Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Major killed in Afghanistan buried in Bushnell, remembered for his joy and faith

BRANDON — At first, the song made friends and family cry as they remembered Air Force Maj. Raymond G. Estelle II.

I smile, even though I'm hurt, I smile.

But the song, which friends say exemplified Estelle's enthusiasm and joy, soon had them bobbing their heads a little in celebration of his life.

You look so much better when you smile, so smile.

Estelle, 40, was buried Monday at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

He died April 27 on his first day in Afghanistan, when an Afghan military pilot opened fire at the Kabul airport. He was one of eight U.S. troops killed in the attack.

Estelle was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other military medals.

He started his career at MacDill Air Force Base as a military communications officer from 1999 to 2001. Estelle also served on temporary duty at U.S. Central Command.

He met his wife, Maj. N'Keiba Estelle, through the military. Her family is from the Brandon area.

The couple lived in Yorktown, Va., with their 8-year-old daughter, Shayla, and 7-week-old son, "Little Ray." They planned to someday move back to Tampa.

At his funeral at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Estelle's family filled the front rows. Some wore all white instead of black. They filed past his half-open, flag-draped casket, pausing to touch his shoulder.

Enlarged photographs showed Estelle pressing his face next to his daughter's cheek. In another, he cradled and kissed his sleeping baby.

Friends remembered Estelle as a man passionate about his family and his faith.

He marked passages in other people's Bibles for them to read. He led Bible studies and men's groups, carried a pocket Bible in his uniform and pursued a prayer challenge with his wife: five minutes of praying every day for 40 days.

If there was a disagreement at work, said his friend Eric Saunders, 42, of Hampton, Va., Estelle would defuse the dispute by saying, "Stop and share the love."

He was a mentor to younger generations, said 25-year-old Desiree Sewell of Tampa, a friend who considered Estelle her godbrother.

"He just liked to be a part of it," she said, "and feel like he was giving back to the public."

Estelle was always willing to lift another up, friends said, and help carry their burdens.

During the service, an Air Force colleague took three coins out of his pocket. They were stamped with the words, Put on the whole armor of God.

He handed them to the family, including one to Estelle's daughter, Shayla. He also gave her a pin with Air Force wings, "because Ray taught me how to fly," he said.

At the end of the funeral, Shayla followed her father's casket out of the church, wings pinned to her white jacket.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

.Biography

Maj. Raymond Gray Estelle II

Born: Jan. 16, 1971.

Died: April 27, 2011.

Survivors: Maj. N'Keiba Estelle, wife; daughter Shayla, 8, and son Raymond G. III, 7 weeks ; daughter Chanelle Diaz, 20; mother Regina Estelle; sister Nyiesha Estelle; grandfather Burton Gifford; father- and mother-in-law Levi and Lynn Knox; and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends.

Major killed in Afghanistan buried in Bushnell, remembered for his joy and faith 05/09/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 9, 2011 11:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Before Janessa Shannon's death, parents traded accusations of abuse

    Crime

    TAMPA — Long before Janessa Shannon's remains were discovered in a Hillsborough County nature preserve, her parents tried to convince court officials that she was in danger.

    From her own family.

    Janessa Shannon, 13, was found dead July 12 in the Triple Creek Nature Preserve in Hillsborough County. [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]
  2. Ronde Barber: Want intimidation? Look at past Bucs teams

    Bucs

    Ronde Barber says these days "it's hard to find throwbacks, where you go, 'That guy is a badass.' Where do you find that now? It's such a show-off sport." (Times 2012)
  3. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 16, 2017

    Blogs

    Seems like Broward County has started a domino effect. It was the first school board to commit to filing a lawsuit against the state and its controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. Then, the St. Lucie County School Board signed on, too. A running tally of school boards that have reportedly expressed interested in …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
  4. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.