American Patriotic 10

Lt. General Kelly H. Burke

June 27, 1929 ~ July 23, 2019 (age 90)


Lieutenant General Kelly H Burke, USAF retired, passed away peacefully on July 23 at Belvedere Commons, Fort Walton Beach. He turned 90 in June.

General Burke was born on June 7th, 1929 in Mobile Alabama. At the age of 17 he enlisted in the Navy and served two years as an aerial photographer. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, he entered Auburn University, the first member of his family to attend College.

At Auburn he met the love of his life, Denny Hosey. They were married in December 1951 and spent 65 years together. Denny passed away in 2015.

While at Auburn, Kelly was a member of Lamda Chi Alpha fraternity and served as president of the Inter-fraternity council, was selected for membership in Spades and Omicron Delta Kappa and was a co-founder of the Auburn chapter of the Arnold Air Society. Graduating in 1952, he originally intended to follow a career in Law, however he was concurrently designated a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC program and commissioned as a second lieutenant. As a result he joined the newly formed United States Air Force.

He completed pilot training and was awarded the commander's trophy as the outstanding graduate of his class. During his Air Force career he held a wide variety of challenging assignments including commander of two bombardment wings, senior planner of Strategic Air Command and Director of Air Force operational requirements. He rose rapidly in rank, becoming the first in his year group to receive a third star. He was also the first Air Force ROTC graduate to achieve that rank. To commemorate these accomplishments, Auburn University established the Burke scholarship which is awarded annually to the most outstanding Air Force ROTC cadet.

During his 30 year Air Force Career, he logged in excess of 8,000 flying hours including 800 hours in combat.  In addition, he joined meteorological reconnaissance  and became a Typhoon Hunter, flying into major Pacific storms. He flew a large variety of aircraft including many experimental and foreign types. He was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, The Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, The Meritorious Service Medal, The Bronze Star and the Air Medal with oak leaf clusters.

He served as Dean of Overseas Students at the Royal Air Force Staff College, Bracknell, UK., and his final position was Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition with an annual budget of $38 billion. He played a major role in shaping the Air Force of the future. As recognition of his achievements the Air Force created the Kelly Burke trophy awarded annually to the most outstanding young officer in the development and acquisition field.

General Burke retired from the Air Force in 1982 and along with long time friends and colleagues, General Guy Hecker and General (Astronaut) Tom Stafford, he formed the leading aerospace consulting firm of Stafford, Burke and Hecker.  He also served as director of The Singer Corporation, the airline Flying Tigers and Orbital Science Corporation. He served as a pro bono advisor to the White House Science Office, the National Research Council, The Defense Science Board, The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and others.

Kelly Burke was a graduate of Auburn University, George Washington University, the Air Force Squadron Officers School, the Royal Air Force Staff College, the Naval War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

In 1993, General and Mrs. Burke established the Burke Family Scholarship Endowment at the Northwest Florida State College, which provides fifteen four-year scholarships annually to needy students. For this and other charitable activities the Burkes were named the 1995 “Benefactors of the year” for the State of Florida. Since its inception the endowment has supported over 190 students and is the second largest scholarship endowment held, currently totaling more than $1.3 million.

General Burke also served as a director of the Northwest Florida College Foundation and the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center.

General Burke was preceded in death by his wife Denny and Daughter Patty.  He is survived by his daughter Bethany Burke, son Kelly Burke, granddaughter Leigh Ackal and grandsons Burke Ackal and Mark D. Ackal.  He is also survived by son in laws Martin Owen and Mark Ackal, and his sisters Helen Kirkendall and Sid Douglas.

Over the past two years Kelly received incredibly sympathetic and loving care by the staff and residents of Belvedere Commons in Fort Walton Beach, his hospice nurse Sherry Lee and from his long term care giver and friend Kim Norris.

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, September 7th, 2019 from 3:00 PM until 5:00 PM at the Twisted Grape Wine Bar, 1193B N. Eglin Parkway , Shalimar, Florida 32579.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Air Force Aid Society (

Offerings of love and sympathy may be placed online at

To send flowers to Lt. General Kelly H. Burke's family, please visit our floral section.


Celebration of Life
September 7, 2019

3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Twisted Grape Wine Bar
1193B N. Eglin Parkway
Shalimar, FL 32579