KTVQ: Ben Steele, Billings war hero and artist, dead at age 98
Ben Steele, who survived the Bataan Death March during World War II, has died. He was 98.
His wife, Shirley Steele, said Ben died at about 4 a.m. Sunday morning.
Steele's book, “Tears in the Darkness – The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath,” chronicled his experience during the war and he became well-known for his art depicting his time as a prisoner of war.
A new Billings middle school currently under construction was named in his honor.
Steele's ordeal as a survivor of the Bataan Death March made him a local hero.
His sketches that he drew while a prisoner of war also made him somewhat famous and led to a long career in the world of art, including a stint as Art Director at Eastern Montana College in Billings.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines released this statement late Sunday morning:
"Montana has lost an American hero and a state treasure. Ben Steele will be remembered for his service, his courage and his artistic legacy."
Last year, Daines honored Steele as Montanan of the Week for his exceptional service to the nation and the Billings community.
Benjamin Charles Steele was born in Roundup in 1917.
He grew up on his parent's ranch, but tough economic times lead him to join the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1940.
By 1941 Steele found himself stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines as a member of the 19th Bombardment Group.
Shortly after Christmas Day the solders found themselves on the front lines of the battle against the Japanese.
Within days they were captured and for six days he was part of the infamous Bataan Death March.
Steele was a POW for 1,244 days. He was eventually transferred to Japan and after the war he returned to Montana.
The Ben Steele Middle School is slated to be open its doors next fall.
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