SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. - The smiles and cheers from the return of the 77th Fighter Squadron to Shaw Air Force Base on Friday quickly turning into tears and memories on Tuesday.
Shaw Air Force Base was silent Tuesday morning as many gathered to remember 29-year-old Capt. James Michael Steel.
Steel died on April 5 in Afghanistan. His F-16 fighter jet went down when Steel was returning to base from an air support mission. He was known to many as "Mano" and was a leader that loved serving his country.
"Mano was relentless in his pursuit to serve others before himself," said a fellow airman and friend. "He was constantly offering help to anyone in need, looking for a way to assist others, and he never passed up an opportunity to serve others around him. He didn't do this because he was supposed to or because it was a written core value...He did this because this is who he was."
After a year in Korea, steel arrived at Shaw in 2010 was deployed in October of 2012. During his tour, Steel provided close air support for troops. His bravery in the jet saved countless lives and he prevented an ambush of American troops from insurgents.
Steel earned countless medals Tuesday for his bravery as a fighter pilot.
Steel was one of six children who excelled in all aspects of life. He was a cross country and track star in high school and was the class valedictorian. His father, retired Major General Robert Steel, was an instrumental part of his son's life. After graduating from the academy, father and son flew in tandem for Mano's first flight as a graduate.
"...He always looked up to us," said Robert Steel. "And now we're honored and so very proud to look up to him."