to make some extraordinarily difficult decisions.
Nathan was in prime physical condition and had passed all his required regulations to be accepted. For most of his life, health, strength, and condition were paramount in all of Nathan’s endeavors, including both of his career choices!! He was also a mature age of 30, so he was mentally prepared for the training and conditioning for this type of challenge. These factors reverberated in our minds over and over, as we could not accept that none of what was happening made sense in this incident.
We were told that investigations would ensue, and all questions would be answered. Until the investigations were completed, no answers to even the simplest of questions would be provided. To date the Safety Review Investigation is still not released. Fifteen months after Nathan’s death, followed by relentless “activity” and “requests” NCIS finally began an investigation. It is not completed.
Arrangements were made for organ donation, honoring our beloved son’s wishes, and on April 13, 2021 Nathan succumbed to his injuries. Nathan was able to donate all, in whole or part, of his major organs, except for his lungs.
Nathan was given several awards and certificates including the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Award for “consistently setting the standard of excellence for motivation, compassion, and mentorship, enthusiastically supporting his fellow sailors at every possible opportunity. Drawing upon both faith and his background as a strength and conditioning coach, he devoted countless hours helping shipmates overcome personal and professional challenges, enabling them to complete high-risk and arduous training evolutions. Always a rock in a crisis, his “NEVER QUIT” attitude was contagious and his ability to counsel and motivate were beyond reproach. Airman Burke epitomized the Aviation Rescue Swimmer School motto: “So others may Live.”
Nathan was laid to rest April 28, 2021 with a full honor military service.
Fortunately, we requested an autopsy be performed on our son. Surprisingly to us, the Navy did not request an autopsy. After nine months, January of 2022, the medical examiner amended the original cause and manner from “undetermined” to the cause being “Complications of dehydration and environmental exposure due to extreme physical exertion with inadequate hydration and rest during military training” and the manner to “accidental”.
As we had the courage to begin going through a few of Nathan’s belongings, one of the first items Kevin found was a stack of handwritten index cards from Navy training. One card had several bible verses.
Paraphrased, the first line read “The issue is not your strength but mine, which is limitless.” 2 Corinthians 5:7. How profound of a statement, considering the events that followed.
The quality of life is a direct reflection of the quality of one’s thoughts, beliefs, habits, and perspectives. Anyone that knew Nathan would recognize that he epitomized this reflection. He never made excuses. Ever.
As Nathan grew, he began playing sports, he loved football but also played basketball and baseball. He enjoyed Marvel comics and their movies.
As an adult, Nathan chose to continue his education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock Texas. He ultimately earned a Master’s degree in Kinesiology. He held several jobs, including Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Texas Tech Lady Raiders Basketball team and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach to Coronado High School athletics, before entering the Navy.
He was relentless in his pursuit of perfection for himself, and his students. His passion was so intense that the kids nicknamed him “Coach Death”. Even with this moniker, his students were very fond of him and spoke of his ability to inspire and support them in even the most difficult situations.
On a typical family visit to Fort Worth, Texas, Nathan would be found drinking strong black coffee in the morning, and even as an adult, watching Batman cartoons, followed by ESPN. Nathan would often request my lasagna or meatballs for supper, with cheesecake for dessert. We then would always work out together and take our dogs for long walks and have great conversations. These memories are treasured like precious gold.
In 30 years, Nathan accomplished a great deal and touched more people’s hearts and lives than we could have ever imagined. This has become evident to us by countless recollections from people that knew him, even for a short time.
Nathan quietly, and sometimes not so quietly; influenced, changed lives, and became a great source of support to many.
To look at the exterior of Nathan, one might assume life was easy for him. He had intelligence, strength, and was easy to look at. His family loved him, supported, and encouraged him. He chose to be grateful, make the most of, and nurture all these attributes despite personal hurdles and challenges. One such challenge for Nathan was swimming. He was not built for swimming. He was built like a brick. This did not stop him from being a lifeguard or aspiring to be an Air/Water Rescue Swimmer. He always kept his eye on the goal, not the difficulty of the journey.
As our family grew, Kevin and I discussed “setting the table” for all of our children’s future. We recognized that our children were on loan from God; and their walk in faith, integrity, success, and choices would be their very own one day. It was of utmost importance to us that all the pieces of this proverbial table be placed appropriately and firmly for their future. Over the last months, people have complemented us for the fine young man that we raised. We appreciated the acknowledgement, but we recognized that it was Nathan that chose to be the man that he was.
The normal progression of things is that children are to lay their parents to rest. And normally, the children look up to their parents. We can tell you in many aspects this has been reversed, we find ourselves admiring and aspiring to continue the person that Nathan was.
In His eulogy, we wrote that Nathan lived a selfless and God loving life. His never quit attitude made him the person we have known and loved. The Navy Air Rescue Swimmer motto is “So others may live.” Nathan continued this mantra through the gift of life through the organ donor program. And we continue his legacy through the scholarships we have established in his name, and by honoring his life in some way every day.
Once again, the quality of life is a direct reflection of the quality of one’s thoughts, beliefs, habits, and perspectives.
Based on the scripture notes that Nathan had:
Nathan’s thoughts: “if we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit” Galatians 5:25
Nathan’s beliefs: “Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing: For God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.” Psalm 59:17
Nathan’s habit: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7
Nathan’s perspective: “The Lord is my Shepard; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:1-6
Notable News Articles
The Burke Family Military Legacy
Marine Corps Sergeant in Reserves
Early in his career, Richard served on the USS Oriskany. Ultimately, he became a navigator. Richard served in the Vietnam War and unfortunately was diagnosed with Diabetes at the age of 34. Later he would discover it was from the Agent Orange usage during Vietnam. Nathan was named Nathan Richard Wesley Burke, as a way to honor and remember Nathan’s grandfather.
Nathan RW Burke Memorial Scholarship
The plaque dedication to the weight room of Coranado High School. This was also the evening of the first scholarship dispersion for Coronado.
Nathan was a 2009 graduate of WAHS. He was a 4-year member of the Varsity Football team. He played tight end, linebacker, and special teams wearing number 23. He was a member of the 2006 AA State Championship Team.Nathan received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Kinesiology at Texas Tech University.
He trained collegiate and high school athletes in strength, conditioning, and leadership. Nathan was a Navy Airman and lost his life during Special Forces Training. This scholarship will ensure his exceptional legacy lives on.
Nathan Burke Scholarship Go-Fund Me
*All funds support the two scholarships we have established in Nathan’s name.
Nathan Burke Honorman Award
Nathan was given several honors, including the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the “Honorman Award” was renamed in his name. A bronze plaque at the location of where they pulled him from the training pool.