Naples Brigadier General on quest to honor heroic pilot
NAPLES, Fla. – Besides a shared bond as boxing teammates, Jim Demarest and Steve Phillis weren’t close friends when they attended the U.S. Air Force Academy. But Jim has spent years going to remarkable lengths to honor the man he considers a hero.
“I want my son and daughter to know what a real hero looks like,” Jim, now an Air Force Brigadier General, said. “Steve is a hero because of what he did on February 15th of 1991.”
On that date, Steve lost his life while helping save fellow pilot, Rob Sweet. The two were on a mission attacking Sadaam Hussain’s elite republican guards in Iraq when an air missile hit Rob’s plane. As hundreds of Iraqi troops shot at him from down below, Steve lingered in the air for nearly four minutes trying to aid a search-and-rescue mission for Rob.
“I think these are the kinds of stories that power us forward to do things we didn’t think we would be able to do,” Jim said.
Although Rob has posthumously been awarded a Silver Star, Jim is leading an effort to get him the Medal of Honor.
“The individual has to show gallantry above and beyond the call of duty so as to clearly distinguish themselves from their comrades at a risk of life to themselves,” Jim said. “When you look at the standards and the life of Steve Phillis, those heroics check all of those boxes.”
A Medal of Honor hasn’t been awarded to an Air Force pilot since Vietnam. It is the United States government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.
Jim is also working on writing a book about Steve’s life.
“Steve voted with his actions on February 15th,” Jim said. “Someone has to pick up the torch.”
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