Fallen Pilot’s Portrait Finds Home In Family’s Pub

EDITORS NOTE: The Brush of Honor TV show featuring Capt. James Steel is being rebroadcast this Sunday, June 7, 2015, at 6 and 10 p.m. on INSP Network. You can find the network on your local cable company here.

Retired Major Gen. Robert Steel and his wife, Dee, with the Brush of Honor portrait of their son, Capt. James Steel.

Retired Major Gen. Robert Steel and his wife, Dee, with the Brush of Honor portrait of their son, Capt. James Steel. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

A father provides the stories and a professional artist the paint to create a portrait of Air Force Capt. James Steel, an F-16 pilot who was born in Tampa and killed in Afghanistan on April 3, 2013.

James and his twin brother Jonathan loved playing on the Bay Area beaches as their father, Major General Robert Steel, flew F-16s with the 61st Fighter Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base.

“Tampa was a very friendly part of Florida to be raising a family,” Major Gen. Steel said. Like many military families, they moved a lot in his 33-year career. And like many sons, James wanted to fly F-16s like his dad.

And father and son got a chance to fly the jets together. It was a rare moment, said Steel, when both were active flyers at the same point in time. But he has many memories of James, “They just don’t stop. It’s like a flood comes to your mind when you look at your son.”

Capt. James Steel. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Capt. James Steel. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.

Like his father and mother, James graduated from the Air Force Academy. He deployed to Korea in 2009 and then was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012,where he provided close air support for ground troops.

His parents have received many letters from those ground troops.

“That’s a very rewarding letter to get from people who felt their lives were preserved by someone and in this case our son,” Steel said.

Capt. James Steel died when his F-16 crashed near Bagram Airfield as he was returning from a ground support mission.

Texas artist Phil Taylor in his studio working on one of the more than 180 fallen service members portraits he's created. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

Texas artist Phil Taylor in his studio working on one of the more than 180 fallen service members portraits he’s created. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

But the 29-year-old pilot lives on in a portrait by Phil Taylor through the Brush of Honor program. The newest episode of TV show Brush of Honor – features Capt. Steel as the artist visits his family and friends, paints and then presents James’ portrait.

That show premiered Thursday night (June 4, 2015) on INSP Network and is being rebroadcast Sunday night at 6 and again at 10.

Working in his Texas studio, Taylor takes about 70 hours to recreate each likeness. He said he talks to the fallen service member as he works. Taylor has completed more than 180 portraits.

Good friends of the Steel family asked permission to submit James’ name to Brush of Honor. Robert Steel said participating helped his family come to more solid terms with their loss.

The Steels show artist Phil Taylor the pub they built to honor their son, James. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

The Steels show artist Phil Taylor the pub they built to honor their son, James. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

The Steel family hang James' portrait in a place of honor inside the family's replicated 1890 English pub. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

The Steel family hang James’ portrait in a place of honor inside the family’s replicated 1890 English pub. Photo courtesy of INSP Network.

He did have one special request. That Taylor present James’ finished portrait at their home where Steel and his wife, Dee, had bought and installed an 1890 antique English pub in honor of James’ love of European pubs.

“It just brings back so many memories and we know that James would be in awe of a pub like that,” Steel said.

There is a special tradition that their son had mastered and the family continue at large gatherings – sabering – a Napoleonic tradition of using a saber to un-cork a champagne bottle.

“Every time we have a large family gathering,” Steel said. “One of the family members will have the opportunity to complete that sabering act and lop off the top of the bottle. It’s just another connection to our son.”

The Steel family did have one other special request for the U.S. Army, which administers Arlington National Cemetery. When James was interned there, Steel asked that his burial site be placed as close as possible to his grandparents – you see, the elder Steel’s mom and dad are also buried there.

“And sure enough they found James a location that is literally about 5 to 10 steps away,” Steel said.

Capt. James Steel in his F-16. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

Capt. James Steel in his F-16. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

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Military Children Honored for Their Service Too

Molly Morath waits to march in the parade honoring military children Monday morning at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Military service is voluntary in the United States, but it’s a different story for the children born into military families. That’s an estimated 1.8 million children who face many unique challenges and stresses of military life not known by civilian kids.

“The frequent deployments often mom or dad is gone,” said Gail Mouse, director of MacDill’s Child Development Center 3. “As well as, they’re moving every two to three years. They don’t have the support systems that many of the civilian children have with having family right there.”

An unidentified military child marches in his "pint-sized" military uniform.

But those same challenges can also bond a family according to Erin Morath whose husband is with the maintenance squadron at MacDill Air Force Base.

“You really appreciate what you have when you have it because before you know it daddy’s gone again or we’re moving again and friends are gone again. So it’s really about appreciating what you have,” Morath said.

She and her daughter Molly Morath were among the 400 who marched in the Monday morning parade to honor the military children at MacDill Air Force Base.

Leading the parade was the MacDill Color Guard, a base fire engine and the Robinson High School Drum Line followed by preschool children waving flags, toddlers in costumes ranging from firefighters to pirates to robots. Some wore cardboard costumes to look like airplanes, cars and buses while others were pushed in strollers or walked hand-in-hand with their military parent.

One of several "cardboard" aircraft on display during the military children's parade at MacDill AFB.

Liz Waters, director of the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at MacDill Air Force Base and acting flight chief for the Airmen Family Services Flight, says many civilians would be surprised by the resiliency of military children.

“I think this is a time to honor them for what they’re doing to support their families,” Waters said. “They support the military just like their parents do.”

The Department of Defense recognizes April as the Month of the Military Child and encourages local bases to hold events honoring the children.

The Robinson High School Drum Line.

Part of that recognition extended to military families with children with autism. Kris Keyser coordinates all programs for special needs families at MacDill. Her ride in the parade was a golf cart decorated with blue balloons for the “Light it up Blue” campaign.

“Light It Up Blue is a global movement to kickoff Autism Awareness month,” Keyser said. “The Sun Trust building in downtown Tampa was all lit up blue. We gave away blue light bulbs to families housed on base.”

Christmas 2010: Home from My Last Tour

SMSgt. Rex Temple stands before a gutted presidental palace outside Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sitting in a tent alone in Kuwait – away from family – away from his Air Force buddies in Afghanistan – that is how Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple spent Christmas 2009.

A snow storm and lost luggage prevented Temple last year from making it back to Afghanistan for Christmas. This year, he’ll celebrate with his wife and family at his home in Tampa.

“When I joined the military, initially because I didn’t have any rank, the NCOs(Non-Commissioned Officers) that out ranked me said ‘Well, we’re going to go home for Christmas, you’re going to stay behind,’” Temple said. “Then when I got promoted to be an NCO, I thought about that. And, I wanted to ensure that my troops were home for Christmas. So, I stayed behind and that’s kind of continued.”

Temple and his wife, Liisa, April 22, 2010, the day of his return after a year in Afghanistan.

Temple hasn’t been back to his parent’s home for Christmas for 25 years. He’s promised him mother he’ll be there in 2011 after he retires this spring.

WUSF’s series My Last Tour followed Temple during his yearlong deployment in Afghanistan as part of an Embedded Training Team. Temple’s team was made up of 10 airmen who trained and worked with the Army and Marines to train Afghan National Army troops and provide logistics.

His team went on more than 180 combat missions during their deployment from May 2009 to April 2010. Temple and the team returned together April 22, 2010.

Temple’s blog: Afghanistan: My Last Tour detailed his year “in country” and still averages hundreds of views daily despite his return almost eight months ago and no new entries since.

“It kind of ends a chapter in my life with returning home,” Temple explained. “It kind of still shocks me that 500 to 700 people a day still visit the site. I think they’re still using it for historical purposes. They’re interested in the places I traveled to some of the people I met, the culture and the customs there.”

Temple is back at MacDill Air Force Base and planning for his retirement this spring.

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