SARASOTA — Americans cheered last May as they learned a squad from U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 had killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden in May 2011.
And just three months later, they cried in shock and horror as members of that same team died after the Taliban fired a rocket-propelled grenade into their helicopter during a mission in the Maidan Wardak province of Afghanistan.
For Sarasota resident Scott Bill, the news came as an even more personal tragedy. His son, Brian, was among those killed in the attack that day.
“He really wanted to serve his country,” Scott Bill said of his son. “(They all) were courageous.”
To pay tribute to Brian’s life, and those of his fellow U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 team, Scott Bill will host “Honoring Navy SEAL Brian Bill and His Fellow SEALS: A Benefit for the Navy SEAL Foundation,” at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 24, at the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, 10715 Rodeo Drive, Lakewood Ranch.
The event includes mid-morning reception followed by noontime private screening of the film, “Act of Valor,” a film inspired by true events and starring active-duty Navy SEALs.
Tickets cost $50. Event sponsors include the Sarasota Film Society and Hugh and Eliza Culverhouse, who have issued a $2,500 matching gift challenge for funds raised by the event.
“The goal is to increase the awareness of the heroes in our military and to maintain that awareness, so more people think about the sacrifices these men and women, and their families, make,” said Scott Bill, a Vietnam War veteran.
A hero is born
Brian Bill grew up with his mother in Connecticut and talked about joining the U.S. Navy in high school. His vision always had been to become a Navy SEAL.
He and a friend enlisted in the military in June 2000 while attending a private military college, Norwich University, before Brian Bill graduated from the school with a degree in electrical engineering.
“He was always the best at whatever he did,” Scott Bill said of his son, noting Brian was an excellent long-distance swimmer, a tri-athlete, former hockey team captain and an Eagle Scout, among other accomplishments. “The Navy SEALS, to him, (was the best) you could be. He wanted to serve (his country) and protect our freedom. He strongly believed in that, as I do.
“He wanted to make a career of it,” he said.
After enlisting in the U.S. Navy, Brian Scott went to Chicago for basic training, selecting his profession as a parachute rigger, because he could finish the program more quickly than the others, Scott Bill said.
“From there, he was able to get accepted to try out to be a Navy SEAL,” Scott Bill said. “He passed all the tests.”
After being accepted into the Navy SEAL program, Brian Bill went to California for more training, before being assigned to the SEAL’s East Coast team, SEAL Team 8, to be closer to his family. He served with the unit for about five years, before hearing about a special warfare development group, now known as SEAL Team 6.
“It was an elite terrorist group,” Scott Bill said. “They take the best of all the (military). He really enjoyed his job. He was fearless. He led his teammates into (battle).”
Although Scott Bill said his son was, by nature, quiet, reserved, humble and respectful, he became a determined and fierce warrior for his country, as needed.
The night Brian and his teammates died, SEAL Team 6 had gone to back up a U.S. Army Rangers group in intercepting a group of Taliban. Enemy forces shot down their helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.
“When they came in for landing, there were Taliban hiding,” Scott Bill said. “The grenade hit the propeller shaft and blew up the plane. It was like a one-in-a-million shot.”
Thirty-eight soldiers were killed that day, wiping out an entire troop of the squadron. It was the largest single loss of soldiers since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001.
‘Act of Valor’
The film “Act of Valor” stars a team of active-duty Navy SEALs and takes viewers on a fictional mission to recover a kidnapped CIA operative. When Scott Bill learned of the film, he immediately began making phone calls about using it for a fundraiser for Navy SEAL families.
“It made sense to me,” he said.
The Sarasota Film Society obtained rights to the film and agreed to show it.
Scott Bill said the Navy SEAL Foundation provided financial support and other assistance to families of Navy SEALs killed in the crash. The foundation paid for Bill’s plane ticket and hotel room to attend his son’s funeral, Scott Bill said.
“Half of the team that died were married with children,” Scott Bill said. “The kids’ college will be taken care of (because of the foundation). The SEAL Foundation takes care of these families, even while (SEALs) are active (duty).”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
Honoring Navy Seal Brian Bill and His Fellow SEALS: A Benefit for the Navy SEAL Foundation
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Feb. 24. Screening of “Act of Valor” will begin at noon.
WHERE: Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, 10715 Rodeo Drive Lakewood Ranch
COST: $50 per person