Staff Sgt. Bryan Burgess: Gold star son
By Annette Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - Gold Star father Terry Burgess, who lost his son, Staff Sgt. Bryan Burgess, in Afghanistan knew he was special from day one. As we prepare to celebrate Gold Star Mother's and Family Day on September 30, 2018, Terry Burgess reflected on one of the fondest family memories of his only son, a memory he says would ultimately shape the man he became.

"It was Easter, Bryan was six years old, he won the prize basket during the Easter egg hunt, which was a huge cellophane-wrapped basket filled with candy, chocolate, and toys. I could hear the moms whispering about this stranger that had just waltzed in and taken their kids' prize," Burgess recalled. "Before anyone actually said anything, Bryan stepped forward, tore the wrapping off the basket, stepped back, and yelled, "Dig in!" Bryan didn't take a single piece of candy until every other kid and even some of the moms had helped themselves. It was one of the first signs I observed that Bryan possessed a rare and special spirit," said Terry.

It's that special spirit that inspired Staff Sgt. Burgess to join the Army a short time after graduating from high school in Texas.

"After September 11th, Bryan came to my house and told me he was 'going to fight back.' He wasn't asking permission, he was telling me. He had already talked with a recruiter and was determined to join the infantry," Burgess said. "He wanted to fight the enemy that had killed Americans on American soil and so he did."

Bryan became an infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. With less than a month left in Bryan's deployment to Afghanistan, Burgess had a very vivid dream.

"In the dream [Bryan and I] are walking side-by-side and Bryan is talking to me, but he has no voice. He guides me around a corner and we are in a huge, outdoor movie theater. We take our seats and there on the screen is Bryan, in his combat uniform," Burgess recalled." The camera pulls back and I see Bryan standing beside a glass coffin. He steps into the coffin, lays down, and as soon as his helmet touches the white satin pillow he turns into my little boy. Little Bryan sits up, steps out of the coffin and becomes Bryan the warrior again. He gives me that crooked half-smile I know so very well, a sharp salute, and the screen goes blindingly white, I turn to look at Bryan in the seat beside me, but he is gone."

On the morning of March 29, 2011, Terry Burgess awoke to the phone ringing. It was his daughter-in-law Tiffany calling to tell him Bryan had been killed in action early that morning.

"After Bryan's funeral and the memorials, I fell into a deep depression. My wife, Beth, began searching for organizations to help us cope with the loss," Burgess said.

The Burgess family would turn their pain into passion and co-founded The Gold Star Parent's Retreat; a weekend getaway dedicated to honoring the memories of loved ones who lost their lives in the line of duty. The retreats are conducted on a Western-themed ranch near Gainesville, Texas and are three-day events beginning Friday evening with a welcome dinner, open mic, or a key-note speaker. Saturdays are filled with activities on the ranch, projects designed to honor their sons and daughters, and some non-traditional therapy sessions that have included plate-breaking, and a short day trip to a local monument. The retreat pays for rooms, meals, and any extra-curricular activities.

"We discovered so many Gold Star Families were searching for the same thing we were. It has proven to be a much needed, and very much appreciated, retreat," Burgess said.

During his eight year career, Staff Sgt. Burgess received numerous awards and decorations including: The Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. Those awards are just confirmation for a father who calls his son the ultimate role model.

"We are now Bryan's voice. Instead of only mourning the loss of my son, we salute the hero and the warrior he became. We honor his sacrifice and understand our freedom. "Bryan was the kind of man I wish I could have been. He was strong, self-assured, and at the same time reserved, quiet and yet very determined. There wasn't anything he couldn't do, and he did everything very well. He embraced patriotism and deeply appreciated the Americans that supported our Armed Forces, he was simply our shining light," Terry added.

Terry says his dream was realized when Bryan's final mission was captured on film and became part of the 2014 film: The Hornet's Nest.