This community paused Sunday to lay to rest a native son who had become one of America’s real-life top guns.
About 900 relatives and friends attended the funeral service for Air Force Capt. Will “Pyro” DuBois, who died Dec. 1 when his F-16 crashed in Jordan early in a flight that was to be an attack on ISIS targets. DuBois was assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron based at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter.
The flag at Rifle High School fluttered at half-staff in a crisp breeze as mourners joined an honor guard awaiting DuBois’ casket’s arrival. At the end, F-16s from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada blasted over the school in a missing man formation to honor the 30-year-old New Castle. Colo., native.
In between those moments in front of the school from which DuBois graduated in 2003, longtime friends and military colleagues sought to honor his life and console his family with tales of a loyal and funny friend, an adventurer in life who “was the nicest damn guy I ever met,” as college roommate and fellow Air Force Capt. Dan Kulp put it.
Col. Paul Murray, 20th Operations Group commander at Shaw said DuBois was deployed in October to help neutralize the extremist group ISIS, outlined a remarkable beginning to DuBois’ military career.
DuBois had twice been named the top fighter pilot in his class — what Murray described as top gun awards — including in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, which includes fliers from 13 nations. He had quickly become an F-16 instructor, flight lead and combat commander.
Shortly after DuBois’ arrival at Shaw, he was recommended to Murray to lead a squadron of 14 F-16s and 180 crewmen. Murray said his reaction was that DuBois was too young and inexperienced. The officer making the recommendation said, “Just meet him.” Murray did, and was convinced.
“That kind of officership at that young age is extremely rare,” Murray said. “It’s once in a generation.”
DuBois, who once wrote in a poem that “moderation is for cowards,” celebrated life, leading friends on a hairy scooter ride in Vietnam, singing unabashedly but poorly at parties and joining Air Force colleagues on a memorable “bro-cation” in Australia. And he had a serious side, counseling friends on how to be better men — how to “test everything and hold onto the good,” Kulp said.
“Will embodied what it meant to be a better man,” said high school friend Doug Humble. “He was a true student of himself.”
Said Tym Meskel, also a friend from youth, “You made men better, not just through thoughts and words, but through actions. ... You were never short of dogged persistence aimed at achieving greatness.”
Kulp, the college roommate, said DuBois was “kind, but had the heart of a warrior.”
DuBois earned an aerospace engineering degree at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and being a fighter pilot was perfect for him, Kulp said, because an F-16 embodies “science, art, fear, rapture” and more.
“He was a professional man in his element doing what he was born to do. That is a rare and beautiful thing,” Kulp said.
DuBois is survived by his wife, Ashley, whom he married on Sept. 30, shortly before his deployment to Operation Inherent Resolve. The operation aims to combat ISIS, which has seized land in Syria and Iraq in its brutal campaign to form an Islamic empire, or caliphate. He was the third American to die in that mission, after his plane turned back to base before engaging in the combat portion of the flight.
His survivors also include his parents, Donna and William “Ham” DuBois, the owner of Innermountain Distributing in New Castle; a sister, Devon; and her son, Karsen.
Among those paying respects Sunday was Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who spoke with Ham DuBois before the service but did not address the crowd.
“Part of the job of governor is being consoler in chief,” Hickenlooper said. “I represent the people of Colorado, so when I come it’s like the whole state is here. It says, ‘You mattered.’”