It is with great sadness we announce that on April 14, 2020, our father Cliff Gallanger “slipped the surly bonds of Earth,” at the age of 86 years. He is perhaps best remembered for his distinguished Air Force flying career but had many other passions, and at the same time, he was an unassuming and kind man that drew the respect and admiration of almost everyone he met.
Cliff had humble beginnings, growing up on a farm on Lopez Island and attending Port Stanley School through 10th-grade. At a young age, when he heard a plane fly overhead, he would point to it and tell his mom, “Someday I’m going to fly one of those.” At age 16, he moved to Sedro-Woolley to finish high school, working on a dairy farm to earn his room and board. He married his high school sweetheart, Pauline Navarro on July 25, 1952, and pursued his dream to become a pilot by moving to Pullman to attend Washington State University and join ROTC.
Cliff joined the Air Force in 1955. During his military career, he experienced history that most of us only read about. He flew B47 bombers during the “Bay of Pigs” invasion in 1961. Later he began jet training that ultimately led to flying the supersonic F4 Phantom fighter jet in Vietnam, traveling at speeds up to Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound. In 1969 he flew more than 100 night missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam. During one of those missions, his plane was shot down, and he and his co-pilot spent a night in the jungle dodging enemy patrols. Daring rescues by Jolly Green Giant helicopters pulled them both out. We are forever grateful to those brave helicopter crews who risked their lives to bring them to safety.
Cliff’s military career included raising four “military brats” with his wife Polly, living in seven different states in the “lower 48” before moving to his favorite — Alaska. He spent six years as a “search and rescue” squadron commander at Eielson Air Force Base. He bought a Piper Cub and became a bush pilot, taking full advantage of the amazing hunting and fishing opportunities in the Last Frontier.
After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, Cliff used the GI Bill to start a second career as a certified public accountant. This allowed him to work four months a year doing taxes, while the rest of the year was his time to play! He loved going on adventures whenever he could, taking military hops to Guam to scuba dive with daughter Caren or to Alaska to go fishing, or diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia during the World Expo 88. He was always curious to learn new things.
In his later years, Cliff spent time at his cabin on Lopez Island whenever he could. He started a little oyster farm, sailed around on his 22-foot sailboat (the “Becky Sue”), and taught his son-in-laws the secrets of good crabbing in Shoal Bay so they could pass it on to their children.
Cliff is preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Pauline. He is survived by his children: William Dale Gallanger of Anchorage, Alaska, Susan Braley (Brian) of Olympia, Washington, Mary Head (Joe) of Hockinson, Washington, and Caren Gallanger of Mt. Vernon, Washington; grandchildren Becky Conn (Chris) of Olympia, Washington, Jason Head of Portland, Oregon, Bridget Braley of Juneau, Alaska, and Melissa Edwards (Blake) of Couer d’Alene, Idaho; and his two great-grandchildren Lillian and Molly.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the family is having a private burial in early May and will hold a memorial service later in the summer.
Memorial donations in Cliff’s honor can be made to the Lopez Island Historical Society (www.lopezmuseum.org) or to another Lopez charity of your choice.