Burkhalter, William, BT2

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Last Rank
Petty Officer Second Class
Last Primary NEC
BT-0000-Boiler Technician
Last Rating/NEC Group
Boiler Technician
Primary Unit
1968-1968, BT-0000, USS Douglas H. Fox (DD-779)
Service Years
1964 - 1968
BT-Boiler Technician
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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Tommy Burgdorf (Birddog), FC2 to remember Burkhalter, William (Billy), BT2.

If you knew or served with this Sailor and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
Contact Info
Home Town
Columbus, MO
Last Address
Not Specified

Date of Passing
Sep 09, 1968
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

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Last Known Activity

USS Douglas H. Fox Boiler Room Fire - 1968
September 9, 1968 Fire Broke-out 325 Miles Southeast Of Charleston En-route To Vietnam

These are excerpts from the Evening Post newspaper account. "Cmdr. W.J. Aston, Commanding Officer of the Fox said that full details would only be known after the Board of Investigation hearing was completed." Joseph Licata, BM3, of Leroy, NY was quoted as saying "Rinaldi had a hand torch and was putting it into an aperture of the boiler, when there was a great whoosh and a flame leapt about 40 feet clean across the room. Duren was behind the boiler making soundings and must have been overcome by the heat and gas. Burkhalter was behind Rinaldi." Licata received first and second degree burns. Stephen L. Ketter, BM3 of Portsmouth , OH, who suffered a bruised back said "I was on a catwalk on the upper level when I saw the flame pass right under me . Then something hit me in the back and bowled me over. The smoke was unbelievable. Luckily we were at general quarters so when someone got to the hatch and called out, the fire control team came on the double and pulled us out." The casualties were brought brought back to port by the Destroyer Corry which raced full speed through relatively quiet waters to bring them home, while the Fox returned to Charleston under her own power.

At the FOX reunion in Baton Rouge October 2002, John Hobbs of Hookstown, PA gave the following personal account of this unfortunate incident.

"We were second day out heading for Vietnam. Just after lunch, we had gone to general quarters. We had been practicing war games 50 miles off the coast of Charleston. We had just concluded a drill of a fire in the boiler room. The fire hoses were sitting on the deck charged and ready, and we were just sitting around on the deck shooting the bull and waiting for the next exercise. We never knew what it was going to be."

We were running at that time on Number 4 Boiler and were getting ready to switch the load to Number 3, when something happened down there; an oil line ruptured. It was under 350 pounds of pressure. I was sitting in the forward fire room when the call came. 'BRAVO 3, FIRE; THIS IS NOT A DRILL!' I went topside and saw black smoke rolling out of both sides midship. I was the 'oil king' which meant I was responsible for refueling and moving the oil around in the ship to keep it level in the water and that type of thing. So I very quickly isolated Bravo 3, the oil going into it. There was a quick trip valve on the deck and we shut it off. I dropped down into Bravo 4 and shut down an entire series of manifold valves going to Bravo 3. All of this happened in a matter of seconds.

When I got back on deck, the men from Bravo 3 had opened the hatch and scrambled up on deck. Billy Burkhalter, BT2 from Columbus, MS, was on fire. There was a cook there who had a water hose, and he just turned around and turned the water hose on him. All his clothes had been burned off. The only things he had on were his shoes. He died three days later. He and I had been playing cards just before all this happened. He had a baby daughter who was maybe two or three weeks old. Robert Rinaldi, BT1, from Taylor, MI died soon after from smoke inhalation, as did Ralph Duran, FA, from Philadelphia who had only been on the ship a week or two. Rinaldi was behind the boiler, and nobody knows what he was trying to do, but maybe he was trying to get down to the bilges where there was water and he could have dropped under it, but he didn't make it. The boiler had gauges that were covered with glass maybe one inch thick, and all this glass was just melted, the heat was that intense. It was incredible when we went down afterwards to see the destruction. In addition to the three who died five others were injured, which included Jerome Davis, FA from Flushing , NY, Robert Dandrow, Hopkins, MI, Stephen L. Ketter, BM3 of Portsmouth, OH, Daniel Russ, BM2 of Green Bay, WI, and Joseph Licata BM3, Leroy, NY.

A lot of people did a lot of things right that day. The damage control parties were fantastic. Chief Distlerath, BTC was in Bravo 1, and neither of his boilers were on line. He lit off one of his boilers and brought it on line while we still had steam pressure. Had he not done that, we would have really been in trouble. Had all of the steam pressure been lost, we wouldn't have had water pressure to fight the fire. We'd have had nothing. Normally it takes two to three hours to bring one of those things up to speed, because you want to heat them up very slowly. In a matter of two or three minutes he had this thing up and on line. Probably broke every rule in the book, but he saved so many lives by doing that. It was a tragedy, but at the same time, a lot of people did a lot of things right. We were fighting for our lives, because with a fire at sea, you have no place to go." As recounted October 2002 by John Hobbs, Hookstown, PA, at the Fox reunion in Baton Rouge, to Willie Oliver.


Subject: RE: boiler room fire
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2004
From: Joe Sczyrek
To: 'Bill Oliver' , racer@forcomm.net, saltysam@bellsouth.net, brewer@shawe.com, ike779@earthlink.net, mike_ferguson@juno.com, plumbfish1@aol.com, seab@vnet.net, taroell@msn.com, jschaefers@northallegheny.org, ussfox@webtv.net, "Sczyrek, Joe" , fsds65@aol.com, gstrike@fccwaupaca.org, ddt830@aol.com, wrightd14@comcast.net, joeythez@att.net


Thank you for passing this on. I was at GQ in Bravo 4 when the fire broke out. I remember shutting down the after engines and hosing down the forward bulkhead to keep the paint from ingniting in the after engineroom. I think about those lost shipmates often, particularly Ralph Duran because I checked him in aboard the Fox while on Quarterdeck Watch, as he just arrived from Boot Camp, and showed him to his quarters. Little did I know that in about two weeks, he would be lost.


-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Oliver [mailto:billoliver@bellsouth.net]
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2004
To: racer@forcomm.net; saltysam@bellsouth.net; brewer@shawe.com; ike779@earthlink.net; mike_ferguson@juno.com; plumbfish1@aol.com; seab@vnet.net; taroell@msn.com; jschaefers@northallegheny.org; ussfox@webtv.net; jsczyrek@seligmandata.com; fsds65@aol.com; gstrike@fccwaupaca.org; ddt830@aol.com; wrightd14@comcast.net; joeythez@att.net
Subject: Fw: boiler room fire
This is addressed to everyone on my list whose dates include 1968. I hope someone will respond to Doc Harter's message. If you do please copy me. If you haven't looked at the website it is www.destroyersonline.com/usndd/dd779


Bill Oliver

----- Original Message -----
From: Doc To: billoliver@bellsouth.net ; steve_roberts73@hotmail.com
Sent: Saturday, January 17, 2004
Subject: boiler room fire


I just happened across this site on the destroyers on line website. I found the account of the boiler room fire in Sept '68, something I have been trying to find details of for many years.

I was serving on your sister ship at the time, USS Robert L. Wilson (DD-847) when the explosion happened. The HM1 and I were hi-lifted to the Fox to render what aid we could to the victims of that tragedy. One of the men died in my arms...burned over more than 90% of his body...quite an ordeal for at the ripe old age of 20. I also remember working on Billy Burkhalter, BT2, although I surely didn't know his name at the time.

I guess I just wanted you and your shipmates to know that someone else remembers those brave souls who were lost in that fire.

Thank you for your time,

Doc Harter

Doc USS Robert L. Wilson (DD-847)'68-'69 2nd Bat 1st Mar 1st Mar Div '69-'70 http://www.wavv-ks.com

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 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1964, Recruit Training (Great Lakes, IL)
 Duty Stations
USS Douglas H. Fox (DD-779)
  1968-1968, BT-0000, USS Douglas H. Fox (DD-779)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1964-1968 Vietnam War
 Other News, Events and Photographs
  Feb 18, 1964, Service entry date
  Oct 20, 2015, General Photos1
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