MISSOULA — Gregory R Burham passed on Sept. 14, 2018, at his home in Missoula surrounded by his family. He was born Dec. 24, 1948, in Washington, Iowa, to Cecelia and Arlo Burham. Growing up in Kalispell with his brother and cousins, he spent time swimming in the creeks and lakes, running around on the farm, and playing sports. The family moved to Missoula in 1966 where he graduated from Sentinel High School in 1967.
In 1970, Greg enlisted in the Navy, proudly serving in UDT-22 and SEAL Team Two. He spoke often of the grueling training and those who completed it with him. The stories were accompanied by hints of humor and disbelief. In 1971, his platoon deployed to Vietnam. When asked about the realities of war, he never shied away from truth. He credits his survival to his highly trained platoon, his brothers in arms. He returned to Missoula and enrolled at the University of Montana. Struggling to adjust to civilian life and faced with negative views of Vietnam vets, he sold his car and bought the necessary equipment to begin his walk. This journey began just south of Hyder, Alaska, on June 19, 1974. He paced himself to arrive in Missoula and served as his brother’s best man in a September wedding. He continued south crossing the Mexico border on November 20, some 4000 miles of trekking and self-reflection.
Not long after some old friends called, saying they had a place to live and a job as a bartender lined up for him in Colorado, and maybe stay around for some skiing. As fate would have it, his future wife Leslie got a job at the same bar that summer. Their first date was on Halloween, and in short order it was love and marriage! They moved back to Missoula where Greg finished his degree in sociology and began working as a Juvenile Probation Officer for Missoula County. He spent the next 17 years helping youth, a career he found rewarding on many levels.
On July 19, 1980, Leslie went into labor. Expecting one large baby, they were surprised instead by two smaller babies. Son Jon and daughter Anna arrived, throwing Greg and Leslie into survival parenting mode. Four years later Jacob was born. The family was incredibly excited for the new addition. Amazingly, Greg chipped away at his master’s degree in counseling, completing the program in 1987. Our small house on Ford Street was a popular spot, especially during summer break. Coined the “hippy house” by neighborhood kids, the jar was always filled with a variety of fresh baked cookies and we had cable TV. In all the important ways, we were a very happy family. Always available, Greg provided love, gentle warmth, and big bear hugs to all.
In 1995, Greg was hired by the Missoula Vet Center as a counselor. Eventually he was promoted to team leader. In his 12 years at the Vet Center, he counseled vets suffering from the trauma they endured during war. He formed groups to welcome them home, ensuring they would be honored for their service. As a community member, he was an outspoken pacifist, mentor, and teacher. Under his leadership, the Missoula Vet Center earned national recognition by President Bush as the 2002 Vet Center of Excellence. If you ask any SEAL they will tell you, the only easy day was yesterday, the key to completing training is never quit, and no man left behind. The code he upheld as a SEAL, he also applied to his civilian life. Greg led a life of service and helped an astounding number of people navigate through difficult times. He is remembered as a loving husband, amazing father, wonderful older brother, loyal friend, pillar of our community, and gentle giant. We are all happy he found peace.
Greg is preceded in death by Arlo D. Burham and Cecelia J. Jacobson Burham. He is survived by his wife Leslie and his children Jon and wife Lila, Anna, and Jacob. A memorial service will be held to honor Greg on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at 1 p.m. in the Governor’s Room in the Florence Hotel.