Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, a hero and former chief of naval operations remembered as the father of the modern Navy, was buried here today at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Burke was "one of the Navy's finest sailors and greatest leaders," President Clinton told 2,000 mourners at what Pentagon officials called the largest military funeral in a decade. "He taught the Navy how to fight at night" and created "the most versatile fleet in history."
After services at the Naval Academy chapel, where Burke married his wife, Roberta, on his graduation day in 1923, mourners followed Burke's flag-draped coffin, borne on a horse-drawn caisson along roads lined by sailors at attention, to the grave at the academy cemetery overlooking the Severn River.
The admiral was buried after a 19-gun salute, a rifle volley and a flyover by four F-14 fighters from Oceana Naval Air Station, in Virginia Beach.
Burke, who died Monday at age 94, served a record three terms as chief of naval operations from 1955 to 1961. He gained fame and the nickname "31-Knot Burke" in World War II when he pushed his division of ships to their near-maximum speed through 22 battles with the Japanese fleet in four months.
Clinton said he had ordered Burke's old division and the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers to steam 31 knots for five minutes today.
Before his death, Burke had asked retired Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III, a former staff member and a friend for 40 years, to deliver his eulogy.
Metcalf, the former head of the Navy's surface warfare branch, called his former boss "a sailor's sailor" who "set standards that we follow today." He noted that Burke brought the Navy into the era of guided missiles, jet aircraft and nuclear submarines.
Though he wished he could have contributed more years to the Navy, Burke turned down the offer of a fourth term as chief of naval operations because he believed younger people should be brought forward, Metcalf said.
A public man but a private person, "he never wrote, in fact refused to write, a memoir," Metcalf said. "If he were truthful, he feared, he might say something about a contemporary that might hurt or embarrass. . . . He had an enormous sense of personal loyalty to people who worked for him, served with him or risked their lives with him."
After the service, Metcalf added that Burke was "tough, intellectual . . . the classic warrior."
"He knew what he was about, he knew what had to be done, he knew how to prepare people for what had to be done," Metcalf said.
Metcalf was one of eight honorary pallbearers, including retired Supreme Court justice Byron R. White, Chief of Naval Operations Jeremy M. Boorda and Marine Corps Gen. Charles C. Krulak.
Among the military officers, politicians and foreign dignitaries who attended the funeral were entrepreneur and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, novelist Tom Clancy, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.). The admiral's widow, who turned 97 Wednesday, walked up the aisle of the chapel accompanied by a longtime family friend, Patrick C. Ward.
Rear Adm. D.K. Muchow, the Naval Academy chaplain, noted that despite all his accomplishments and titles, Burke chose only to put the word "sailor" under his name on his granite tombstone. "The title sailor' best encapsulates the integrity of this great leader." CAPTION: Roberta Burke, the widow of Adm. Arleigh Burke, is escorted to the Naval Academy chapel by Cmdr. Reid Senter, of the chief of naval operations staff. ec CAPTION: The caisson carrying Adm. Burke arrives at the Naval Academy cemetery for the burial service. ec