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Cotton Honors Joe Dale Burgess on the Senate Floor

June 29, 2017

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt (202) 224-2353

I attended the signing ceremony at the White House last week for the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. It was a happy occasion, but I received some sad news.

A son of Arkansas who served in uniform passed away earlier this year at the far-too-young age of 31. His name was Joe Dale Burgess. And though he was not widely known, he was especially well loved by all who did know him. So today I want to recognize him briefly for his service.

Joe Dale served in the U.S. Army-specifically Delta Company, 2-506th Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. 2-506th is the same unit in which I served in Iraq. In March 2008, he was deployed to Khost province in Afghanistan, where he took the fight to the enemy for 12 straight months. He was a fearless soldier, but his platoon leader says what he'll probably be best remembered for is being an awful comedian. He loved to crack jokes and play pranks, even though, as his battle buddies would attest, he didn't show a particular talent for either of them. But he always got laughs, and he always lifted their spirits. When you're living in a war zone, I can tell you that counts for a lot.

But in his battle buddies' minds, Joe Dale means more than warm memories of sharing a few laughs: What stands out is his humility. His platoon leader says he was completely selfless.

He did whatever was asked of him-no matter how unpleasant, no matter how tedious, how irritating, or how dangerous. He never lost sight of the mission. He never forgot why he was there. And it made an impression-because ask any one of his battle buddies what they think of Joe Dale, and you won't get a bad word out of them-not one in the whole bunch. His platoon leader says, "We would all gladly serve with him again." And that's a pretty good measure of a quality of a troop.

I'm sorry to say Joe Dale, who endured a tour of duty that cost the lives of seven soldiers in his company, died in April of testicular cancer. It had spread to his spine, which after several surgeries, left him paralyzed. He suffered several other afflictions: PTS, pain in his joints, trouble sleeping. But he didn't ask for care or a disability rating from the VA-until it was too late.

It seems so unfair that this man-a man who braved the mountains of the Hindu Kush, a man who was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the Army Commendation Medal-ultimately succumbed to disease at home at such a young age.

In fact, it seems almost cruel because he left behind a fiancé, Alice Hart, and a two-year-old daughter, Zoe Hart-Burgess. But I suppose we must remember that the Lord God in heaven has his own purposes and that he works in his own mysterious ways.

And to see the outpouring of love for this man-a quiet man, a humble man, a man whose only ambition was to serve his country-it tells you indeed that Joe Dale Burgess was one impressive man. May he rest in peace.