Airman slain at airport remembered as bright, upbeat and energetic
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The atmosphere seemed appropriate for a young man who lived and breathed hockey.
Held in a drafty, cavernous hangar, Thursday’s midmorning memorial service for Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback was a chilly send-off for a guy described as bright, upbeat and energetic. The temperature inside the building resembled that of a hockey rink, a venue favored by Cuddeback, who played the sport in college for a year before joining the Air Force.
“He never seemed to have a bad day,” Master Sgt. Brian Fitzsimmons, a supervisor, said of Cuddeback prior to the start of the service at Ramstein Air Base.
Cuddeback “was a pretty incredible kid,” Fitzsimmons added. “That’s what makes this so painful. The kid was so full of life.”
That life ended last week when an armed ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, a Muslim man said to have been radicalized in recent months, boarded a U.S. military bus at Frankfurt international airport and began firing. Cuddeback, the bus driver, was shot and killed along with Senior Airman Nick Alden, 25. Two other airmen were wounded.
Cuddeback, 21, had driven from Ramstein to Frankfurt on March 2 to pick up members of the 48th Security Forces Squadron, including Alden. They had just arrived by commercial aircraft and were en route to Afghanistan via Ramstein. Shortly after members of the unit boarded Cuddeback’s bus, the suspect, Arid Uka, stepped aboard and started shooting.
A memorial ceremony for Alden was scheduled for Friday at RAF Lakenheath in Britain. However, Air Force public affairs officials said Alden’s widow did not want media coverage of the ceremony.
The service for Cuddeback was attended by more than 500 people and included a ceremonial flyover of F-16 fighters from nearby Spangdahlem Air Base. His funeral is scheduled for Friday in O’Fallon, Ill.
Upon arriving in Germany a year ago, he joined a local German hockey team. That passion also extended to table tennis and cars, Fitzsimmons said. Cuddeback and a couple of his buddies were even rebuilding a car together.
“I never really liked working on cars until I met Zach,” Airman 1st Class Caleb Crickette said at the service.
His roommate, Senior Airman Bradley Opfar, told the audience of how the ladies affectionately came to kid Cuddeback — nicknamed “Cuddy” — as being a “hopeless romantic.” He also was a good listener, Opfar said, and opinionated, humorous and a bit of a homebody.
In a letter read at the service, Bob Cuddeback, a military veteran himself, described his son as “boisterous, impulsive and loving.” His son seemed happiest working under a car, hanging in St. Louis or gliding about in a pair of skates.
“The only thing,” his father noted, “that would get him out of bed before 7 a.m. was hockey.”