Dewey Clower, an advanceman to President Nixon, had the honor of giving a eulogy yesterday for his good friend and RN’s Chief Air Force One pilot, Col. Ralph Albertazzie. He talks about the gathering in honor of Albertazzie below:
Shirley and I returned home last evening from Morgantown, WV where we attended a “Gathering” in memory of Col. Ralph Albertazzie who died in his sleep at age 88 at his home in Falling Waters, WV in early August. Col. Albertazzie had asked his family (in writing) that there would not be a public funeral or memorial service in his honor but his many friends demanded an opportunity to remember him even in a private session and finally his two daughters agreed to a “Gathering” of friends, neighbors and relatives. In addition to the above, General Don Hughes was invited as well as Shirley and me. I am glad we attended.
There were thirty-five to forty in attendance and we were invited to talk about our experiences with Ralph. General Don Hughes spoke first and related how he selected Albertazzie from his flying records and that president-elect Nixon appointed Ralph before Hughes ever met him in person. That meeting occurred near Christmas of 1968 when the president-elect was resting at Key Biscayne following the election and awaiting the Inauguration. Hughes said Mr. Nixon had told him he should go home to spend Christmas with his family so the General had asked if Albertazzie would fly him (or fly with Hughes) to Andrews AFB in a Jet Star which had been assigned to Mr. Nixon prior to getting 26000. It was a funny story of a fighter pilot being checked out in a VIP aircraft but I will not try to repeat his story.
There were many stories of Ralph as a young man growing up in Morgantown; learning to fly airplanes at the local airport; playing football in High School and getting a scholarship to play running back on the WV Mountaineer’s football team; giving up the scholarship and volunteering to join the Air Force. Stories continued of him returning to his hometown following his retirement from the Air Force and of his many activities such as serving as state commerce commissioner and being a successful business man owning and operating a travel plaza and television station in Martinsville, WV.
When it came my time to speak, I told how we, as advance men could rely on Air Force One to land and block at the appointed time we put on the schedule and told of the many times and many places we had awaited the arrival of The Colonel and Air Force One knowing that he would be “on-time.” I also related how Ralph and I had gotten to know each other even better after his retirement, how his wife had been of great encouragement to Shirley during her bought with cancer and of the visits from Albertazzie when we lived in Old Town Alexandria and even his visit here at Fawn Lake. Ralph and I traded phone calls and emails up until a few weeks prior to his death and I truly considered Ralph a personal friend.
Following the “Gathering,” and fulfilling Ralph’s last request, a small airplane departed the local airport carrying Ralph’s crematory ashes which were spread over the local hills of West Virginia.
Yesterday, the acting Governor of West Virginia, ordered all state and US flags at government facilities to fly at half-staff in honor of West Virginia native Colonel Ralph Albertazzie. May our memory of his friendship be everlasting.