Navy sailors and aviators came from near and far Friday to say goodbye to Lt. Steven “Deet” Combs Jr., 28, at Sarasota National Cemetery.
He was hailed by his commanding officer as a hero, and by his family as a man who lived a life that mattered, and that was full of love and laughter.
Lt. Combs was piloting a twin-engine Grumman C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft with 11 onboard Nov. 22, 2017, when the plane suffered catastrophic engine failure at low altitude over the Philippine Sea near Okinawa. The Lakewood Ranch resident was able to skillfully land the aircraft among 11-foot swells. Eight of those onboard survived the crash.
“Steve was really, really good at landing the Greyhound on the boat,” Cmdr. Greg Jonic said of Lt. Combs’ ability to land and take off from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
“He died a hero, excelling in his job,” Jonic said. “If not for the clearly heroic actions of Steve and his crew, there would not have been any survivors.”
Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Dumm called Lt. Combs kind, open and hardworking.
“His smile was so infectious. It’s hard to look at a picture of him and not smile back,” Dumm said. “What Steve and his crew did that day is nothing short of incredible.”
Lt. Combs’ sisters, Stephanie and Elizabeth, said their brother was also their friend, who brought great joy to the entire family.
“If we are candles, my brother was a bonfire. That’s how bright his life was,” Elizabeth Combs said. “He mattered. Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by chance.”
Steven Combs Sr. said that if a person’s life is measured by the number of their friends, his son was a rich man.
If we are candles, my brother was a bonfire. That’s how bright his life was.
He paid tribute to the Naval personnel who attended the service, some in Navy blue uniforms and others in Navy whites.
“Some of them literally came from the other side of the world,” Steven Combs Sr. said. “You are special people doing extraordinary things every day.”
“This pain, I’m pretty certain, will never go away,” he said, concluding by asking that those attending the celebration of Deet’s life remember who he was and how he touched their lives, and to live well, work hard and make a difference.
Friday’s service ended with the playing of taps and a flyover of a formation of Greyhounds. One Greyhound pulled away from the formation as it passed over Patriot Plaza, symbolizing the pilot missing from their midst.
The Combs family moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2008, and Deet Combs worked locally over several summers at local golf courses before going on active duty, his father said.
Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Lt. Combs grew up in the Pittsfield area of western Massachussets. He was a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder and was commissioned through Naval ROTC in 2011. He reported to Fleet Logistics Squadron 30 in 2015.
In addition to his flight duties, he had also served aboard the USS Ronald Reagan as the detachment's assistant operations and administration officer and flight instructor. During his career, he had logged more than 1,200 flight hours and 100 carrier-assisted landings.
At the time of his death Lt. Combs was assigned to VRC-30, DET 5 operating from Marine Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
While at the University of Colorado, he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity and was an accomplished alpine skier and racer. He also enjoyed flying, traveling, mountain climbing and sharing laughter with his friends.
He is survived by his parents, Kathy and Steven Combs Sr., and his sisters, Elizabeth and Stephanie Combs, grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Memorial donations in lieu of flowers may be made to The Combs Family Gold Wings Foundation or The Wingman Foundation. Arrangements by All Veterans-All Families Funerals & Cremations.