I always scan several newspapers online everyday to check for all the latest sports news. While searching one of the Detroit newspapers I came across a story of a Marine who was killed in Iraq and it brought a tear to my eye because it somehow personalized the war. Too often all we see are the total number of people killed over there every week or every month and it just becomes like some kind of scoresheet, so cold and impersonal. As Joseph Stalin once said (I'll paraphrase as best as I can remember): "The death of one person is a tragedy, the death of a million people is merely a statistic". I think too often as the death toll increases, we lose track of the individuals and just keep track of the numbers. This is the story of a man simply doing what he thought what he was right, what his country asked of him and looking out for the men who served under him. I just thought his story deserved to be told.
Published: November 19. 2006 3:00AM Michigan A Marine who gained great respect is put to rest
November 19, 2006
BY JOHN MASSON
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER Marine Sgt. Bryan Burgess of Canton died Nov. 9. (HUGH GRANNUM/Detroit Free Press)
Sgt. Bryan Burgess was a Marine who stood up.
If one of his subordinates needed a rest, Burgess would stand his watch. If somebody in his reserve unit screwed up, Burgess would raise his hand and take the hit for it.
So when Burgess' Marines were getting ready to deploy to Iraq, it was only natural that the 35-year-old sergeant would volunteer to go with them.
"He didn't want to leave the younger men without guidance," said Sgt. Bradley Compton of Tecumseh, a veteran of earlier deployments with Burgess. "That's the main reason why he went."
A sniper shot Burgess in the cheek Nov. 9 in Fallujah, killing him instantly.
But during his funeral mass Saturday at St. Bernardine of Siena Catholic Church in Westland, Rev. Sal Briffa reminded the congregation that his fellow Marines aren't the only people Burgess stood up for.
"We know Bryan's death is not meaningless," Briffa said. "Bryan offered his very life to bring peace and freedom to millions of people in Iraq."
And after his death, Burgess' comrades from the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines -- the largest deployment of Michigan-based Marines of the war -- had a chance to stand up for him.
"I knew right away, 'I'll make sure when he comes back to Michigan, he's brought home right,' " said Compton, a former member of 1/24's Weapons Company whose active enlistment is over.
On Thursday night, Compton was among a handful of Marines who waited with Burgess' family to meet his casket at Metro Airport. On Friday, Compton was among the Marines keeping vigil at Burgess' side. And on Saturday, he was a pallbearer and a prayer-reader at the funeral.
Sgt. Vaskin Badalow of Dearborn Heights and Cpl. Steven Pytlowanyj of St. Johns were there, too.
The three shared stories while they waited for the plane. They remembered the time Burgess' Marines got two of their Humvees stuck in the tidal sands while patrolling the shore of the Gulf of Aden, or the time during a training exercise in California when a helicopter pilot had to ditch Burgess' Humvee while hoisting it high into the air.
No task was too menial for Burgess to lend a hand, they said. Whether that meant performing routine duties or cleaning latrines, Burgess was always pitching in.
"That's how he gained the respect of his men," Badalow said. "It didn't matter what the task was ... he didn't put his rank on a pedestal."
That's also why none of his comrades were surprised to hear that Burgess was manning the gun turret of a vehicle -- not the usual place for a sergeant to sit -- when he was killed.
In Fallujah, Iraq, the Marines who served with Burgess honored him with their own ceremony Saturday. First Sgt. Paul Kraus, a Detroit police officer, cried out, "Sgt. Burgess? Sgt. Burgess? Sgt. Bryan K. Burgess?" in parade-ground volume.
Silence -- and then three volleys of rifle fire answered.
Burgess is survived by his mother, Evelyn of Westland, and his father, Rex of Fair Haven. "I just have so much gratitude," Evelyn Burgess said of the devotion his comrades displayed. "I'm just so proud of Bryan, and how the Marines honored him."
I agree that sometimes that the individual soldier gets lost in the mix and becomes just another number. But each one of these brave soldiers lost has a name a face and a family that will miss him dearly.