Thousands of Alaskans gathered in a giant C-17 hangar Monday afternoon to grieve for four airmen killed in a plane crash last week on Elmendorf Air Force Base.
Speakers celebrated their lives and talked about them as family men, as highly trained officers, as leaders in the C-17 program.
Majs. Aaron W. Malone, 36, and Michael H. Freyholtz, 34, were close friends and combat pilots who coached Little League together. Capt. Jeffrey A. Hill, the youngest of the group at age 31, had fallen in love with Alaska and all it offers. Senior Master Sgt. Thomas E. Cicardo, 47, also a combat veteran, had served years in rescue squadrons.
A huge American flag hung from the hangar's ceiling. Blown-up photographs of each man and the C-17 were elevated on easels. There were wreaths of red, white and blue, an abundance of bouquets, handwritten notes and American flags left by mourners. The lost men's wives, children and other close family members sat in the front row. Another C-17 was parked outside, one of seven still part of Elmendorf 's 3rd Wing.
Malone, Freyholtz and Cicardo all helped start the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron. Hill was active duty Air Force who helped start Elmendorf's 517th Airlift Squadron. Their squadrons walked in together wearing dress blue.
The C-17 crashed the evening of July 28 on what's now called Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The crew was practicing for the popular Arctic Thunder air show and open house, held last weekend. The crash is being investigated by a military Safety Investigative Board, which is just beginning its work.
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