By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer
TERRACE PARK--When Mark Holcomb turned on the television Saturday morning, he thought he would find some cartoons for his young children to watch. Instead, he found news of his friend's death - along with other crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Holcomb of Terrace Park and shuttle pilot William McCool attended Naval flight school together 18 years ago at Whiting Field near Pensacola, Fla. They then served together for another eight years, through further training and a posting at Whidbey Island, Wash., until Holcomb left the Navy and McCool entered NASA.
McCool, 41, was a Navy commander from Lubbock, Texas, and had graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy before meeting Holcomb in 1985.
Holcomb remembers his former classmate as among the brightest, hardest working and most well liked in their group.
"He was doing so very well in his career, he could have done anything he wanted to do," Holcomb said. "I just remember chasing him - he was so much better than anybody else."
Holcomb was not surprised when McCool went to test pilot school and became an astronaut in 1996. The group that served together in flight school and in Washington loosely kept in touch. Holcomb said he was proud when he heard McCool had been assigned his first shuttle mission and when he watched the Jan. 16 lift-off on CNN.
"He was a great officer. He was just the nicest person in the world," Holcomb said. "When you look at that kind of person, that's the kind of person you'd want and wish for - not just in the military, but especially in our space program."
This was the first space flight for McCool. He was married with three sons, ages 22, 19 and 14.
(Complete Columbia coverage at Cincinnati.com)
Tristaters shocked, seek answers
Terrace Park man loses friend on Columbia
Tristate Jews stunned by Israeli's death
India natives offer special prayers
KIESEWETTER: Another tragedy unfolds on TV
PULFER: Flight: a routine miracle
Enquirer seeking local connections
Disaster evokes Challenger image at Wright-Pat
School superintendent's hometown in debris path
Local woman witnessed 'perfect' launch
Ohio astronaut: `Oh, my God'
List of Ohio astronauts
Space program must go on, scientists say
DeWine: NASA funding will be rexamined
Reading firm makes shuttle fuel tanks
Archived video & special coverage from WCPO
Did NASA underestimate left-wing damage?
Body parts reportedly found
Columbia, crew of 7 lost
Families' pride turns to anguish
Texans saw trails in sky, heard booms
Final words: Astronauts gave no warning of disaster
Americans gasp, cry at news
Americans have taken space flights for granted
Bush consoles shuttle families, country
Text of Bush's remarks
Terrorism ruled out
Crew biographies: First Israeli aboard
Independent board to investigate
Landings were early safety concern
Challenger explosion recalled
Painful memories for teacher's hometown
Deadly accidents in space exploration
Former astronauts search for explanation
Space station crew won't be stranded
Timeline of Columbia flight
Columbia was NASA's oldest shuttle
Key dates in space program
New NASA administrator faces big task