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Pilot's tragic end to a life lived supersonic

A belt buckle worn by William “Ham” DuBois, the father of Capt. William H. DuBois, is a memento to his son who lost his life in an F-16 Fighting Falcon accident while on deployment. The family of DuBois was presented the game ball before the Denver Broncos playoff game to honor his service and sacrifice.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski/Released)

A belt buckle worn by William “Ham” DuBois, the father of Capt. William H. DuBois, is a memento to his son who lost his life in an F-16 Fighting Falcon accident while on deployment. The family of DuBois was presented the game ball before the Denver Broncos playoff game to honor his service and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski/Released)

The family of Capt. William H. DuBois, a pilot who tragically lost his life while deployed, was honored before the Denver Broncos playoff game Jan. 11, 2015, at Sports Authority Field in Denver with the presentation of the game ball before the opening kickoff. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski/Released)

The family of Capt. William H. DuBois, a pilot who tragically lost his life while deployed, was honored before the Denver Broncos playoff game Jan. 11, 2015, at Sports Authority Field in Denver with the presentation of the game ball before the opening kickoff. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski/Released)

William “Ham” DuBois, the father of Capt. William H. DuBois, raises the game ball in front of thousands of cheering fans Jan. 11, 2015, at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The family of the fallen pilot, Capt. DuBois, was presented the game ball before the Denver Broncos playoff game to honor his service and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski/Released)

William “Ham” DuBois, the father of Capt. William H. DuBois, raises the game ball in front of thousands of cheering fans Jan. 11, 2015, at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The family of the fallen pilot, Capt. DuBois, was presented the game ball before the Denver Broncos playoff game to honor his service and sacrifice. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski/Released)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Standing at midfield with a proud grin on his face, William "Ham" DuBois raised the game ball above his head as thousands of fans cheered the life of his son, Capt. William H. "Pyro" DuBois, on Jan. 11 at Sports Authority Field in Denver. 

The Broncos organization honored Captain DuBois, a native of New Castle, Colorado, before their  playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, for his service and sacrifice by presenting the game ball to his family.

A pilot in the U.S. Air Force, DuBois was tragically killed Dec. 1, 2014, when his F-16 Fighting Falcon malfunctioned and crashed during a sortie in Operation Inherent Resolve.

Upon entering the Air Force, each Airman is taught fundamental values at the heart of what it means to be a member of the U.S. Air Force. Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all we do. These core values guide Airmen through decision making and their ways of life. I soon discovered Dubois didn't just demonstrate these values through the way he lived his life; he exceeded them.

I'm a sports guy. And I'm also a photojournalist. When I was first assigned to document the family receiving an NFL playoffs game ball, I was mostly thrilled to have the opportunity to be on the field. However, upon speaking with the family a few days before the game, my attitude changed. My excitement moved from being thrilled for this once-in-a-lifetime NFL opportunity to wanting to do my very best to tell the story of an amazing man.

I was fortunate enough to meet the family of Captain DuBois. He was "Will" to his family. His call-sign, a moniker from his Air Force brothers and sisters, was "Pyro." He was the son of Donna and "Ham" DuBois, the husband of Ashley DuBois, the brother of Devon DuBois, the uncle of Karsen DuBois. His family shared with me that he lived his life with enthusiasm, passion and a love for others. He lived life full throttle.

He grew accustomed to achieving success in whatever he set his mind to accomplish.  From competitive horseback riding to leading his ROTC program to being selected into Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, DuBois lived life fast and tried to perfect everything he did.

"He was a very kind individual, a very competent pilot with a full zest for life," said Ham. "He went for life with gusto. He lived large and lived well."

As a boy, he was constantly active and showed a true love of life early on. 

"As a boy, Will was very precocious," said his father. "Him and his friend would terrorize the neighborhood on their three-wheel tricycles."

Precocious and a bit of dare devil, DuBois knew he wanted to be a fighter pilot at a very young age and had a poster of an F-16 hung up in his room.

"Ever since he was nine or ten years old, he had set a goal," said Ham. "He wanted to fly."

With his mind set on becoming a fighter pilot one day, DuBois did everything he needed to do for that goal to become a reality.

"He set himself up all the way through high school, taking AP courses, volunteering in the community and just built an outstanding resume," said Ham. "Because of that, the Air Force gave him a five- year scholarship."

DuBois would go on to graduate from the University of Colorado, also completing the ROTC program and commissioning upon graduation.

DuBois was selected to take part in the premier Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training and went on to assignments at the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, and 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina.

DuBois's portfolio of achievements was impressive; however, those close to him say his most impressive achievement was the impact he had on those around him.

"We knew he had plenty of friends, but we had no idea of the extent, the length, in which he touched people until he died," said his mother, Donna. "People were so moved by his generosity and his friendship."

The dedication he had toward his friends was never so evident than one weekend when his parents came to visit him. He had planned to go out to a nice dinner with them and his wife but postponed the dinner last minute to be there for a close friend.

"We finally have time to spend together and go out to this nice restaurant, and Will gets home from work going 'Mom, I really need to spend time with one of the Airman. His girlfriend dumped him and he shouldn't be alone right now,'" said his mother. "'Of course, Will, this is who you are.' So he went out with the guy and had a couple drinks with him and tried to console him.

"But that was him in a nutshell," she said.

Meeting with his family, I got a glimpse into who this man really was. This captain. This Airman. I learned   DuBois was a man who lived life to the fullest; he embraced every moment and everyone who entered his life. The term "push it up" in the fighter pilot world means to push up the throttle and increase speed. DuBois lived his life "pushed up." Whether in his career as a Viper driver, a family man or a friend, he gave his all to be the best he could be, his mother asserted.

Being able to learn about who DuBois was offered me a new perspective on how I did my job. He wasn't just some guy. He was an Airman who gave the ultimate sacrifice. He was the epitome of what Airmen should be: A man who loves, leads and looks after the people around him. He never took life for granted and seized the moment each and every day.

So often, we take life for granted - thinking tomorrow will come and we can put things, people and emotions off till then. DuBois didn't take tomorrow for granted and took each moment to better himself as a man and tend to the ones he held close.

"A man who lived life with gusto," his father said describing this Airman, captain, husband, uncle and son. "He really did push it up and double down. He had a lot of great life experiences and lived life to the fullest, even at a young age.

He added, "That's how I'd like him to be remembered."
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