MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --
When 167th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, Staff Sgt. George Buckley, was very young he and his grandfather were inseparable.
They were each other’s favorite person.
That’s what he’s been told. He doesn’t have memories from that early in his life, just photographs and family stories.
Buckley wasn’t quite three when his grandfather perished in an aircraft crash.
Master Sgt. George Griffith was a flight engineer on a C-130E Hercules aircraft operated by the 167th Airlift Group.
On Oct. 7, 1992, just before 9:30 a.m., Decoy 81, a training mission out of Shepherd Field, Martinsburg W.Va., went down near Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
All six crew members on board died. It was a tragedy no one expected and its impact is still felt nearly 30 years later.
“Everyone tells me, ‘your grandfather was one of a kind, he was a great person,’ so I strive to be like him. That’s one of my main goals, at the end of day, is to follow in his footsteps,” Buckley said.
Buckley enlisted in the 167th Airlift Wing 11 years ago as an aircraft mechanic. He chose the job because he sees it as a way to give back, to help prevent aircraft accidents, acknowledging that the C-130 crash was not a maintenance failure.
“I want everyone to come home at night, and I take pride in that,” he said.
Several years after his grandfather passed, Buckley’s family moved from Romney, W.Va., to rural Ohio.
“Every member in my high school was in FFA, [the school] was literally surrounded by cornfields. We had a school combine and we learned how to run tractors,” he explained.
Buckley came back to West Virginia, enlisting into the 167th in 2011.
“There was never an uneasy feeling coming here because it felt like family already,” he said.
Many of the older maintainers had known Buckley’s grandfather and one even thought, for a split second, that Buckley was his grandfather as he walked across the flight line.
“He came introduced himself to me and realized I’m his grandson and he was like ‘oh my god I got chills right now, I thought I was seeing a ghost out there’,” Buckley said.
Buckley said he has grown to physically resemble his grandfather and he’s told he has a very similar attitude and perspective on life.
His grandfather took him everywhere, carrying him in a backpack, he said, to farmers markets, hunting and even to work.
“Anytime I leave my kids behind, I’m upset. You know, I’m like, I don’t want them to be left out of anything. And that’s how he was, too. He was a family man. And that’s how I want to live my life,” he said.
Through basic training to the birth of his children, Buckley said his grandfather has remained a strong presence in his family’s life.
“I pray to him all the time. I know he’s watching over me. He’s my guardian angel.”