|Carlo Franzia, one
of Dion's closest friends called me on the morning of February 27th at
9:00 AM to tell me of the terrible news. Dion Burmaz was on a
routine training exercise, piloting the Apache Longbow Helicopter that
he had prophetically told me he was going to fly someday, when he was a
sophomore in High School. The feeling of emptiness that swept over
me was and still is overwhelming. Although I hadn't spoken to Dion
in at least 10 years, I had been able to pick up bits and pieces of
information. His sister Shelly, was a swimmer at Troy High School,
and Carlo Franzia had stayed in contact, so I was aware that Dion was a
soldier, and what else would he have been?
As a young man, at the age of 13, which is when I met him, Dion was fascinated with the heavy machinery associated with the military. During the Summers then, we would play in a weekly league down in El Toro. It seemed that Dion would end up in my car for the drive down and back. When we would drive by the El Toro Marine Air Base, Dion would tell me exactly what those planes were, their air speed potential, the payload that they could deliver and tons of other mind boggling information that no average person could know. I suspect that what happens with many young men who become pilots is that what starts out as a fascination with the awesome machines, gradually develops into an understanding of what these machines mean to our livelihoods, our freedom and our way of life, because as a man, Dion Burmaz had grown to appreciate what this country was and he was determined to be the one who protected it.
Every generation has people like Dion Burmaz. I suppose if we ever stop having those types, this country will be overtaken by those who disapprove of our free thinking lifestyle. During the late 1700's, people like Dion Burmaz dared to stand up to the King of England, often giving their lives so that others could enjoy the freedoms that were promised by this land. On our water polo team, we have a "Guardian Lancer Award," which goes to the people who see the greater good that our program is about, and they strive to continue the traditions, even if it means sacrificing personal glory. Dion Burmaz has set that standard even higher in giving his life for our entire country.
As a water polo player Dion was an upstart. Nothing less than 100%, fire, fury and passion. He was determined from the onset to be a player, and though surrounded by players who perhaps had been blessed with more tools, none could match Dion's heart. "He was red, hot steel that needed to be tempered into a fine, swift sword." I can remember swim sets during our water polo practices where he would put unbearable pressure on the rest of the players because he wanted to win so badly. Challenging everyone in the pool, forcing each guy to squeeze a little more out. Understand we had some amazing athletes who could swim 20 x 100's on 1:20, without really kicking it into overdrive. Dion would want to race these guys every time and it really pissed them off. It's one thing to have your coach nagging you, but when a teammate throws it down like that....well, it's on! In fact, when the group was really going hard on these swim sets, Dion would often leave just a little bit early. When the rest of the group was gagging to catch their breath, desperately wanting those last five seconds before they had to leave again, Dion would often leave two or three seconds early, which meant that he would either win or be right there. I cannot tell you the number of times, when our swim sets would end or nearly end because of a fight over Dion leaving too early. I look back at that now and it is really quite funny. Of course I would always add to it by making the group start over because they had missed an interval due to their arguing. I think in some ways Dion really liked that.
Dion scored one of the biggest goals in our history. In one of our League Championship seasons, we were struggling in La Habra's bath tub of a pool. The game was tight early, but La Habra had taken a two goal lead. We fought our way back to within one goal and had the ball back with about 20 seconds left. (Remember back then, these guys played every game with pressure of a 120 game league winning streak on the line-you think you have pressure?) David Farkas earned an ejection on a drive and we got a six on five with about 15 seconds left. I had no time outs, so the boys would have to do this on their own. The ball was moved around the perimeter to Farkas who played the 6 position, La Habra had an all-world goalie that year. My heart was in my throat as I watched Farkas cross the ball to the 2-post where Dion slammed it home. We had really struggled but had overcome the obstacles. Dion's goal gave us a new life and we blew La Habra out in overtime, it wasn't even close.
As a student, Dion was excellent. He wanted to do as well in school as he did in the pool. He got good grades but was a challenge to his teachers. He didn't just accept everything he was told, and if he thought you were wrong he would let you know it. I spent a number occasions talking to his teachers, smoothing things out. He was a character and could have certainly crossed over to the "dark side." He was successful because he had a lot of good guidance at home. I can only imagine what homework time must have been like at the Burmaz household. He was an excellent student by the time he reached high school, I know this is because his mother and father instilled his study skills into him. Yes, he did do it his way, but I always admired the way Dion's mom and Dad guided him towards his greatness. He was a handful. He is also the person I think about when my own two sons attempt to flex their muscles at home. "That is Dion Burmaz fire," I tell my wife, we just have to make sure we guide it in the right direction.
Dion, I knew something like this could happen to you. You were so determined. I see a lot of you in a few of our players. I consider it a tremendous privilege to have been able to be your coach. Rest In Peace.