The 21st Space Wing's commander was remembered Wednesday as a legendary leader with a magnanimous personality at a socially distanced memorial at Peterson Air Force Base and broadcast online.
Col. Thomas Falzarano, 47, was found dead May 12 at his home on base. Though his death is under investigation, it is believed to be due to natural causes. He led one of the Air Force's most crucial and complex organizations, with troops from Greenland to the Indian Ocean and was poised to be one of the top officers in the new Space Force.
His wife, Stacey, fondly recalled her husband as a family man who enjoyed the simple things in life — being tackled by his young children after a long day at work and wrestling with his boys on the trampoline.
"Within about 10 seconds" of arriving home each day, "Tom had three little ones climbing all over him, and he's happy."
Later in the evening, he could often be found "sitting on the rocker, puffing on a cigar, taking it all in — a big grin on his face. A typical evening for us also turned out to be the perfect evening for us."
Tom is "the love of my life," she said. "I'm crazy, silly in love with him. He's blessed my life beyond belief. What I wouldn’t do for one more evening."
One son, Spencer, recalled his father as "a strong, thoughtful man who protected and took care of the people he loved."
His brother Charles reflected on a young, scrawny boy — the son of a teacher and a waitress, the deck stacked against him — who would grow into a mountain of a man and Air Force officer with monumental people skills and leadership ability.
"The airmen who served under him are grateful for his patience and wisdom," he said, sometimes pausing to catch his breath after being overcome by emotion.
His sister Theresa read from a letter he wrote while attending the Air Force Academy in the early '90s that showcased his love for his family and feelings for others. The missive contained a personal message for each member of his large family and complimented employees of the family's catering business as "wonderful people." It was signed, "love, Cadet Tom."
She last spoke to him in March, when they talked about the base's response to the coronavirus pandemic. She reminded him to take care of himself, but he said, "'We have a country to protect,'" she recalled. "'I need to keep everyone focused on the mission.'
"He took great pride serving his country during this time."
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Wollard, who roomed with Falzarano during his junior and senior years at the academy, recalled his "seemingly limitless humor, boundless friendship, fraternal kindness."
After two cadets committed suicide during the coronavirus quarantine this spring, Falzarano reached out to the academy to "brainstorm ways to boost morale," he said.
Wollard said he recently received an email from a fellow classmate who, since Falzarano's death, had been wondering "lately if heaven has a glass floor" or "if his spirit walks among us," thinking surely he must be checking in on his family members, airmen and numerous friends.
"He is, by far, one of the best men I've known in my life," the mutual friend wrote to Wollard of Falzarano.
Col. Sam Johnson, 21st Space Wing vice commander, told the well-loved leader's family that the wing wishes "we could divide your pain by 4,000 and each carry a part of the load for you."
Attendance was limited due to the pandemic, but had it not been, "this hangar would have been packed" if it could have hosted every life he touched, Johnson said.
Maj. Gen. John Shaw, combined force space component commander of U.S. Space Command and commander of the U.S. Space Force's Space Operations Command, eulogized Falzarano as "always the voice of calm in the midst of the storm" and a man who "ran a tight and unwavering ship … during a time of tremendous turbulence in space."
"He fought the good fight," he said. "He made us all, no matter what rank, better airmen, better leaders, better people."
Gazette reporter and editor Tom Roeder contributed to this report.