Army 1st Lt. Kim Jon Strader was battling to remain conscious, although flaming jet fuel had burned 85 percent of his skin in the Aug. 28 air show disaster at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in West Germany.
Finally, Friday night, from his hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center, Strader saw through tears what he had struggled so hard to live to see.Strader watched his son, Matthew, 16, approach his bed.
"Dad, I salute you: `Capt. Kim Jon Strader,' " Matthew said, snapping a salute to his father. "They promoted you to captain."
Tears rolled down Strader's cheeks.
Within hours, Strader was dead. His 41-year-old body, wracked by complications from the burns, including pneumonia and failing kidneys, succumbed at 3 a.m. Saturday, a medical center spokesman, said Monday.
One of Strader's sisters, Kathleen D. Johnton of Phoenix, said, "He seemed to let go, knowing that everything was taken care of."
Obtaining the promotion from first lieutenant was important because Strader, like the soldiers in the Army's ads, strived "to be the best that he could be," Johnston said.
He also wanted his family to receive the increased death benefits that accompany the higher rank, she said.
Strader was the 66th person to die of injuries suffered when three planes from an Italian Air Force stunt team collided and one crashed in flames into spectators.
Strader had been scheduled to be promoted to captain about two weeks after the disaster. The Army placed him on retirement shortly after the accident to help protect his family's benefits, Johnston said.
His family, aided by congressional offices in Utah and Arizona, persuaded the Army on Friday to reinstate Strader long enough to grant the promotion and then to return him to retirement status.
"We were thrilled he was able to receive his promotion," said Kimberly Wold, a Phoenix aide to Rep. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Although Strader grew up in Utah and was assigned to a U.S. Army medical unit in West Germany, the helicopter pilot planned to retire to Phoenix, where much of his family already lives, Johnston said.
Besides Johnston, Strader is survived by his wife, Jenny; their five children, Matthew, Adam, Alison, Carrie and Ben, ranging in age from 9 to 16; his mother, Alice Larsen of Phoenix; and sisters Yvonne Willoughby of Cottonwood and Sharlene Green of Salt Lake City.
Johnston said that Strader's helicopter was on display at the air show and that he had just walked to the front of it when the Italian jet careened toward him.
"Jet fuel spewed all over him, and enveloped him in a fireball," she said.
Strader and six others were taken to the Army burn unit at Fort Sam Houston on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. The others have survived, but three are in critical condition, Clark said.
On Monday, Strader's body was being sent to Salt Lake City, where a funeral is scheduled Friday.
Johnston remembers her brother as a gentle man who combined passions for flying and helping others by working in a medical-evacuation unit.
Strader joined the Marines straight out of high school.
He served a two-year mission in Scotland for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then served in the Air Force for eight years, but not as a pilot. Soon after leaving the Air Force, he joined the Army to fulfill his dream of learning to fly.