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'He's still going to be flying'

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: The Day

Published February 28. 2012 4:00AM
Courtesy of the Budrejko family
Donald and Thomas Budrejko
Father of Marine killed in training crash learning more about son's exploits

Montville - The father of a Montville High School graduate killed in a Marine helicopter training accident in Arizona said Monday that he has spent the past few days learning the full extent of his son's exploits in the service.

Lt. Col. Thomas Budrejko, 37, was too humble to share many of the stories himself, Donald Budrejko said. A former Oakdale resident, Budrejko was one of seven Marines killed when two Marine Corps helicopters collided Wednesday over the Arizona desert. It was one of the Marine Corps' deadliest aviation training accidents in years.

Budrejko's peers and superiors have told the family in the days following the accident that he was well-known throughout the service for his expertise in tactics and operations and that the Marines in his unit are ready to go to Afghanistan because of what he taught them, Donald Budrejko said.

Thomas Budrejko was the executive officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton. He was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan with his unit in April.

"He never went around bragging about himself," Donald Budrejko, of Reston, Va., said. "He was Tom, regular Tom."

Donald and Mary Budrejko will fly to California for a memorial service Friday at Camp Pendleton, where six of the Marines were assigned. They tentatively planned for a funeral in Connecticut late next week, but Donald Budrejko said the remains are still being identified so the services may occur later.

He said the family is grateful for the outpouring of support and their hearts go out to the other six families.

At Sacred Heart Cemetery in New Britain, Thomas Budrejko will be buried near his relatives who fought during World War II. Budrejko lived in Temecula, Calif., with his wife, Diana, and their 2-year-old son, Andrew.

The Budrejko family moved to Enfield in 1977 after Donald Budrejko finished serving on active duty in the Navy and was hired at Hamilton Standard. In 1984 they moved to Montville and Donald Budrejko worked for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. He is now the managing director of American International Solutions, LLC, a business consulting firm.

The four children went to Montville schools. Three of the children graduated from service academies and the fourth graduated from Salve Regina University and became a nurse.

Thomas Budrejko wrestled and played football at Montville High, graduating in 1992. He studied aerospace engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in May 1996. He was designated a naval aviator and an AH-1W pilot in 1999.

"We're very sad, but for 37 years we had him and it was great," Donald Budrejko said. "He was a great son, a great son. He was mischievous in a lot of ways but that was good, too. He had morals. Things were right or wrong. There was no gray area."

Donald Budrejko said the family has been looking through photographs of their happy memories. They are celebrating Thomas' life, he added.

The April deployment would have been Budrejko's second to the war-torn country. He deployed multiple times during his career, including three tours in Iraq.

Donald Budrejko recalled that the way he learned that small-arms fire missed his son's head by only inches in Iraq was by reading it in a book, "Hammer from Above," a story of the air combat over Iraq.

"He said, 'Dad, you wouldn't understand. You were in the Navy. You flew off carriers and hunted subs. This is attack stuff,'" he said. "He liked the action. He would've gone far, very far."

When the Marines from his squadron leave for Afghanistan, Donald Budrejko said it will be like Thomas is going too, since he flew with them and taught them.

"He's still going to be flying," he said.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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