Marine Corps Emblem memoriam.GIF (2155 bytes)
Marine Corps Emblem



Burkett.jpg (1691 bytes) PFC Tamario Burkett, U.S.M.C (KIA)

(reprinted from the Buffalo News April 17, 2003)

Fallen Marine gets a hero's goodbye

The presence of Tamario Demetrius Burkett filled the sanctuary at his memorial service in True Bethel Baptist Church on Wednesday morning.

On two large video screens in opposite corners, a stern-looking Burkett, photographed in full U.S. Marines gear, stared out at the 300 or so mourners who came to say goodbye to the fallen warrior from the Iraqi war.

Up on the pulpit, and at a makeshift podium, ministers, politicians and his high school principal filled the room with stories about the Tamario Burkett his friends and family remembered, the young man bursting with pride about becoming a U.S. Marine.

His parents, Brenda and Raymond Wilson, felt their son's presence even more closely. They sat in the front pew, less than 10 feet from an enlarged copy of their oldest son's high school yearbook photo.

It showed him dressed in a white shirt and tie, his eyes seemingly locked on his parents.

"His mother kept saying he was looking right at her," Burkett's great-aunt, Rosemary Moore, said later. "It gave her a sense of closeness, being right there."

The photos showed the serious side of the laid-back, artistic Burkett. But his McKinley High School principal, Crystal Boling-Barton, remembered a different Kodak moment.

Not long after he graduated, Burkett returned to McKinley in his full Marines uniform.

"I said, "Oh, my God, look at you, look at you,' " Boling-Barton remembered. "He broke out in the biggest smile ever, and his chest puffed out."

McKinley High School will always love and remember its proud hero, she told the mourners.

"We are going to treasure him," she added. "We want to keep Tamario Demetrius Burkett safe in our hearts."

At the pulpit, the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen talked about Burkett the superhero, comparing him to two well-known fictional superheroes, Superman, "a newspaper reporter who could fly when trouble was afoot," and Batman, "a businessman who had a slick black car hidden in a cave."

Similarly, he said, Burkett came to help those in distress, risking his life for the good of others.

Looking at the Wilsons, Pridgen said, "Your son will be laid to rest, but your superhero will never die."

And with mourners standing and cheering, Pridgen cried out: "Fly, Tamario! Fly, Tamario! You have completed your mission."

Following Wednesday morning's 45-minute memorial service, the family returned to its Peace Street home in a black limousine, before leaving for Burkett's native Florida, where his funeral will be held, possibly early next week.

The family has had to endure an extended mourning period, one that began on the afternoon of March 26, when it learned that Burkett was missing in action, following a battle near Nasiriyah three days earlier.

"We were in such disarray," Moore said of the 16 days that Burkett was labeled an MIA. "That was the worst, most agonizing time for us. My prayer was for him to come back home."

Friday night, the family learned that his body had been found.

"Even though he is not alive, I feel my prayers were answered, because we did find Mario, and he was brought back home to us," his great-aunt said.

"I know that his spirit will visit with us constantly," she added.

While Burkett was remembered as a superhero, others thought about his more sensitive side.

Burkett obviously was concerned about the violence of war, worried about the possibility of having to harm someone else.

"Do you think God will forgive me if I have to kill somebody?" he asked his mother before going into battle. She assured him that God would forgive him for fighting for his country and protecting his fellow soldiers.

Former McKinley schoolmates also recalled his gentler side after the memorial service.

"He was so sweet. He was the sweetest person you'd ever meet. We'd write poetry together. He wanted to save the world. If he could, he would. I'm sure of that," said Shemisa Ali, tears welling up in her eyes.

Aisha Aladdin described Burkett as her closest friend.

"He wrote poems, mostly love poems," she said. "He made words sound like music."