Jack W. Burke


Jack W. Burke, longtime Pan Am pilot and resident of the Seattle area, formerly of Miles City, died in Hospice care on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Fleming House.

He was born on the homestead near Ismay on Aug. 7, 1922, to J.C. and Catherine Warner Burke. In 1923 the family moved to Ismay where his father ran a grain elevator. Later they moved to Miles City when his father became operator of the International Elevator on Main Street at the subway where Mr. Burke worked long hours unloading boxcars and generally helping his dad. In high school Mr. Burke skipped last period study halls and went to the airport and did any odd jobs they had there. In payment for working there he was taught to fly. He went to work for George Askin flying to the well sites being drilled and hunting coyotes to sell the pelts.

Mr. Burke graduated from Custer County High School in 1940 and went on to the University of Montana in Missoula and studied premed because his mother wanted him to become a doctor. Meanwhile, Mr. Burke only wanted to fly. He was flying at age 14 and never looked back.

Soon he was flying the bush in Alaska for Pan Am with no instruments and only a dog sled driver aboard to tell him which were the safe canyons. During World War II he flew in the Aleutian Islands, then served in both the Air Force and Navy in the Korean and Vietnam wars. On the first day of the Tet Offensive, he managed to land his 707 in Saigon, rescued more than 200 trapped Vietnamese and delivered them to safety while surrounded by ground fire.

He retired from Pan Am in 1982 after 40 years as an instructor, check pilot and Chief Pilot ... although he preferred to fly. He said he would have flown for free after retirement if they would have let him.

In 2010 Mr. Burke wrote a book titled “A Life Aloft” about growing up in eastern Montana and his love for flying.

Mr. Burke and his high school sweetheart, Alma (Scottie) Trafton, were married 65 years when she died in 2007. 

He is survived by two children, Shawn and Shannon Burke, two grandsons and a great-granddaughter, all near Seattle; and several nieces and nephews. 

A memorial service for Mr. Burke will be Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in Burien, Wash.