In his short time with us, Airman First Class Thomas J. Burley was one of those rare individuals who made a difference in the lives of others and left a lasting impression on those who knew him.
Tom was born on June 16, 1993, in Williamsville, New York. Born with a birth defect, he underwent five major surgeries by the age of four. Perhaps because of his challenging beginning, Tom developed a fighting spirit and fierce determination to live his life with purpose and commitment.
From an early age, Tom was a gifted athlete; however, his “gift” went well beyond the ball field. Although he participated in Little League and received numerous awards, he also felt compelled to serve as a mentor/coach for other youth. This was an early sign of the man he would eventually become.
In high school, Tom joined the Air Force ROTC program, and after one year was designated commander of his class. At the same time, he joined the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Company, learning the skills of firefighting and emergency medical management. Continuing to seek his dream of becoming a police officer, Tom also joined and became the primary trainer for the Lewiston Police Explorers. After high school graduation in 2011, Tom joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves in Air Force Security Forces.
Tom was recognized as a leader in all endeavors amongst his peers and supervisors. He was a sensitive and compassionate teacher; an individual who led through example; a person of discipline and commitment to a worthy cause. He freely gave of his time to coach other youth in the basics of police work. Moreover, it was his kindness, zest for life, and a commitment to excellence that made Tom the man he was. If you met him, you remembered him; if you worked with him, you were influenced by his character and commitment; if he was your friend, you knew he would always be there for you in times of need.
Tom continued giving by being a tissue and eye donor. His donations helped many to live less encumbered by physical limitations. And for his service as a member of our armed services, he received a posthumous “Letter of Commendation” from the president of the United States and the Air Force Achievement Award. In honor of his service to the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Company, he was named Volunteer Fireman of the Year.
While his leaving in the manner he did remains a painful daily struggle for his family and friends, we are comforted by the fact that Tom accomplished many of his dreams and, in the process, greatly influenced the lives of so many others. For this we are forever thankful and blessed.