Local man organizes benefit for SEALs

jajones1@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2012 

Brian Bill lived large, climbing some of the world’s highest mountains, earning his pilot’s license, and working on a degree in aeronautical engineering and studying Russian in hopes of one day becoming an astronaut.

He was also a genuine American hero, serving as a member of the elite Navy SEALs.

In perhaps the worst day of America’s fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, Aug. 6, 2011, Bill and 21 other members of the Navy SEALs died when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in eastern Wardak province.

Also killed in that crash were eight other U.S. military personnel and seven Afghan commandos.

Bill and the others were being airlifted during a night mission to aid Americans under siege by the Taliban.

Sarasota remodeler and builder Scott Bill, Brian Bill’s father, says his family is still grappling with the loss.

One way that Scott Bill coped was to join the Navy SEAL Foundation and travel around the country speaking with Buddies for the Brave on behalf of the SEALs.

“It’s been very therapeutic talking about my son,” Scott Bill said recently.

When Bill heard about the release of “Act of Valor,” a film inspired by real events and staring active duty SEALs, he wondered if it might be possible to book the movie locally.

He envisioned a benefit for the Navy SEAL Foundation as a way of honoring his son and his fellow SEALS.

Bill contacted the Sarasota Film Society, which operates Lakewood Ranch Cinemas and Burns Court Cinema, and asked if “Act of Valor” had been booked.

It had not.

But the Sarasota Film Society immediately called its film buyers and pushed successfully to get the film.

Tim Calandra of the Sarasota Film Society said the society has done lots of benefits over the years, but nothing as traumatic as for the loss of Brian Bill and the other SEALs.

“That sends a signal and hits home to everyone in the community,” Calandra said.

Scott Bill said the society’s response to his request to book the film was almost instantaneous.

“Boom, the next day they had the film,” he said.

“Honoring Navy SEAL Brian Bill and His Fellow SEALs: A Benefit for the Navy SEAL Foundation” is for Feb. 24 at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas, 10715 Rodeo Drive.

Included for the $50 tax-deductible ticket is a reception at 10:30 a.m., followed by a private showing of “Act of Valor” at noon.

The film society has donated the use of its largest auditorium for the event, and others have stepped up as well, including Eliza and Hugh Culverhouse who have issued a matching gift challenge for funds raised.

Scott Bill is pleased with how the benefit has come together and is hopeful that the auditorium will be full for the showing.

“I am very proud of him for what he did, for his honor and integrity,” Scott Bill said of his son.

As a youth, Brian Bill, the middle child of five siblings, was an Eagle Scout, a champion swimmer, captain of his hockey team, sky diver and skiier.

“No one could keep up with Brian,” Scott Bill said of his son’s down-hill skiing.

After graduating from Norwich University with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering, Brian Bill enlisted in the Navy, hoping for a shot at SEAL school.

Within just a matter of months of his enlistment, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred and Brian Bill was right where he wanted to be.

Between tours of duty, he was a frequent visitor to the Manatee-Sarasota area, and enjoyed the fishing and sailing here, his father said.

“He and his team gave the ultimate sacrifice. They sacrificed so much so that we would have freedom in this country,” Scott Bill said. “They are real heroes. They have no fear.”

Brian Bill is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“We are going on Memorial Day to visit his grave,” said Scott Bill.

For information on tickets for the SEAL benefit, visit http://honorourwarriors-eorg.eventbrite.com/

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021. Tweet @jajones1

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