In November 1959, the “Arlington Squadron” adopted its first constitution for Air Force association (AFA) Unit #239. Many original members were active in the Air Force Reserve Forces, and Unit #239 almost didn’t survive the 1961 call-up for the Berlin Wall crisis and the tensions in 1962 associated with the Cuban missile crisis. The unit was strengthened in the mid-sixties when it merged with the Alexandria Squadron and eventually became the “Northern Virginia Chapter”, #239.
In 1980, the chapter was renamed the Donald W. Steele, Sr. Memorial Chapter of Northern Virginia, #239, in memory of a great AFA leader, Don Steele. Don Steele was a lifelong resident of the Washington Area. He served in the Army in WW II and later in the Air Force Reserve. He was a former Chapter President and State President, Member of the AFA National Committee, Doolittle Fellow of the Aerospace Education Foundation, and Associate Executive Director of the AFA.
Today, by supporting the goals and ideals of the Air Force Community in the Northern Virginia area, the D.W. Steele Chapter proudly carries on the tradition of dedication and responsibility to the nation that Don Steele demonstrated throughout his life. The Chapter sponsors leadership programs and scholarships for local Air Force units, local high schools, AFJROTC and the Civil Air Patrol. It sponsors recognition events for local Air Force organizations and pays tribute to our enlisted force through its Annual Outstanding Airmen’s Breakfast.
AFA CHAPTER, STATE AWARDS: Unit of the Year 2002; Region Unit of Honor 2002; Virginia AFA Chapter of the Year 2000; Virginia AFA Award for Most Outstanding Program Series, 1986-87
AFA NATIONAL AWARDS: Outstanding Event 1987, 1989; Best Single Program 1990; Best Overall Program 1994-95; Outstanding Extra-Large Chapter 1999; ESA Overall Programming 2002
Donald W. Steele
It was hot and sunny that August 7 in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A pleasant day, not steaming as it had been for a month or so. St. Matthew’s Cemetery in New Market, Va., is small and old but well kept. Comfortable, you could call it, and comforting. A monument referring to the “Lost Cause” dominates the rows of weathered old gravestones, some dating back 150 years or more.
The Air Force Honor Guard moved precisely but reverently through the traditional rubric of a military funeral-the carrying of the casket to its appointed place, the three-volley salute from the firing squad, the mournful epitaph of “Taps” from a true-toned bugler, and the folding of the flag. Everything seemed to fit perfectly together at those last sad rites for Donald W. Steele, Sr., the late Associate Executive Director of the Air Force Association-born April 10, 1922, in Washington, D.C. died in Fairfax, Va., August 2,1979, of cancer.
Don Steele had to be the best-loved person on the AFA national staff. Certainly he was the best known And in his case the words are synonymous for, if the cliché be pardonable, to know him was to love him. His work at AFA, first as Assistant for Field Organizations, then as Director and eventually Associate Executive Director for Field Operations, kept him in close contact with the Association’s grass roots whence he came. Officially Don came on the AFA payroll in 1964, but already he had donated untold hours, days, and months to the Association in more than fifteen years of service as a volunteer, including posts on national committees, as state president, and chapter president. This writer’s first memory of 61gb goes back to the 1953 national convention in Washington, and be was at every convention thereafter. He literally became part of the national staff at convention time, using precious days of his vacations to do so.
As staff coordinator of the AFA field network, Don was a one-man traveling buffer zone between the national organization -national officers, the Board of Directors, and national staff-and the more than 300 AF units scattered among all fifty states. He was responsible – through sheer dedication, an incredibly heavy workload, and unflagging good humor-for the exceptionally fine working relationship that exists among these critical elements of the Association. That is his legacy to the membership, leadership, and professional management of AFA.
Don clocked more airborne hours than an average B-52 crew. A quick calculation of how he spent his time shows more than half of each year’s weekends were occupied with field trips-to state conventions, regional workshops, national committee meetings, and, of course, national conventions. He seldom took a bona fide vacation; instead he worked in a day or so of personal time while on AF business. He was a superb ambassador in a slot where diplomacy, tact, and understanding of the other fellow’s problems are essential elements. Don also had a knack for gathering an exceptional staff and eliciting the kind of loyalty he himself exemplified.
In spite of the demands of his work, Don found time for a full family life that seemed to deepen and richen with the years. His strongly supportive wife, Mary, participated helpfully, notably as a volunteer at national convention; Their family includes two daughters, Mrs. Deborah Dralle of Nike, Va., and Mrs. Catherine Morris, of Manassas, VA, and two Sons, Capt. Donald W., Jr., US Army, currently in Heidelberg, Germany, and Gary, of Richmond, Va. There are two granddaughters and four grandsons.
Don’s last months were lived in the shadow of his ravaging disease, often in pain and eventually in debilitating weakness. Yet he returned from his last trip on behalf of AFA, to the Texas state convention in San Antonio, on June 30. In less than five weeks he was dead. The ability to work and to contribute during his last days were, we are sure, his greatest solace.