I'll fly the sky through endless paths
Nature is mine, and I am reborn
Alaska calls ...
- Excerpt of poem by Lt. Gen. David J. McCloud
Inside a cavernous hangar, civilian and military mourners paid stoic tribute Thursday to Air Force Lt. Gen. David J. McCloud at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
There were few tears among the 3,000 people who attended the memorial service for the three-star general, who was killed Sunday in a plane crash at Fort Richardson. Instead, people honored Alaska's top military commander with song, prayer, memories and talk of eagles.
"He soared through his life on eagle's wings, and he continues to soar through the skies of God's own eternal life," Lt. Col. Stephen Hess, a chaplain, said from the podium. "At this moment, General McCloud is among those who are truly living, and it is us who are left who are among those who are dying."
Throughout the hourlong service, speakers also eulogized McCloud's friend, Lewis Cathro, a Virginia civilian pilot who also died in the crash. Cathro's widow, Peggy Cathro, flew in for the ceremony. She joined Gov. Tony Knowles and McCloud's widow, Anne McCloud, and the general's two grown children in the front row, across from three dozen bouquets and a huge American flag.
Elmendorf's Air Force Band of the Pacific played as the families were escorted into Hangar One shortly before members from every military branch presented the colors. McCloud, 53, had led the Alaskan Command and was responsible for more than 21,000 active-duty and reserve members of the Air Force, Army and Navy. He moved to Alaska to take over the post in December.
A highly decorated general, McCloud also commanded the 11th Air Force in Alaska and the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region.
After Hess gave the invocation, mourners sang the national anthem and Battle Hymn of the Republic. The crowd then read aloud the 23rd Psalm, and military officials awarded McCloud two posthumous distinguished service medals.
Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hamilton read a poem he wrote for McCloud, who was responsible for bringing him here. Hamilton has been hired as the new president of the University of Alaska. He pointed out McCloud's own flair for words.
"I don't know if you associate him with poetry, but you should. He loved reading it and writing it," Hamilton said. The memorial service program, he noted, featured a two-stanza poem about Alaska that McCloud wrote for his daughter, Robyn McCloud Springer, several months ago.
Then there was his passion for flying, surpassed only by his love for family and God, said Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. McCloud was a masterful pilot who had flown nearly every kind of fighter plane in the military, Ralston said.
"He was without peer," he said. "It was not only his profession, it was his avocation."
Following a brief video of McCloud's life, the crowd stood up and sang the Air Force Hymn as the back hangar doors slowly rolled open. Everyone turned to watch a 15-cannon salute, which shook the ground.
The thick, white smoke had cleared by the time people filed out for the aerial finale. Overhead, four F-15s flew by in a "missing man" formation, in which one of the planes veered away to symbolize McCloud's death.
As the crowd dispersed, McCloud's son walked up to a parked F-15 his father had flown. Scott David McCloud put his head down as he walked the length of the fighter plane, stroking it with his right hand. Then he climbed into a waiting limousine and rode away with his family.
McCloud will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.