Remembering Ryan 'and others like him'
by Anna Oakes
On Sept. 5, President Barack Obama landed at the 145th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard base in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention. After landing, Obama met with the families of the airmen, including David’s widow, Jenny Ellerbe, and their son, 8-month-old Rob — who seemed to favor the president’s tie.
Obama looked at a picture of “Ry” and asked each of the family members if they were getting the help they need, Ellerbe said.
On Sunday, Ellerbe and Rob traveled to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte for the first regular season home game of the Carolina Panthers’ season, where three C-130 aircraft flew over the stadium in tribute to the fallen airmen and others serving in the Air National Guard.
On Saturday, Ellerbe and her son will attend the N.C. State University football game in Raleigh versus The Citadel, designated as Military Appreciation Day. Ellerbe formerly worked in the Department of Biology at N.C. State while David was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force. Born in Bellevue, Neb., David was a “huge Nebraska fan,” but he and Ellerbe agreed to pull for each others’ teams.
“He was true to his word,” she laughed, noting they both would have attended this Saturday’s game at N.C. State together.
Ellerbe — who met David in the ROTC in Maryland — said she feels it is important to participate in tributes to the airmen.
“It’s important to me that the guys are all honored for what they do,” she said. “When Ry separated from active duty (in the Air Force) … he wanted a special mission. His favorite types of things to do … were the humanitarian missions. He was happy to be able to help people.”
Lt. Col. Brian Ratchford served as squadron commander for the 156th Airlift Wing in which David served. David, a master navigator, volunteered to join the 145th Airlift Wing mission that departed June 30 from Charlotte to fight fires in Colorado before moving to South Dakota.
“He was real excited to go,” Ratchford said. “He really loved to fly. When he got to Colorado Springs on that Saturday … I caught up with him (by phone) and he said, ‘This is exactly where I want to be, and this is exactly what I want to be doing.’”
Ratchford explained that navigators attend to the plane’s navigation systems and also monitor radio communications from the forestry service.
Firefighting missions can be extremely risky, Ratchford noted, because planes must fly close to the ground and can be visually impaired by smoke.
“There’s always a series of things that has to go wrong for an airplane to crash,” he said. “This does involve more risks than some other missions. We manage that the best we can. That means we send the best people we have. Only the best guys we have.”
Also killed in the crash were Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36, of Belmont; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, 50, of Charlotte. Two other crew members were seriously injured.
“Ryan was a humble guy with a big smile who was always first to volunteer to help. He loved serving his country and was so proud to be a member of the very specialized MAFFS team,” said Scotty Ellerbe, Jenny’s mother and David’s mother-in-law, who also lives in Boone. “He is so missed by all of us and is forever in our hearts. These days, there are too many families missing others like him.”
Contributions in David’s honor can be made to the Robert Scott Ellerbe David Fund, in care of State Employees Credit Union, 1470 Blowing Rock Road, Boone, NC 28607.