The life of Capt. Stephen “Trip” Grace was honored during a memorial service Dec. 7, 2018, on the 61st Fighter Squadron ramp at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., where friends and family members poured in from around the world to show their love and support.
“Captain Grace was a true fighter pilot who lived life large,” said Lt. Col. Rhett “Hero” Hierlmeier, 61st Fighter Squadron commander. “He was a phenomenally gifted instructor pilot who taught and lead by example. He crushed every single challenge the Air Force threw at him earning the respect of his friends and fellow warriors along the way.”
Grace collapsed during an evening run and passed away from an unexpected heart attack.
A graduate of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Grace received his commission with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the United States Air Force Academy in 2010. Throughout his fighter pilot training, he received the Distinguished Graduate Award twice and was named class Top Gun. As an instructor pilot in the 80th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, he was recognized as the Squadron Instructor Pilot of the Year and was distinguished as the Outstanding Flight Contributor by his peers. He also deployed to the Middle East in support of regional stability operations in 2014.
During the ceremony, Grace’s fellow wingmen shared some of their greatest memories of him.
“Whether you’ve known him for 20 seconds when meeting him for the first time or for 20 years, I think everyone knows what a huge impact he’s made on anyone he’s ever met,” said Maj. Anthony “Bolo” Zelasko, 61st FS instructor pilot. “He was a model fighter pilot and an incredible instructor that I feel every instructor pilot and student alike would walk out of every flight with him having learned something new.”
Capt. Grace was not only an incredible fighter pilot, he was also a great father to his daughter Georgia who he loved very much.
“Trip was a model family man that I think everyone could look up to. He always had a way of making my son laugh and smile whenever we would spend time with him and his wife,” said Zelasko.
The service came to an end as two F-35A Lightning II’s and two F-16 Fighting Falcons flew overhead in a Missing Man Formation serving as a final salute to Captain Grace.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever understand why Trip was taken from us,” said Hierlmeier. “What I do know is that during his time on earth, he made a tremendous impact on a great number of people.”