Family, friends and hundreds of members of the community lined the sidewalks leading to Saugus High School to honor Air Force pilot Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, after his death earlier this month.
Del Bagno was a pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron – commonly known as The Thunderbirds. He died Wednesday, April 4 after his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed over the Nevada Test and Training Range during a routine aerial demonstration training flight.
The No. 4 was a major theme for Del Bagno; born in the fourth month of April, died on the fourth day of the fourth month and was the slot pilot for the Thunderbirds, or pilot No. 4.
The funeral procession began at 4 p.m. from Eternal Valley cemetery. The procession ended at Saugus High School where a flyover from the Thunderbirds and a funeral service were held him his honor.
“This is the hardest thing any parent could do, but for you (Stephen), I’m here,” his father, “Papa” Joe Del Bagno said. “People asked, ‘Why outside?’ We’re in God’s front yard by Saugus High. Saugus High is where he graduated. He would share his story with students who were interested in aviation.”
After his family, friends and fellow Thunderbirds told their personal stories about Stephen and his life, the Air Force honored his memory with a flag presentation and a 21-gun salute.
Del Bagno is a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State University, and commissioned from Officer Training School, Maxwell AFB, Ala. in 2007.
Before joining the Air Force, Del Bagno was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter and a banner tow pilot. He enjoyed snowboarding, water sports and spending time with family and friends.
Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, Del Bagno served as an F-35A Evaluator Pilot and Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Fla.
He has logged more than 3,500 total flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot.
The Thunderbirds are a military aerial demonstration team that spreads the Air Force’s message to everyone since its informal creation in 1947, according to its website.
“I knew Cajun, a fellow brother in arms. I was his commander,” said Lt Col. Kevin Walsh. “It’s common for newcomers to come in and feel a little intimidated by (the job) — he relished it. He inspired the best of the Air Force to be even better. He quickly grasped it’s not about the air show, it’s about inspiring young adults to be a better version of themselves. We are all lucky to have been in his presence.”