Tribute to Admiral Arleigh Burke
For over fifty years, the “Little Beavers” have taken enormous pride in the worldwide praise of Arleigh Burke’s superb leadership and professional skills. We note this praise and his astonishing success with constant pride, but we were not surprised—not in the least. In fact, from October 1943 on, no accomplishment of our Commodore “31-knot” Burke was ever surprising to us.

I have always thought that Arleigh Burke was bigger than life. And today you have proven me right.
— Mrs. Roberta Burke, Sponsor, at DDG 51 launching.

In the summer of 1943, we were eight new and very green Fletcher-type destroyers, the Charles Ausburne, Claxton, Dyson, Stanly, Spence, Converse, Thatcher and Foote, wandering around the Southwest Pacific very uncertain of ourselves, convoying troop replacements to Guadalcanal, beer parties in Espiritu Santo, a few runs up the “Slot,” sometimes shooting at enemy barges or an occasional air raid. But we had no real identity and were feeling somewhat useless in the war we thought we had signed up to fight.

He had more elements of high command than any other destroyer commander.
— Cdr. Gelzer Sims, Pacific Fleet Destroyer Commander’s staff, former commanding officer, USS Maury.

A dynamic change happened on 23 October of ’43! Captain Arleigh Burke became our commodore and the eight separate destroyers quickly became one cohesive fighting destroyer squadron. We were quickly revitalized. He let us know that we were there to fight and that we had better know how.

The squadron sailed for Bougainville in Task Force 39 on 31 October. First there was a midnight bombardment of Buka at the north end of Bougainville. Then a speed run south for a morning wake-up call on the enemy in the Shortland Islands. This was followed by the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay that night and an attack by about 100 enemy aircraft at sunrise the next morning.

We returned to port knowing we were winners. We were tired and we were proud. Yes, we did bleed from a torpedo hit to the USS Foote and from other damage, but the enemy had paid a very high price for this. We knew we had been in in a fight and that we did know how. Our commodore rewarded us with an identity we cherish to this day. He named us the “Little Beavers.”

During the next four months, Commodore Burke led us through one scrap after another, highlighted by the famous Thanksgiving morning battle that gave the USS Cape St. George her name and a motto to be proud of: “Always Victorious.”

In March of ’44, Commodore Burke departed for the carrier navy. Admiral Mitscher could have overcome early apprehensions about his new chief of staff much sooner had he checked with us. The commodore’s prodigious contribution to the subsequent Pacific naval victory is a matter of history.

Mr. Fred Harmon
Red Ryder Ranch
Pagosa Springs, Colo.

Dear Mr. Harmon:

Upon my return from our last raid, I found awaiting your color sketch of Little Beaver. Your sketch I shall treasure very much but not nearly as much as your thoughtfulness in sending it.

You perhaps will be interested in the reason our squadron chose your estimable character to represent our squadron. We wanted an emblem which would be truly American. We wanted one which would represent aggressiveness and daring, which indicated fighting ability and always retained a sense of humor. One of our torpedomen suggested Little Beaver because in the particular sketch which he drew, Little Beaver was cheerfully placing his arrows in the most appropriate portion of Japanese anatomy. Little Beaver filled the bill. We are very proud of our Little Indian and we credit him with a great deal of the exceptional good fortune which we have enjoyed. He not only helps to damage the enemy but he seems to be the angel on the masthead: he keeps our casualties low.

Enclosed is a mimeographed membership to our squadron which we would like you to have. The names in the margin are those of the splendid skippers who commanded the ships of the squadron and whose excellent leadership and courageous crews brought honor to their squadron.

As you may note by the letterhead, I have been detached from the Little Beavers and am now Chief of Staff in a new organization.

Naturally I miss the squadron more than I would like to admit. Never again will I be so fortunate as to work with men who so wholeheartedly and cheerfully put everything they had into the battles they fought.

Your invitation to visit you on your ranch in the Rocky Mountains is gratefully accepted.

With kindest regards from the Little Beavers

Sincerely yours,
Arleigh Burke
Captain, U.S. Navy

Arleigh Burke was an outstanding destroyer commander before he came to Destroyer Squadron 23 and he was surely even better when he left. But his real star was just beginning to shine. How proud we are to have shared in this small part of his career. The “Little Beavers” were truly beneficiaries of Arleigh Burke’s greatness.

We were also humbled by the awesome respect “31-knot” Burke’s “Little Beavers” encountered as they moved up through the islands in 1944 and ’45. Most of our admirers were totally unaware of just what an important part Arleigh Burke was then playing in their own victorious movement toward Japan.

In October 1945, with the war over, four ships of the squadron reunited with Commodore Burke in the Washington Navy Yard where his squadron was honored to be the first ever to receive the Presidential Unit Citation.

I will leave it to others to comment on the admiral’s outstanding post-World War II career. The “Little Beavers” will all tell you they saw it coming.

In 1983, the squadron crews held their first joint reunion. Admiral and Mrs. Burke and a thousand others spent a marvelous weekend here in a Crystal City hotel. The reunion highlight was an emotional memorial service in the Washington Navy Yard, next to the piers where we had last met in 1945. This was also when many of us first met his charming and wonderful wife, Bobbie. We were happy to find that she loved the “Little Beavers” just as much as he did. Some of us will always remember how welcome the Burkes made us during occasional visits to their home in subsequent years.

Of course, we were in Bath, Maine in 1989 for the launching of the USS Arleigh Burke and we mustered over five hundred in Norfolk for the glorious Fourth of July commissioning of his ship. We were also very honored to represent the admiral when the Aegis cruiser USS Cape St. George was brought on line two years later.

The Number One “Little Beaver” will certainly be missed, but we like to think of him as promoted to a celestial ship on station, where some day we expect to sail in his squadron again.

In closing, I would like to say that the “Little Beavers” are honored to still be associated with the US Navy and we are particularly proud of three great Navy ships, the USS Arleigh Burke, DDG 51, the USS Cape St. George, CG 71, and the USS Stout, DDG 55. It is a great privilege and honor to have the legacy of “31-knot” Burke and his “Little Beavers” carried to the next century in such a glorious manner.

Thank you all and God bless Mrs. Burke.

Source: Little Beavers Reunion Coordinator Clarence “Red” Lail, who served as torpedoman third class in USS Converse (DD 509) as part of Admiral Burke’s Destroyer Squadron Twenty-Three. Enlisted in US Navy in July 1942 as a sixteen year old, observed eighteenth birthday during the Battle of Cape St. George on 25 November 1943.