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Massachusetts Guard pilot killed in crash mourned

LONGMEADOW — The widow of an Air National Guard pilot who died in an F-15 jet crash in Virginia said Saturday that members of his Massachusetts wing unit planted 40 rose bushes in her yard, carrying out his promise to mark her birthday.

Kara Fontenot, joined by her daughters Natalie and Nicole, said at a memorial gathering at the Longmeadow Town Green that she was gratified to see hundreds of friends and neighbors pay their respects to her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Morris ‘‘Moose’’ Fontenot Jr.

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Fontenot, a member of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, died Wednesday in a plane crash near Deerfield Valley, Va. He was flying his F-15C fighter jet to New Orleans for a radar upgrade.

‘‘I am overwhelmed by how many people are here on such short notice,’’ Kara Fontenot said. ‘‘My husband died doing what he loved — serving his country, flying F-15s, and being part of a band of brothers.’’

Her husband had promised to plant the rose bushes and his fellow airmen landscaped their yard to carry out his promise, she said.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Haldopoulos, commander of the Operations Group at Barnes Air National Guard Base, said Fontenot had only recently joined the Guard. Fontenot was known in the Air Force for his skills as a pilot, he said.

‘‘When we heard he was joining the Air Guard it was like LeBron going to the Cavaliers,’’ Haldopoulos said.

He will be buried this month at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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