Floyd "Ray" BurkhartJuly 15, 1944 ~ July 31, 2017 (age 73)
Beloved native Mercedian, Floyd Ray Burkhart, born July 15, 1944, took his final ride July 31, 2017 in Colorado, returning home from a motorcycle run. Preceded in death by parents, Oren Burkhart and Telena Snelling, and brother Wayne, Ray is survived by siblings Charles, Blayne, and Larry Burkhart; sister Tina Mann; cousin Jim Hicks; daughters Jennifer Peña and Meghan Burkhart; grandsons Ilan and Seth Peña, Burke Heart Crain; and his wife Susie and stepson Kevin Beaty, along with many family and friends around the world.
Growing up on their family farm in Planada, Ray watched his loving father provide the moral compass for his family. Enduring serious poverty and hardship, Oren led by example. Ray cherished his dad’s integrity and selflessness. The entire family worked the surrounding farms during harvests just to keep the family afloat. There was no money for excesses. Ray walked to school without shoes, and used a cereal box to hold his lunch. A Hershey’s chocolate bar split six ways was a real treat for the family. While picking cotton as a boy, Ray contracted polio. He endured an iron lung, and months of physical therapy, but he never stopped fighting. Eventually Ray regained his ability to walk.
Ray Burkhart never took his second chance at life for granted. He hunted, fished, traveled back and forth across America, and the world, making it brighter with his genuine smile, independent spirit, and iron resolve. A proud veteran, PFC Burkhart (SP5), served as a heavy crane operator in Co. B from June 1970 through April 1971. Honorably discharged, Ray was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medals for his “exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity,” engineering roads that allowed critical ground forces to mobilize fueling stations for helicopters. An amazing photographer, Ray captured hundreds of images of his service tour. He brought back incredible stories of the war, the people on both sides, a Monkey and a Hershey bar, and his brothers in arms.
Ray’s love of travel and Harley Davidson motorcycles converged after thousands of miles and smiles, as a proud 14-year member of the Merced County Hells Angels. Ray traveled to Alaska, Brazil, and, recently, the Ukraine. He sent postcards by the dozen to friends and family his whole life, always wishing we were there to share his adventures, too. He never missed an opportunity for fun, family, and friends, or to ride his Harley.
We will always remember his entertaining stories of his many adventures, his infectious laugh, his kindness and innate desire to help others, and his dazzling blue eyes. Ray will be missed, and forever in our hearts.