Mourners streamed into a Westhampton Beach firehouse Wednesday for a wake commemorating the life of Tech. Sgt. Dashan J. Briggs, one of four members of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash in Iraq.
And some 80 miles away, family and colleagues gathered at a bar on the West Side of Manhattan to honor another fallen member of Briggs’ unit, Capt. Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City, Queens.
By late afternoon, several hundred people had come to the East End firehouse to pay their respects to Briggs, 30. They included old friends from the Riverhead neighborhood where he grew up, congregants from the Church of Christ that has been home to generations of the Briggs family, blue-uniformed Guard colleagues from the airfield where he worked a mile to the north, and grizzled military veterans who never met him but respected the job he did.
Inching forward in a line that stretched down a flight of stairs and out into the parking lot, many of the visitors paused to murmur condolences to Briggs’ relatives before filing past his closed, flag-draped coffin, flanked with floral displays.
A green and white wreath featured a set of green footprints, a symbol of the 106th and National Guard rescue units like it. The words “The things we do that others may live” formed its border.
Photos from Briggs’ life peered back from placards that lined one wall. One showed him as a Riverhead High School athlete, a bruising fullback who once played with two broken toes, standing with his mustachioed grandfather, Eli Briggs, who raised him from infancy.
Another shows a beaming Briggs with his wife, Rebecca, and their two young children, standing in the yard of their newly purchased Port Jefferson Station home.
Briggs’ younger brother, Gregory Briggs Jr., 24, said that because their father could not be around to raise them, Dashan was a mentor and protector for him.
“His main focus was to set footprints for me,” Gregory Briggs said. “As his little brother, it’s up to me to pick up from where he left off.”
Briggs, a full-time member of the 106th, will be buried Thursday at Calverton National Cemetery, following a morning funeral at the firehouse. A Guard official said Air Force jets will perform an honorary “missing man formation” flyover during Briggs’ burial.
Wednesday evening, over 300 people from Zanetis’ various walks of life laughed, reminisced and cried at Rise Bar at West 56th Street and Ninth Avenue as the venue played a slideshow of his pictures to dance music. In his will, the Indiana native had requested a party in lieu of a wake.
“He wanted his friends and family to celebrate him,” said Molly Manning of the Upper West Side, who was his classmate at Stanford Law School.
Manning said she was always impressed with Zanetis and his expansive set of accomplishments: bachelor’s degree from NYU; years of service with the FDNY, including promotion to fire marshal; then a job at a Manhattan law firm.
FDNY Lt. Kevin Murray, who worked with Zanetis for 10 years at Engine 28 in the Lower East Side, joked that Zanetis needed to be held back from constantly running to emergencies.
“I have two boys, and I can hope that those two boys are as goal-driven as Tripp,” he said.
Services for Zanetis will continue Thursday, as his coffin will be marched from his old firehouse to Washington Square Park. Mayor Bill de Blasio will speak during that service, according to his office.
Sarah Zanetis, the captain’s mother, said she was overwhelmed by the show of support by the city.
“I can’t thank the City of New York enough,” she said.