Megan Buriak still can’t bring herself to describe the moment last summer when she learned of the death of her husband, Naval Crewman 2nd Class James P. “Jimmy” Buriak.
The Salem High lacrosse star and Roanoke College graduate, a U.S. Navy lifeguard, perished along with four others on August 31 when the Navy helicopter they were in crashed during landing on a ship in the Pacific, about 80 miles off the west coast. He was 31 years old.
The “aviation misadventure”, as the military called it, took the life of Megan’s soul mate and left their 2-year-old son, Caulder, fatherless. It took the Navy 38 days to find the bodies of her husband and others and bring them back to California.
The wake of tragedy also presented a dizzying array of questions that Megan, a sudden widow and single mother, felt unprepared to answer. How could she pay the mortgage on their house? Or diapers, or babysitting for their little boy?
Jimmy’s Navy paycheck ended with his life, Megan said. She had hoped that a $300,000 life insurance policy would help her and Caulder rebuild. But because of some fine print in that trade assurance contract, it didn’t pay off.
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This clause, which Megan was unaware of, excluded coverage for death occurring “in a non-paying plane crash”. Which described precisely what had happened to her husband.
“The request was denied,” Megan told me on Monday. “I filed an appeal. We were again refused. Additionally, the couple’s assets were frozen for some time after his death. Megan was kicked out of their bank accounts.
Fortunately, the young family is not deprived, and this is not the subject of this column.
The US Navy paid Megan a death benefit of $500,000, the standard amount for service members who lose their lives in such circumstances, she said.
A GoFundMe page has raised over $118,000 for Megan and Caulder. And the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, which helps the surviving families of first responders and service members killed in the line of duty, paid off the mortgage on the couple’s San Diego home.
Megan, meanwhile, has taken the worst disaster of her life and is trying to turn it into something positive. She works and goes to college, seeking a degree in business and nonprofit management.
She also created an all-volunteer, IRS-approved 501c3 nonprofit foundation to educate other Navy and Marine Corps personnel and their families about the financial and legal steps they can take. take to prepare for the possibility of the next tragic military accident.
Life insurance is just one of them, Megan said. For example, almost all commercial life insurance policies exclude coverage for the circumstances in which Jimmy died, she added.
She found a company, Navy Mutual, that would have paid if the couple had such a policy. This is the kind of “pre-mishap” help the foundation can provide to Navy families. Advice on wills and powers of attorney are other such preparations.
And in addition to educating military families before tragedies, the AWS1 James Buriak Foundation will also support Navy/Marine Corps families following fatal air crashes that result in casualties among loved ones, Megan told me. .
“We step in and provide 30 days of child care, until you get your death benefits, which takes two to four weeks,” Megan said. “Diapers, wipes, baby food and formula – we’ll cover the first 30 days.” The foundation will also provide 14 days of food to families in these circumstances.
The foundation has not yet provided benefits to Navy or Marine Corps families because it is still in the development phase. This is why you are reading this now.
One of the foundation’s first major fundraisers takes place here in the Roanoke Valley, where Jimmy grew up and where his parents, James and Carol Buriak, still live.
Under the collective title “Jimmy Fest,” it will begin at three area microbreweries the week before Memorial Day. Parkway Brewing Co. in Salem and Olde Salem Brewing Co. outlets in Roanoke and Salem hold fundraisers that week.
A portion of the proceeds from beer sold at these breweries these days will be donated to the AWS1 James Buriak Foundation. Here is the program :
4:30 p.m. May 25, Parkway Brewing Co., 739 Kessler Mill Road, Salem.
1-4:30 p.m. May 27, Olde Salem Brewing Co., 315 Market St. SE, Roanoke.
2 p.m. May 28, Olde Salem Brewing Co., 21 E. Main St., Salem. This event will be hosted by Mission BBQ of Roanoke, which sells food tickets for $18 and will also donate a portion of its profits.
Currently, the foundation does not have an event scheduled for May 28, but that could change, Megan said. She is also planning two fundraisers in Jimmy’s honor next August in San Diego and Virginia Beach. These will be annual events.
Megan, 34, grew up in small town Missouri and met Jimmy in Virginia Beach in 2012. She was renting a car and he worked for a rental car company. In college, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
He joined the Navy in 2017 and they married in 2018. Because he had a college degree, Jimmy could have applied for an officer’s commission in the Army. But that would likely have relegated him to a desk job, she said.
“He didn’t want to be sitting at a desk, doing office work,” she said. “He wanted to be the hero of the story who saved people.” After the Navy, he planned to work for the FBI. In this role, she said, he wanted to be “the guy who knocks on doors.”
“He wanted to join a brotherhood and be bigger than himself, and he wanted to help people,” she said. Plus, he wanted action, “he wanted to live in the heart of the action,” she told me.
Initially, Jimmy entered the military with the intention of becoming a Navy SEAL. He found himself a lifeguard, one of those intrepid sailors who jump into the oceans to save others. At the time of the accident, he and the other victims were returning from a training mission.
By then, Jimmy had already saved at least one life, while off duty relaxing on a beach on the Pacific island of Guam. In February 2020, he made this newspaper’s headlines for rescuing a swimmer caught in a riptide and injured himself in the process.
Jimmy’s funeral was held at Arlington National Cemetery on December 9.
“My husband was a man of character, sometimes small words, but always reliable,” Megan wrote in an email to this newspaper shortly after his death. “”He would drive you to work if you needed a ride, help you get around, be your lunch buddy, battle 12-year-olds at paintball, or drag you out of a bar fight.
“His favorite quote is: ‘I’m going to do today what others won’t…so that I can do tomorrow what others can’t.’ And that describes it perfectly. He trained harder, loved more and gave 1000% in everything he did.
We should all give Jimmy a drink from May 25th.
Contact Metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @dancaseysblog.
Contact Subway Columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter:.