Remembering two great sons

February 19, 2012 

Although I never met Brian Bill or Taylor Emmons, I had the opportunity to write about both of them this past week.

Appropriate, perhaps, that the stories were published during Valentine’s week, considering how much their families loved them, and how much they miss their sons.

What the two shared, in addition to leaving us too soon, was a zest for life and an extraordinary sense of service to others.

It’s a legacy of life lived to the brim that their respective families want to honor and to perpetuate.

Brian Bill, a U.S. Navy SEAL, died at age 31 on Aug. 6, 2011, in Afghanistan.

He was one of 22 SEALs who died when their helicopter was shot down during a night-time mission to assist other coalition forces.

It was a terrible loss not only for their families, but for the country. The elite SEALs number only about 2,000. To lose 22 at one time was a staggering tragedy.

As I sat with Scott Bill, Brian’s father, in his Sarasota office, I could see that there is a hole in his heart that will never heal.

Scott talked fondly of how Brian was a manic downhill skier, had been on a quest to climb seven of the highest mountains on earth, how he wanted to become an astronaut.

Brian, an electrical engineer, enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduating from college, and only a few months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He wanted to become a SEAL.

After the United States was attacked, he felt he couldn’t be in a better place to aid his country and to help keep us all safe.

He was highly decorated during his Navy service, receiving four Bronze Star Medals for valor.

Scott Bill joined the Navy SEAL Foundation and today travels the country speaking on behalf of the SEALs.

He is spearheading a showing of the new film, “Act of Valor” starring active duty Navy SEALs, on Friday at the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas to honor Brian and other SEALS, and to raise money for the foundation.

“It’s been very therapeutic talking about my son,” Scott says.

For more about the SEAL benefit, visit http://honorourwarriors-eorg.eventbrite.com.

Lakewood Ranch residents Mike and Katie Emmons also want to honor their son, Taylor, who was 19 when he was struck and killed crossing a Coral Gables street.

The Out-of-Door Academy grad was gifted academically and athletically, serving as co-captain of the baseball team, captain of the golf team, and earning membership in the National Honor Society.

What grabbed my attention, however, was his desire to help others less fortunate than himself, and to feed the hungry.

Mike and Katie have established a foundation in his name, which recently raised $141,000 for scholarships.

The money will go to award scholarships to The Out-of-Door Academy to deserving students from Manatee and Sarasota who would otherwise be unable to afford the tuition.

That is such a gift and such a life-changer. ODA sends just about 100 percent of its grads on to college, and many earn full scholarships.

Taylor’s nickname was Temmons. Now a foundation named in his honor carries on that name. For more information, visit www.temmons.org.

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

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