Hemmingway called it “the true gen”—grace under pressure.
Tom Wolfe called it “the right stuff.” He was talking about John Glenn.
President Donald Trump called it “what America is all about.” He was talking about local golfer Jim Herman.
After 16 years and 105 winless events on the PGA Tour, the St. Xavier High School and University of Cincinnati alum won the Shell Houston Open last spring by chipping in a birdie on the 16th hole, then hanging on to defeat top-ranked Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson.
“That’s some story,” Trump said after watching his former assistant pro at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. lift the trophy. Herman gave Trump some credit for the victory. “One day he was like, ‘Why are you folding shirts and giving lessons? Why aren’t you on the Tour? I’ve played with tour players, you’re good enough.’”
And someone else encouraged Herman: his grandfather, Ed Burke—an even more thrilling example of “what America is all about.”
On a very different spring day in 1944, Capt. Burke landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, leading his Tank Destroyer crews with the 29th Infantry. He was on the same beach where Gen. Norman Cota famously said, “Hell, men, we’re getting killed here on the beach. We might as well go a little farther in and get killed there!”
Burke can hardly talk about it because he gets choked up for the men who never lived to see the coming summer, whose graves he has visited in Normandy.
He fought on at St. Lo and at the Battle of the Bulge, with thin-armored, outgunned tank destroyers that were soup cans compared to the German Panzer and Tiger Tanks. As they fought across Europe into Germany, Capt. Burke was assigned to scout across the Roer River, behind enemy lines.
“I was afraid of landmines,” he recalls. “It was at night and I couldn’t use a flashlight. I was scared to death that if I stepped on a mine I might just bleed to death there alone.”
He found a small church and his faith was renewed. “Prayers kept me going,” he says. He got back safely and fought on, earning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre and the French Legion of Honor, along with combat badges that fill a case over his fireplace.
He came home, married his sweetheart Betty Hudepohl, went to law school and practiced real estate law in Cincinnati until he was 85. His five children and 25 grandchildren include a police officer, a hospital administrator, a Vatican official, beauty queens and a professional golfer—who seems to have inherited the right stuff from his grandfather.
What Trump said about Jim Herman goes double for Ed Burke: “He’s such a good guy. A nice person. Such a great story. He’s what America is all about. He never gave up.”