He died doing what he loved – but that doesn’t make the loss any easier for the family of 1st Lt. David Albandoz.

The view from the front porch speaks volumes. A pair of pink dress-up heels, little girl size, await the return of their owner, 4-year-old Aeliana, a lasting tribute to the joy the airman brought into the world. An American flag sways gently in the breeze, as overhead the distant roar of planes flying in and out of Huntsville International Airport is heard, a constant reminder of Albandoz’s dream.

Within the home’s four walls there is grief, to be sure, but above all there is love.

“He wanted people to be happy, because he had a good life,” said Albandoz’s widow, Nicoleta Padureanu, who often spoke about the imminence of death with her husband. “We had a good life. My only regret is he’s not around for Aeliana. It was short, but I enjoyed him. We built our memories. He built his dream, and I am happy he got to live his dream, that I was able to be a part of his journey and witness him leaving a mark on this world.”

Albandoz was killed with eight other members of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard May 2, 2018, when the WC-130H they were delivering to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona crashed shortly after takeoff outside of Savannah, Georgia. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, he spent 16 years serving in the Air Force, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was only 37.

The couple’s love story began in 2004, when they met in Frankfurt, Germany. Best friends from the beginning, it wasn’t until 2009 that the duo realized their relationship was destined for something more. Not always the greatest at expressing his feelings, Albandoz communicated his intentions by sending a song, “Until the End of the World,” which piqued Padureanu’s curiosity. Her next trip to Puerto Rico she left with more than just a suitcase – she departed with an engagement ring.

“It came as a shock that my best friend wanted me to be his partner in crime,” Padureanu said.

The couple moved to Madison about five years ago, shortly thereafter welcoming Aeliana, and the pursuit of Albandoz’s dream and pilot training. Albandoz persevered even with a young daughter at home, all the while reaching out to help those around him who needed it. It was an impact that was felt even after his death, as his entire pilot training class showed up to the funeral, some recounting, “I wouldn’t have finished if David wasn’t there.”

“He was the kind of person that got along with everybody, and he saw the best in them – he never said a bad thing about anybody, was never judgmental, ever. It was humbling to see that people remembered that,” Padureanu said.

“His accomplishments, camaraderie and aptitude to inspire and uplift others speak more than anything I could ever say. He never picked the easy way out. He was a hard worker who strived for excellence. He dreamed of being a pilot ever since he could remember. He was dedicated entirely to make his dream of becoming a military pilot a reality, and we supported him entirely with all the different sacrifices.”

May 2, 2018 was like any other day, until a fellow pilot’s wife called Padureanu to see if she was OK. Not sure what she was talking about, she logged on to her laptop to find news of the plane’s crash, but no word of her husband’s fate. Today, just a year after his passing, Padureanu, is still learning to navigate a world without the love of her life, while trying to help their daughter, who at times can’t begin to fathom how death could have taken daddy.

“It’s hard to explain. You read a story, you try your best, but it’s hard for her to grasp the reality,” Padureanu said. “Sometimes she says, ‘I want to talk to Papa.’ She’s been on and off thinking he’s coming home, and I don’t blame her, because sometimes I have to readjust to reality in the morning thinking it was just a dream. You wake up and the reality hits you. It wasn’t.”

To those whose lives he touched, Padureanu has made one simple request in his death: write my daughter a letter about her father, so she can know the incredible man he was. And as their mailbox can attest, her call has not gone unanswered.

“I met him as a husband and father, but this is a different way of how she’s going to remember him,” Padureanu said. “I just want to keep his memory alive.”

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