Most of the people in the crowd at Fight Night last week did not know UCSB graduate Dion Burmaz, but when announcer Frank Debernardo asked for a moment of silence for his friend, the arena quieted to honor Burmaz’s memory.
Burmaz, who graduated from UCSB in 1998, died in a helicopter crash at age 28 during a training exercise in South Korea on Feb. 26, 2005. The Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity dedicated last Friday’s Fight Night to the Army captain, who in his time at UCSB was active in the ROTC program and was the president of PIKE. The UCSB ROTC program also held a private memorial service for Burmaz on Wednesday, April 13.
UCSB alumnus Brad Kane, Burmaz’s fraternity brother and friend, said Burmaz was unusually devoted to his schooling, his fraternity and his dream of flying an Apache helicopter for the U.S. Army.
“His passion from when he was a kid was flying helicopters,” Kane said. “I met a gym teacher of his from early high school or junior high who said Dion used to bring magazines to school and showed him the Apache helicopters he was going to fly someday.”
Burmaz joined the Army immediately after graduation, Kane said. While on his second tour in Korea, Burmaz’s Apache Longbow helicopter crashed, killing him and his commanding officer. Kane said the rarity and high performance of Apache helicopters attracted Burmaz to them, and his singular devotion to flying the helicopters helped Burmaz manage the tough ROTC schedule.
“He had this godforsaken alarm clock that went off every day, seven days a week, at 4:30 or 5 in the morning,” Kane said. “It’s pretty rare in college or in a fraternity to get up that early, but it didn’t matter if he was out in the wee hours of the morning drinking with the boys or on dates with the girls. Anybody within earshot heard it, because it had to be loud enough to pull him out of his haze, but he’d get up and jog to ROTC.”
Kane said he thinks Burmaz became more than just the average college student through his patriotism and dedication to his dream.
“He had unbelievable devotion,” Kane said. “Most of my buddies were devoted to keeping a 2.0 GPA and seeing how many beers they could pound, but he had a really strong devotion to his country.”