While recently visiting with his aunt, a little boy pointed to the sky as two helicopters flew over his familys Temecula, Calif., home.
Daddy fly, the 2-year-old said.
The little boy is Andrew Budrejko. His father, Lt. Col. Thomas Budrejko, was one of seven Marines killed Feb. 22 when two helicopters
crashed during a training exercise near Yuma, Ariz.
He is so young and we all want to
make sure he doesnt forget Tom, the fallen Marines sister, Navy Reserve Lt. Catherine Alexander, wrote in an email to The Unknown Soldiers. Andrew was the most important thing in Toms life and I want to make sure he always knows that.
During 15 years of distinguished service, Budrejko served in Afghanistan, Kosovo and three times in Iraq. The 37- year-old AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter pilot was preparing for another deployment to Afghanistan when he was tragically killed on the homefront.
(The) first thing I thought was that it had to be a mistake, his sister wrote. Tom was one of the best Cobra pilots in the Marine Corps, as his fellow Marines have told us so many times, so how could this happen to him?
At age 13, after winning a history competition in his hometown of Montville, Conn., and later participating in a national contest, the future pilot decided he wanted to make some history of his own.
Mom, Im going to be a Marine, young Tom said.
Budrejko attended the United States Naval Academy, which inspired his little sister to later go to Annapolis and follow in his footsteps.
I looked up to Tom as long as I can remember and always (tried) to emulate him in everything I did, Alexander wrote.
Despite earning several medals for his accomplishments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, the decorated Marine rarely spoke about his heroism in combat.
He spoke of the huge camel spiders and the dust storms that got caught up in their computers, but never spoke much about his missions, his sister said.
Alexander breathed a sigh of relief whenever her brother came home from a dangerous combat mission.
When he was gone on deployment, it was always in my mind that he might not make it home, she said. But I never worried about him while he was stateside.
Even as her brothers memorial service got under way at Californias Camp Pendleton, the crushing loss still didnt feel quite real to the youngest of Toms three siblings.
He was so accomplished and in my eyes, invincible, Alexander said.
But as Marines spoke one by one about her brothers selflessness during the decade and a half he devoted to our country, confusion and despair turned to acceptance and appreciation.
I always knew how great he was, but to hear it from so many people meant so much to our family, she said.
This is where we learned about so many accomplishments that Tom had never bragged about to us.
Though adjusting to life without her brother is painful, Alexander, as a member of the military herself, is also grieving for the other six families that lost loved ones in the accident.
We continue to pray for these families and for the squadron that lost so many good men, Alexander wrote.
Many of Budrejkos fellow Marines are now deployed overseas.
My father stays in contact with the squadron and sends packages from time to time to support them on their deployment, she said.
The training accident, which is still under investigation, has devastated the Marines wife, Dianna. Yet to honor her husbands memory, she is committed to carrying on his legacy through their only son.
She is trying to make sure she stays strong for Andrew and that Andrew remembers his daddy and knows he was a hero, the fallen Marines sister explained.
Lt. Col. Thomas Budrejko was a man of strong faith. Today, as his little boy points to heaven, it is clear that his daddy is still in flight, albeit a little higher above the clouds.
He really did live his entire 37 years and didnt waste one minute, Alexander wrote.
He truly was and is the best person I know.
The Battle of Malvern Hill
This week opened 150 years ago in the Civil War with the roaring finish to the Seven Days Battle that bloody, pivotal week of combat between Union and Confederate forces in swampy terrain outside Richmond, Va.
The Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, opened when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee unleashed a flurry of brazen assaults on the virtually impregnable Union position atop the hill. Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan fired back, mowing down Southern soldiers trying to charge up the grassy slope toward them.
All told, the Confederacy suffered more than 5,300 casualties in the days fighting, defeated at Malvern Hill. But while the Union appeared to end the week of fighting on a strong note, McClellan was effectively withdrawing his massive army to the protection of federal gunboats on the James River. And soon he would pull out of the area entirely, cutting short his long-planned Peninsula Campaign and its aim of taking Richmond.
Lee soon returned to Richmond a hero, lionized in the South for successfully defending the capital of the Confederacy from the Union onslaught. Lee later wrote that his true aim at the time was to crush the federal army as a fighting force. Under ordinary circumstances the Federal Army should have been destroyed, he wrote.
But he noted that Malvern Hill had afforded the Union army a position of great natural strength to retreat. And he said bad weather and the battle-weariness of his fighters stymied attempts to pursue the enemy army on its retreat.
As The Richmond Examiner reported of the climactic week of fighting, Southern forces went into the battle with coats off and sleeves rolled up, fighting like tigers.
Tom Sileo is a syndicated columnist. His Unknown Soldiers columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and appear in the Centre Daily Times on Fridays. Readers may follow his posts on Facebook and his blog at www.unknownsoldiersblog.com.