Victims of copter crash near Korean DMZ honored at Yongsan

Capt. Jamie Lavalley, 25, of Malone, N.Y., a platoon leader with First Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment's Company C, speaks during Wednesday's memorial for two fallen 1-2 aviators. Chief Warrant Officer Aaron W. Cowan and Capt. Dion J. Burmaz died Saturday after their Apache helicopter crashed at Twin Bridges Training Area near the DMZ.


By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 4, 2005

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — As he lay mortally wounded after the crash that destroyed his Apache attack helicopter, Chief Warrant Officer Aaron W. Cowan refused to give up, the soldier’s commander said.

1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment commander Lt. Col. Chandler Sherrell spoke Wednesday at Yongsan’s South Post Chapel during a memorial for Cowan and fellow pilot Capt. Dion J. Burmaz, who died Saturday after their helicopter crashed at Twin Bridges Training Area near the Demilitarized Zone.

Sherrell was one of the last people to see Cowan, who survived the crash but died later at a hospital.

“When Mr. Cowan was taken from the medevac aircraft, I looked into his eyes and he looked back at me. There was no quit in that man,” he said.

The fallen aviators, who served with 1-2’s Company A, the “Razorbacks,” gave their lives “so our children can grow up in a free country,” Sherrell said.

Capt. Jamie Lavalley, 25, of Malone, N.Y., a 1-2 Company C platoon leader, said he became friends with Burmaz, who commanded the Razorbacks, shortly after he arrived in South Korea in January 2003.

“He got off the bus and came to our field site. We started joking about my haircut [a Mohawk] and his haircut. I was making comments about his long, flowing, gelled-up hair and sideburns and he called my haircut a landing strip for squirrels,” he said.

The pair explored South Korea and had parties at Camp Page in between missions, he said.

“Typically we had a beer in hand. We were representing attack pilots in the proper way. Dion [Burmaz] was pretty wild. Apache pilots have a way of carrying themselves and he definitely did that well. He was intelligent, aggressive and humorous,” said Lavalley.

Burmaz had a taste for the finer things in life, staying at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Seoul and drinking Chianti while his friends drank domestic beer, Lavalley said.

The young officer was headed for a career flying helicopters with special operations units, his friend said. “He was the sort of guy I’d like to have on my wing in combat. If it were up to him, Company A would be flying a missing man formation, not sitting in a chapel reminiscing.”

Cowan, the other crash victim, served as a Ranger and Army scuba diver and was an expert marksman and master parachutist before he learned to fly Apaches.

Chief Warrant Officer Mark Armstrong, 37, of Dothan, Ala., and Company C’s standardization officer, said he met Cowan six years ago and helped train him to fly the Apache at Fort Rucker, Ala. Cowan was an instructor pilot with Company A and filled in as the company’s safety officer, Armstrong said. “He was 6½ feet tall. He didn’t say a whole lot, but when he did speak, people listened because it was worth hearing.”

The 19-year Army veteran was a family man who wrote his son every day, Armstrong said.

Both aviators were posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and the Order of St. Michael during the service.