From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Elmer Buerkle '25

Date of birth: March 2, 1902

Date of death: July 6, 1943

Age: 41

Lucky Bag

From the 1925 Lucky Bag:


Elmer was lost when USS Helena (CL 50) was sunk on July 6, 1943 by multiple torpedoes in the Battle of Kula Gulf.

From "Promise Kept" in the April 2018 issue of Naval History Magazine:

During the start-and-stop fighting, some men were left clinging to the destroyers’ rope nets when the ships’ engine rooms went to full power. While some of them had climbed high enough to escape the rush of bow-wave water and eventually were able to clamber aboard, others were washed back into the sea. One of the latter was popular Commander Elmer Charles Buerkle, the Helena ’s executive officer. Buerkle, one of the few commissioning officers who had remained on board the cruiser, had fleeted up from assistant engineering officer, and was known for the fairness, even temperament, and hardy laugh that brought him respect from all. When he fell back into the sea he was without a life jacket; the dedicated officer then drifted into oblivion.

Elmer's wife was listed as next of kin.


He attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 1931 to 1933. From 1933 to 1937 he was stationed aboard USS Cachalot (SS 170); from 1937 to 1939 he was faculty at the Yale NROTC unit. He reported to Helena in 1939 when the ship commissioned.

Silver Star

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Commander Elmer Charles Buerkle (NSN: 0-59576), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and meritorious service in the line of his profession as Executive Officer of the U.S.S. HELENA (CL-50), which as a unit of a Task Force successfully engaged Japanese land and naval forces twice within a period of twenty-four hours on 5 and 6 July 1943, in the vicinity of Kula Gulf, British Solomon Islands. Commander Buerkle by his skill and cool and determined conduct under enemy fire contributed material assistance to his Commanding Officer in directing the extremely heavy and accurate gunfire of his vessel. During the second of these engagements his vessel was struck by three Japanese torpedoes and sank within the space of a few minutes. Commander Buerkle directed the abandon-ship operations so successfully that the total personnel loss of the officers and crew of his vessel was only fifteen percent of her total complement. Commander Buerkle in complete disregard for his own safety assisted many members of his crew on board rescuing destroyers and was instrumental in saving the lives of a great number of his men. Due to this heroic conduct he was not rescued and is considered missing in action. His conduct and heroism throughout were an inspiration to his officers and men and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander South Pacific: Serial 001979 (September 28, 1943)
Service: Navy
Rank: Commander
Division: U.S.S. Helena (CL-50)

Class of 1925

Elmer is one of 30 members of the Class of 1925 on Virtual Memorial Hall.