CHICOPEE — With silence and precision, six members of an Air Force honor guard brought the silver-colored, flag-draped casket of Staff Sgt. Jacob Galliher down the cargo ramp of an Air Force C-17 Friday at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee to his family.
The honor guard moved with crisp precision as the whine faded from the C-17′s engines and a bright December afternoon faded to twilight.
Galliher, 24, married to Ivy Groshong-Galliher and the father of two sons — Malcolm, 2, and Killian, 9 weeks old — was on his way home to Pittsfield.
Galliher, known as Jake, was one of eight crew members flying in an Osprey V-22, which crashed in the ocean off the coast of Japan on Nov. 29.
The sight of that casket coming off the plane being met by Galliher’s family and loaded onto a hearse made an impression on Gov. Maura T. Healey, the first-term Democrat told reporters.
“Jake Galliher represents all that is good about this county. That is the fact of the matter,” Healey said.
She also pointed out that Galliher’s journey home was Dec. 15, just 10 days before Christmas.
“It’s just incredibly poignant. It’s a time of year for reflection. a lot of celebration. It’s a time of year when families typically will gather together. And to me it just drives home that for many families, now the Gallihers included, there is going to be an empty seat at the table.”
Both she and U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal spoke of today’s all-volunteer military.
“These are men and women who elect to serve our county. That service is so noble,” Healey said.
It was an honor, she said, to welcome Galliher home to Massachusetts on behalf of the Commonwealth.
“We thank him for his service and for all those who serve. We think of those who are in harm’s way at this very moment.”
From the Westover Air Reserve Base, the procession returned Galliher home to his native Berkshires on a three-hour procession on the Massachusetts Turnpike to Lee, through Lenox to Pittsfield on South Street to the city’s Park Square and then past Taconic High School where Galliher graduated in 2017 and played football. The procession ended at Dery Funeral Home on Bradford Street.
“I think that we might try to imagine what this 50-minute ride is going to be like back to Pittsfield, Massachusetts,” said Neal, D-Springfield, who represents Berkshire County as part of the 1st Congressional District, said. “The reminder really is the sacrifices of these families, not just at a difficult time like this but for the 2 million men and women in uniform that serve us honorable across the globe.”
Galliher was honored by the electronic signs on state highways that said, “Rest in peace.”
The family arrived at Westover just after 3 p.m. in a motorcade escorted by Pittsfield police and firefighters, deputies from the Berkshire County and Hampden County sheriff’s departments and others.
Ushered into a building, they — about 25 or 30 people of them, including the sons — emerged about 20 minutes later behind the honor guard just as the C-17 inbound from Travis Air Force Base in California appeared as a dot on the horizon.
The plane landed and taxied up. Airmen went on board to prepare the casket. then the honor guard brought it out and loaded it in the hearse. The motorcade departed.
The entire sequence of events took less than an hour.
In addition to Healey and Neal, mourners included state Sens. Adam Gomez, Jacob R. Oliveira and John C. Velis. All three represent parts of Chicopee.
Also there were Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Chicopee Mayor John L. Vieau.
Vieau escorted a group of Chicopee veterans to the tarmac, including Harvey Lafleur, age 100, a World War II recipient of the Bronze Star who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“People who serve, people like Galliher, are the reason I have the life I have today,” LaFleur, who wore his World War II uniform, said.
Veterans and mourners lined the 60-mile-plus route. Workers at Interstate Towing, located just outside the base gates on Westover Road, extended booms and arranged towing equipment in a patriotic tribute.
Healey recalled meeting the Galliher family this week at a State House tree lighting with Gold Star Families — those who have lost a service member. She said she sat with the Galliher family.
“They talked about what an amazing young man he was. A lot of experience, a lot of life experience at a very young age. It’s heartbreaking to know that he leaves behind his wife, Ivy, and two young children. I was struck by how many of his teammates were there, from Taconic, from growing up.”
The family issued a statement:
“Jacob was the light of our lives and we want him to be honored and remembered the way those who loved him will remember him — as a smiling, happy, loving man always willing to put family, friends and teammates above all. We are heartbroken at his loss but determined to ensure his young sons and our entire community never forget the deep, lasting impact of Jake’s life. We ask for your prayers and privacy as we work through the difficult days ahead.”
Galliher’s wake is scheduled for 2-6 p.m. Tuesday and his funeral will be 11 a.m. Wednesday, both at St. Agnes Catholic Community, 489 Main St., Dalton.
The Osprey, capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, is a versatile yet controversial aircraft.
More than 50 service members have died either testing the Osprey or conducting training flights in the aircraft, including 20 deaths in four crashes over the past 20 months. Published reports cite problems with a clutch linking the power trains of the two rotors, a device meant to ensure both rotors keep power if one engine fails.
According to a Japanese media report, Galliher’s aircraft had requested an emergency landing at the Yakushima airport about five minutes before it was lost from radar. A television station there quoted a Yakushima resident saying he saw the aircraft turn upside down, with fire coming from one of its engines, and then an explosion before it fell into the sea.
The Pentagon grounded its fleet of nearly 500 Osprey aircraft following the crash that killed Galliher, a move Neal said was necessary to ensure safety and learn what happened.
Neal commended the Pentagon last week for its decision to ground the aircraft. But he said Friday was not the time to discuss the matter.
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