Death changed everything

Steve Bartlett
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And then an Arrow Air widow decided it was time to start helping others and to start living again

Amy Gallo lost her husband, Sgt. Rick Nichols, when Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed near Gander Dec. 12, 1985. Since then she’s dedicated herself to helping other military widows and families facing the same loss. — Photo courtesy of Bill Larson/Clarkesville Online

Amy Gallo remembers visiting a woman who had just lost her husband in the first Persian Gulf war.

“I told her I was a widow too. And she just freaked out and she held onto me so tight I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe and I realized then, wow.”

That “wow” moment led Gallo down a new path.

She had given back to others before, but from that moment on she became dedicated to supporting military widows.

That volunteer work includes helping grieving spouses get through ordeals like picking out coffins and filling out mountains of paperwork.

“Who else knows better than another military widow? Military widows are not like civilian widows. There are some protocols we have to follow.”

Gallo became a widow when Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed Dec. 12, 1985.

Her husband, Sgt. Rick Nichols, was one of the 256 fatalities.

His loss prompted profound changes in her.

“You know how your life is on this track? You’re going to school, you’re getting a degree, you’re going to get a great job, make lots of money. And then Rick died.

“And I’m watching all these women, who are my friends, who are now my widow friends, and there was no one to help them. And my life changed then. I became, literally, a professional volunteer.”

In Fort Campbell, Ky. — where the soldiers onboard Flight 1285 were stationed — the spouses became known as the “Gander widows” because there were so many of them.

Being one made Gallo ponder life and ask, “Whoa, how selfish is this?”

While the loss of her husband was a major traumatic event, she said she couldn’t allow it to become her whole life.

She thought about her kids, ages three and 13 months, and wondered how they would remember her if she died, too.

“I really changed then. I’m not worried about money — yeah, when your engine falls out of your car, I guess — but otherwise. … So (the crash) did change me. It made me a much more giving person.”

Gallo — remarried and now a mother of six — figures she’s become a pro at helping military widows through the process.

The resident of Clarksville, Tenn. — a short drive from Fort Campbell — said the U.S. Army had her on call for a long time, but she had to step back because of a battle with breast cancer.

“I’m fine now,” she adds quickly, before continuing to talk about her work with widows.

These days, people call her out of the blue and ask if she’d help a spouse in mourning.

“I always go. I just always go. … I never intrude. If I read a name in the paper, I don’t contact that person. I wait for them to contact me.”

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Accolades have included a State Farm Embrace Life award and she has been chosen the Women’s National Basketball Association’s National Hero.

Also heavily involved in volunteering with the local school system, Gallo doesn’t seem to consider herself a hero.

“I’m just a normal, every day person who had something tragic happen in her life and took it and, hopefully, turned it into something good.”

Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Arrow Air, U.S. Army, National Basketball Association

Geographic location: Persian Gulf, Fort Campbell, Ky., Clarksville, Tenn.

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