JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON - Four airmen killed in a C-17 crash last week at an Anchorage military base were remembered in a memorial service Monday as heroes, leaders and devoted family men.
Several thousand people packed a hangar at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to pay a sometimes tearful tribute to the four men.
"We share deeply in your pain and sorrow," Lt. Col. Braspenninckx said to relatives of the men.
The cargo jet crashed Wednesday about a minute after taking off for a practice run for the Arctic Thunder air show held over the weekend.
The crash killed all four onboard: Maj. Michael Freyholtz, 34, of Hines, Minn.; Maj. Aaron Malone, 36, of Anchorage; Capt. Jeffrey Hill, 31, of York, Pa.; and Master Sgt. Thomas Cicardo, 47, of Anchorage. Cicardo was posthumously promoted to senior master sergeant Friday.
Freyholtz and Malone were pilots assigned to the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron. Cicardo was the 249th Airlift Squadron loadmaster and affiliated with the Alaska National Guard. Hill was a pilot assigned to the 517th Airlift Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, the name of the facility before it became a joint operation on Friday.
"For Alaskans and all of our service members and our families, our hearts are heavy," Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said. To the men's families sitting in the first row, he added: "We want you to know Alaskans are with you."
Parnell presented Alaska Legion of Merit awards to family members, kneeling in front of each relative as he did so. Families also were presented with Meritorious Service medals from the military.
Other speakers recalled memories of the airmen and praised their aviation skills. Large photos of the men were propped on easels on a nearby stage that faced a table heaped with bouquets and small U.S. flags.
Major Ben Nealy choked back tears as he spoke of straight-talking "Zippy" Malone, and how he took nonsense from no one. Nealy said while some might find that kind of honesty hard to take, he loved that about his friend.
"I'm going to miss him," he said, his voice breaking.
Freyholtz was remembered as an artistic soul who loved taking photographs and drawing pictures. Hill was remembered for his love of Alaska and reveling in the outdoors. Cicardo was remembered for his giving nature, someone who would have "taken the shirt off his back" not just for friends, but even strangers, said Master Sgt. Lloyd Llaneza.
The service wrapped up with a 21-gun salute and taps, as well as a solo performance of "Amazing Grace."
Also on Monday, a section of the Alaska Railroad's main track that was damaged by the crash was reopened. The line is heavily traveled by tourists, who were transported through the area by motor coach until repairs were made.