Fallen Air Tanker Crew Members Remembered

Family members and friends gathered Tuesday morning at the Air National Guard armory near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport for a service in memory of four Charlotte-based airmen who died July 1 in the crash of a tanker plane battling a wildfire in South Dakota.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and a number of Air Force officials were among those attending the service, in the hangar that serves as home for the Air National Guard's 145th Air Wing.

The service was in memory of Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Major Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont; Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 36, of Charlotte; and Major Ryan David, 35, of Boone. Two other airmen aboard the C-130 suffered serious injuries when the plane crashed in southwest South Dakota.

"These four heroes said good-bye to their families just 10 days ago -- like they had done so many times before," Perdue said during the service. "These proud airmen ... knew the risks and the rewards.

"All four of these men were tightly woven into their communities. We celebrate their lives today."

Members of the Patriot Guard motorcycle group arrived at the hangar about 8:30 a.m., an hour before the service began. Family members were the last to enter the hangar, shortly before the singing of "Our Father."

A short video, showing firefighting crews at work, was played on a large screen on a stage in the armory.

Then Perdue made remarks, noting how each of the fallen airmen brought something special to his community and family.

"The 145th Air Wing is a tight-knit family," the governor said. "Today, that family is hurting."

She invited those in the armory, and those watching the ceremony on television, to remember the four airmen in the future.

"None of us can ever repay them or their families," Perdue said, adding that the public can pay tribute to the four men by remembering their sacrifices and honoring what they have done.

Friends of the four men delivered brief remarks, remembering the victims.

Mikeal was remembered as someone who "solved the world's problems" over chicken sandwiches at Pinky's Westside Grill, a west Charlotte restaurant that is frequented by many of the 1,500 members of the 145th Air Wing. He loved his wife and two children and was a devoted family man, friends said.

McCormick was someone who "always brightened a room" and a man who "always saw the positive." He also was remembered for his love of his wife and four children.

Friends remembered David as being someone "you could always count on for a smile or a laugh." He and his wife Jenny loved the outdoors, friends said, and David loved reading and playing with his 6-month-old son.

And Cannon, who was married with two children, was a "consummate family man," friends said. One person who knew him said that after serving in the Air National Guard for 28 years, "You could go anywhere on this base, and everyone knew Robbie."

After the 40-minute indoor ceremony concluded, friends and family members went outside the armory building, for the dedication of a granite marker honoring the four men.

Copyright 2012 - The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service