New Castle mother of fallen fighter pilot encourages recognition of those who died serving their country
Donna DuBois belongs to a heart-wrenching club. She joined it right after her son, U.S. Air Force Capt. Will “Pyro” DuBois, died while serving in Jordan.
The Rifle High School graduate of 2003 died on Dec. 1, 2014 when his F-16 aircraft crashed during a mission targeting ISIS combatants. Leading up to this, Will was named top fighter pilot in his class — twice.
Will also nabbed a full-ride ROTC scholarship awarded by the Air Force, and he studied Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. He later transferred and graduated with honors at University of Colorado Boulder.
Years later, Donna and her husband Ham became a Gold Star family, an honor bestowed on surviving family members of U.S. military personnel who have fallen on duty.
Just before this happened, Donna said she didn’t even know what a Gold Star family was. She learned what it meant while traveling to South Carolina to be with Will’s widow.
During a layover in Dallas, the DuBois’ visited United States Organizations (USO) to make a donation — as was their custom. When they shared their reason for travel with the woman at the desk, she informed them that the USO was for their use since “we were now Gold Star parents,” she said.
“We’re standing there at the counter with tears running down our face saying, ‘Our son died, we have to go,'” Donna said Thursday. “She looks at us and goes, ‘Well, now you’re part of this, and you’re a Gold Star parent now.'”
Donna said she still feels badly that so many people don’t know the meaning of Memorial Day, that there are so many families out there who suffer these holidays and the anniversaries of the deaths of their children.
“People don’t even know that we’re out there and we’re suffering that way,” she said.
For Donna, Memorial Day is no longer the carefree holiday it once was. Before Will passed, she said she looked forward to this unofficial beginning of summer, complete with barbecues, camping, beaches, furniture and sales galore.
But ever since that fateful day, the DuBois’ have kept a now long-running tradition in honor of their son. First, they go on a hike to what they call Pyro’s Point on the Flat Tops north of New Castle, where they spread Will’s ashes.
“He did not want to be in a military cemetery — that was specific — and that’s because of his nature, his love of the mountains,” Donna said. “He was military to the core but not, you know?”
“He was also a really free spirit who liked doing things on his own terms and living life.”
Donna made the hike on Dec. 1, 2022 — her son’s death anniversary — while healing from a broken leg.
“He would do the same,” Donna said of her son. “He was the kind of person that would do whatever it took to get whatever job done that he was trying to do.”
Keeping it in her head, Donna thought of some of Will’s well-known phrases, like “moderation was for cowards” and “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
“I knew he was smiling and proud of me,” Donna said.
After the hike, family and friends congregate around a statue of Will the city of New Castle built for $100,000, where they still eat some barbecue and watch the traditional formation of F-16s flying above Garfield County.
Donna admires the statue, built by an artist from Meeker, for its every detail, even depicting his well-known “big sh—eating grin.”
For Memorial Day, which honors fallen U.S. military members, Donna wrote a letter to the city of New Castle in the hopes of drawing more attention not just to her son’s statue, but to all Gold Star families and the countless men and women “who have lost their lives serving our country.”
In the letter, Donna said “enjoy the sound of freedom we occasionally are blessed with and savor those barbecues, camp outs, and sales, but stop and take a minute or two on Memorial Day to remember those we’ve lost fighting for those freedoms!”
“There are so many of us out there who suffer during these holidays and the anniversaries of the deaths of our children,” she said. “People don’t even know we’re out there and we’re suffering that way.”
Post Independent Assistant Editor and lead western Garfield County reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-423-5273.
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