LONGMEADOW, Mass. – The widow of the Massachusetts Air National Guard pilot killed when his plane crashed last week in the remote mountains of Virginia says her husband’s 104th Fighter Wing brothers helped keep a promise he made before he left on the doomed flight.
“Before my husband died, he had casually mentioned that he wanted to plant 40 rosebushes for my 40th birthday,” Kara Fontenot said.
Fontenot, with her daughters Natalie and Nicole by her side, addressed hundreds of people who gathered Saturday evening to honor Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr.
"My husband died doing what he loved, serving his country, flying F-15s. And what he loved even more was being part of a band of brothers," she said.
Since the initial news of the crash, the 104th Fighter Wing has said they want to be there for the Fontenot family. Fontenot said she experienced that firsthand Saturday, which happened to be her birthday.
"These gentlemen planted 40 rose bushes from my husband," she told the crowd.
Col. Alex Haldopoulos of the 104th said that that delivering that news that “Moose” wasn’t coming home was the hardest thing he has ever done in his life.
"We had to tell Kara that Moose didn't get out of the airplane and that he was deceased," he said wiping tears from his eyes.
While only with the guard since February of 2014, Fontenot had an immediate impact on base.
"We were thrilled to have the opportunity to call moose a barnstormer,” said Haldopoulos. “He took a huge leap of faith in joining the guard, with less than three years remaining before he qualified for a full retirement from the active side."
With her daughters having attended five different schools, Fontenot said that leap of faith was made so her family could finally settle down. Even though the family has only been in western Massachusetts for less than a year, she says they do not plan on leaving.
"The fact that you all took time to come here tonight just shows us that we picked the right community and we plan to make Longmeadow our home," she said.
Fontenot, who reported an in-flight emergency prior to losing communication, was killed when his F-15C Eagle crashed Wednesday morning in remote mountains near Deerfield Valley, Virginia.
“The F-15C aircraft was in route to receive a system upgrade, and there were no munitions on the aircraft during this cross-country trip,” Virginia Army National Guard public affairs officers Cotton Puryear wrote in an email.
Investigators finally reached the crash site Thursday afternoon after navigating difficult logging roads, fire trails and forest roads in the rocky and wooded George Washington National Forest.
Members of the crash investigation team said Fontenot pronounced dead at the scene.
Fontenot served with the 104th Fighter Wing as the full-time Wing Inspector General, responsible for the implementation of the Air Force Inspection System and as an F-15 instructor pilot with more than 2,300 flight hours. Fontenot, a 1996 Air Force Academy graduate, was also a Weapons School Graduate with more than 17 years of F-15 flying experience.
Fontenot was a decorated combat veteran, earning the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, and Combat Readiness Medal among others.
Fontenot will be buried at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in September.