'He was a great man, a wonderful father and a patriot'

An honor guard helps carry the casket of Marine Lt. Col. Thomas Budrejko from St. Mary's Church in Newington Saturday. Budrejko's wife, Diana, second from left, carries their 2-year-old son, Andrew.

Newington - Marine Lt. Col. Thomas Budrejko was a serious man with a serious job, his childhood friend from Montville said Saturday at his funeral.

But whenever Timothy Whelan thinks of his friend, he said, he always pictures him smiling.

A rising star in the Marine Corps, Budrejko was one of seven Marines killed when two Marine Corps helicopters collided Feb. 22 over the Arizona desert. It was one of the Marine Corps' deadliest aviation training accidents in years.

Friends and family who gathered for the funeral Saturday at St. Mary's Church described Budrejko as a loving parent, a talented pilot and a great patriot, whose sense of humor drew others to him. Budrejko, who grew up in Oakdale, went to St. Mary's Church when he visited his relatives in Newington.

Whelan said in the eulogy that it was clear from early on that Budrejko was a "great mind," but he never acted like he was superior. He could befriend anyone, Whelan said.

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.

Lt. Col. Brian Bruggeman and Budrejko met when they were both new pilots. Budrejko became one of the best Cobra pilots and instructors in the service, Bruggeman said in the eulogy.

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

He was slated to take command of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303.

Budrejko made his students better pilots and better people, Bruggeman said, and his legacy will live on in the crews stationed around the world that learned from him.

Gail Budrejko, his aunt, read from the Book of Wisdom. "The just man, though he die early, shall be at rest," she said. Budrejko, 37, lived in Temecula, Calif., with his wife, Diana, and their 2-year-old son, Andrew.

The Rev. Joseph F. Keough, pastor at St. Mary's, officiated. Archbishop of Hartford Henry J. Mansell offered his sympathies to the family at the close of the Mass. The hymn "On Eagle's Wings" played during the recessional.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Major Gen. Thaddeus J. Martin, commander of the Connecticut National Guard, were among the dignitaries who attended.

Budrejko's casket was draped in a white cloth to represent the white garment received at Baptism. At the end of the Mass, several Marines unfolded a U.S. flag in the entrance of the church and laid it over the casket.

Diana Budrejko stood behind the casket, holding Andrew. Nearby, parents Donald and Mary Budrejko comforted each other.

The funeral procession traveled to Sacred Heart Cemetery in New Britain, where Budrejko was buried with full military honors near his relatives who fought during World War II.

"He was a great man, a wonderful father and a patriot," Joe Duffy, Andrew's godfather, said after the Mass. "And we will miss him dearly."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

Left, Rev. Mansell speaks with family members of Thomas A. Budrejko, including his mother, Mary, left; father, Donald, center; wife, Diana, foreground; and 2-year-old son, Andrew, outside the church.
Left, Rev. Mansell speaks with family members of Thomas A. Budrejko, including his mother, Mary, left; father, Donald, center; wife, Diana, foreground; and 2-year-old son, Andrew, outside the church.
Above, The Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell, archbishop of Hartford, walks past the funeral procession Saturday at the conclusion of services for Marine Lt. Col. Thomas A. Budrejko at the Church of St. Mary in Newington.
Above, The Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell, archbishop of Hartford, walks past the funeral procession Saturday at the conclusion of services for Marine Lt. Col. Thomas A. Budrejko at the Church of St. Mary in Newington.
Mourners gather as the hearse arrives.
Mourners gather as the hearse arrives.
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