A young Texas woman turns tragedy into triumph. Meet Belle of Steel #15 Emily Allen Colbert

It’s the doorbell that no one ever wants to answer.  “There’s been a horrific accident,” emily-colbertexplained the policemen.  “It’s your husband.” Emily, a young wife and mother of two fell to her knees on the floor. There had been a car accident on Highway 66 in Rockwall. “Oh my God,” she cried out through tears.  “Is everyone okay?” But everyone wasn’t okay.  A vehicle had struck her Garland Fire Department husband’s car from the side.  The impact caused it to spin violently and roll with their oldest child.  Rockwall Fire Department was on scene. Her husband Devon was trapped inside the vehicle. The jaws of life were being used to cut him out. The car seat of her child was covered in glass shards, but miraculously he was unscathed. In just an instant, Emily’s life changed forever.  It was seven days before Christmas, 2012.

Emily threw her things into a bag and frantically called her mother to drive her to Parkland, one of two major trauma centers in Dallas, TX.  According to the policeman it was controlled chaos and they were still cutting Devon out of the car. He was alive, but in critical condition.  In the trauma bay at Parkland, there were already thirty Garland firemen surrounding her for comfort.  “He’s gonna be okay. We promise.” But he wasn’t. Not totally. The next bad news Emily would hear was from the ER physicians.  Devon’s spinal cord had been sublux’d, or pinched at cervical spine number four. This dashing, young, strong fireman became a quadriplegic at age 29.

Emily’s mother, a nurse, knew what that would mean. Devon would never walk again. Never run again. Never be able to put out fires, the job he loved, again. He would live the rest of his life in a chair with wheels. For most young women, this would be the kiss of death to a relationship; just too large a tragedy with which to cope. Because at first, everyone is helpful. Everyone is there. But it’s the heavy burden of long term care. Bathing your husband. Toileting your husband. Helping him to dress. Finding uncomfortable challenges with intimacy. Helping him find meaning in life. Thank goodness for the brigade of Garland and Rockwall firemen who came to their aid.

The first few months were pure torture. Rollercoaster’s of hope and despair. Their tiny home was not wheelchair accessible. But it wasn’t just the pragmatic day to day. Emily was exhausted from the protracted hours at rehab and caring for their two small children. She was bereft of energy or strength. She missed her husband’s caress. She missed the way he made love to her. She felt alone and, at times, hopeless. She had only one thing – her faith in God. She trusted in God’s love to win the day.

Over months, Devon slowly gained the ability to power his chair with his hands and shoulders.  He regained some gross upper body movement. Emily gave in to the generous charity and time that people provided so that she could get meals on the table and care for her children. Through it all though, she never considered this her rock bottom.  This was just another challenge that God had laid before her.

For years ago, Emily had indeed hit rock bottom. She was a gorgeous young twenty-something. Her life involved parties and partying. She dabbled in drugs and had become an addict; even when she had first met  Devon. She was at her lowest low. “My only option was to go up. I wanted to leave a life story worth knowing and reading. Not a life story of worthlessness and addiction. I chose to ‘forget about it – and left drugs behind. I chose joy.”

Upon that decision, everything changed.  Emily had a new focus on life and chose living. So she channeled that same strength in overcoming Devon’s accident. It had to have meaning. So many people had given to them to help them survive a life of quadriplegia, she had to give back. Emily started The Colbert Project, a non-profit foundation which raises money to bridge gaps for other facing financial ruin from tragedies throughout the fire community brought on by illness or off duty injury. Their mission?  To do behind the scenes work so that all the glory is given to God.

At their first event, a silent auction and ball, the seed money was raised. Now three years later, The Firemen’s Ball is one of the largest fundraisers of its kind in the Dallas area.  They have raised thousands of dollars to assist three families on a large scale and helped countless others with hospitalization care packages, gas cards, grocery money and so much more.

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Emily believes that because God blessed her little family, it is her job to return the goodness.  As a mere high school graduate, “Never in a million years would I have seen myself where I am today.”  She is a mother of two lovely young boys; the wife and life-long partner to a husband with quadriplegia; Chairman and CEO of The Colbert Foundation.  “This is a path that God chose me to tackle. I want to be remembered as a warrior doing good for others, not someone of stature in society.”

The people in life that most inspired her and mentored her to overcome are her grandmother and her parents.  “They are beautiful, unique creatures inside. That’s what counts.”  Despite her success, Emily is extraordinarily humble.  “I’m no one special. I’m just me. I live minute by minute, day by day. I never expected to face the challenges in life that God sent me.  I’m living and screwing up just like anyone else. I really don’t see myself as a Belle of Steel, although I am honored.  I just walk in hope each day. In that hope, I pray to kick some ass along the way.  Maybe that’s what makes me a Belle of Steel. Bam!”

For these reasons and seeing/watching with joy as another strong women overcomes, AgeView Press is proud to celebrate Emily Allen Colbert as its fifteenth Belle of Steel.

The Forgotten Victims: significant others trying to cope with a partner’s PTSD

Almost forty years later, many veterans are still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the form of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, over a quarter of a million Vietnam Veterans have in one form or another (Handwerk, 2015). For their significant others, the caregiver burden is at times overwhelming.  It is the atrocity of war that simply won’t go away.  These caregivers are the forgotten victims.ptsd1

When living with a traumatized veteran, it is often the spouse or significant other that must pick up the yoke in managing the household.  Coping with the emotional outbursts, nightmares, negativity and lack of intimacy of their PTSD afflicted partner takes its toll.  A number of studies revealed that veteran’s PTSD symptoms negatively impact family relationships (Calhoun et al, 2002).  So much so that these negative relationships actually inversely impact and sometimes exacerbate the PTSD.

As therapists explain, therapy, in order for a PTSD affected person to improve, is two-pronged;  establishment of close relationships and the ability to spend time with those also involved in the same type of combat, for example at VFWs or squadron reunions.  When one of these two processes is broken, many times the PTSD only worsens producing compromised relationships, family violence, divorce, sexual problems, aggression, depression, and increased caregiver burden (Mikulincer et al, (1995).

Impaired relationship functioning produces a high rate of separation and divorce in these veterans. In fact, about 38% of Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of the veteran’s return from Southeast Asia. Rates of divorce for veterans with PTSD were two times greater than for those veterans without the disorder.  Those with PTSD were three times as likely to divorce two or three times. (Kulka et al, 1990).ptsd2

Many of the impaired relationship aspects involve communication and intimacy. The PTSD veteran simply can’t relate to everyday living. A sense of anxiety exists around intimacy which can lead to sexual dysfunction and decreased couple satisfaction and adjustment.  They simply feel they don’t know each other anymore.

The severity of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms correlated with the severity of physical and verbal aggression family outbursts. One study reported that 92% of veterans with PTSD had committed at least one act of verbal aggression against their partner.  In the same study 42% admitted to at least one act of physical violence.

Because of this data, Veterans Affairs PTSD programs and Vet Centers are now offering groups, couples, and individual programs for families of veterans with PTSD.  This is a huge relief for caregivers and partners who were shell shocked themselves at the behaviors coming from loved ones that just don’t make sense.ptsdvets-with-ptsd

Joy Lathrop, the wife of a USMC pilot who served in Vietnam described guilt and frustration in her inability to manage the outbursts.  Ten years into their marriage, which was a second for both of them, the nightmares began in her spouse.  Then followed his tears and inability to control his emotions.  Friends and family at gatherings complained about the repetitive stories of Vietnam.  Her teenage daughter was embarrassed and began to spend time away from home with friends.  Neighbors complained about his erratic behavior. There were times when she herself thought she was going crazy dealing with it all.

But Joy was determined to not become another divorce statistic. She scoured the library for books and research.  She educated herself about the disorder and how best to overcome its manifestations, which is key to caregiver survival (Johnson, 2002). She sought out couples therapy and support groups. But mostly she tried to remind herself every day that the man she married was still in there.  In her heart, she knew he was still her husband.  It was the PTSD that was to blame.  The verbal assaults and then his own guilt over it was what made him seem so distant and aloof.

Joy, like the others in the studies did what she could to maintain a sense of normalcy with household up-keep, family relationships, and general day to day life.  She found tasks for him to be involved in that capitalized on his strengths, like small projects and planning historical travel.  She was patient with his hours at the typewriter, excising his demons through verse.  She attempted these strategies with little or no expectation for their outcome.  Thus, when something worked, it felt like a success.  She also took time to care for herself to renew her own spirit and will to continue.

Her husband’s book of poems, THE DARK SIDE HEAVEN, recently published by AgeView Press, was the source for him expressing the conflicting emotions of carrying out the missions required during Vietnam.  He found writing so therapeutic that he also penned a memoir, ETERNALLY AT WAR which is due to be published in 2016. In addition, he completed an oral interview with Texas Tech University Vietnam Center and Archive which allowed him to relate his journey.TDSH ecover

Theirs was a success story.  But as the research shows, many others are not. The most important message for families living with a traumatized victim is that they are not alone.  These emotional struggles, although difficult and painful are normal (Price and Stevens, 2010).  Social media now abounds with free support groups.  Just like in the veterans, talking about it helps.  Seeking out support, education, and therapy will help improve family relationships and overall mental health.

“We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made,” says Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation, and we have to do better than we did for Vietnam.”

There are several excellent resources:

VA Caregiver Support:  (1-855-260-3274) provides caregiver support those caring for a loved one with PTSD.

National Center for PTSD

Coaching Into Care: A VA program that works with families who become aware that their loved one has traumatic issues post-deployment and finds resources for help. (1-888-823-7458)  CoachingIntoCare@va.gov

Twitter:   @ptsdPLUS  @VA-PTSD_Info  @Help4VetsPTSD

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/PTSD-Support-And-Recovery-275580472648386/?fref=ts

Back from the front:  combat trauma, love, and the family.  Matsakis, A. (2007). Sidran Press, ISBN 188698187.

After the war zone: a practical guide for returning troops and their families. Slone, L. and Friedman, M. (2008). Da Capo Press, ISBN 1600940544.

References:

Calhoun, P., Beckham, J. & Bosworth, H. (2002). Caregiver burden and       psychological distress in partners of Veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15 (205-212).

Handwerk, B. (2015). Over a Quarter-Million Vietnam War Veterans Still Have PTSD. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/over-quarter-million-vietnam-war-veterans-still-have-ptsd-180955997/?no-ist

Kulka, R., Schlenger, W., Fairbank, J. Hough, R., Jordan, B., Marmar, C. et al. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War generation:  report of findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Mikulincer, M., Florian, V., & Solomon, Z. (1995). Marital intimacy, family support, and secondary traumatization: a study of wives of veterans with combat stress reaction. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 8 (203-213).

Price, J., and Stevens, S. Partners of veterans with PTSD:  research findings. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/partners-of-vets.asp

You HAVE permission to engage – meet Belle of Steele #14 Vernice “Flygirl” Armour

What does it take to become America’s first African American female combat pilot?  For Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, it was going from Zero to Breakthrough!  She believes that harnessing the mindset of mission accomplishment no matter what the barriers, or perceived barriers, may be is the breakthrough mentality required to accomplish whatever you set you mind to.

Vernice

Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

By refusing to settle, even in the smallest moments and demanding a breakthrough in every challenge, Vernice flew to new heights.  She remembers a conversation that became the catalyst for her own new flight plan and mission for life.  Humbly relating that she was “just doing her job” when she used pinpoint accuracy in her Cobra fighter helo to destroy a building housing an enemy mortar position in Iraq, she shared a story.  A few years after returning home from the war, she met a man who’d been in that same battle. He approached her and said, “Ma’am, you saved my life that day.”  He had been one of the soldiers under attack.  It was the deployment of Denise’s missle that took out enemy warriors who had been attacking his platoon.

Vernice completed two tours of duty in the Gulf, earning an Air Medal with a star of Valor, thirteen Strike Flight awards, a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, a Navy Presidential Unit Citation, and load of other awards, decorations, and public recognition. She’s been featured on Oprah, CNN, Tavis Smiley, NPR and numerous other TV and radio programs.  According to Oprah Winfrey, Vernice has “no shortage of accomplishments” describing her as “awesome girl…awesome!”  But despite this notoriety, her sole purpose is igniting the flame of passion within our youth to improve their productivity and commitment to achieve personal accomplishments within our society.

As a pioneering pilot, Vernice used her commanding role in technology and engineering to achieve what many said she could never do – become a combat pilot.  She ignored any naysayers along the way. She believes that women and men from all walks of life have the potential to achieve higher levels of success if they can only create the right flight plan.

Meeting the Commander-in-chief, President Obama

Meeting the Commander-in-chief, President Obama

As such she took her mission on the road, writing the book Zero to Breakthrough.  Her vision for an America that maintains greatness one accomplishment at a time, is for individuals to create their own flight plan designed to take them to new heights. Vernice describes a seven step, battle-tested method for accomplishing goals that matter. Today she works as a coach, national speaker, consultant for large entities such as Bank of America, NASA, the Secret Service, and Comcast. She is very clear in her message that she doesn’t believe in being average, striving for mediocrity, or just fitting in.

When interviewed, she related to me that she never focused on racism or sexism. According to Vernice, who found herself surrounded my a majority of males in her chosen professions, she stayed focused and did her job. Just like the boys. She never demanded special privileges or favors.  In fact, her journey and education started with her becoming a police officer. At one point, she even played women’s professional football. But once she achieved that, she was spurred on to further greatness.  In 1994, attended Middle Tennessee State University and participated in Army ROTC. She trained as a Marine officer in 1998 at Quantico Marine Base. Her first deployment in the Marines was with Marine Air Craft Wing MAG-39, in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, learning to fly the Cobra.

Vernice uses some of her military jargon to motivate others. One of her slogans is “You have the permission to engage. You are cleared HOT!”  In other words, give yourself the permission to begin; to start steps toward achieving one’s goals and aspirations.  When flying in the middle of combat and needing to engage the enemy, pilots have to ask for permission to shoot their weapons. The magical phrase needed in order to protect Marines and Soldiers on the ground is ‘Cleared Hot.’  That means, go for it.  All clear.  One of her tenants is “acknowledge the obstacles, DON’T give them power.  There will be many times that barriers, such as racism or sexism are present. Financial barriers, societal barriers, or even doubts within ourselves may threaten to thwart plans.  But no matter what the roadblock, she encourages focus to come up with solutions. She emphasizes that how we react versus respond to barriers is the answer.

In her seminars, she has people think of themselves as an attack helicopter.  “Who needs a runway?” she questions. “Take off from where you are!” she motivates. “As soon as you add power (with a solution) and take off, you’re flying! Where you go, either foward or backward is up to you.”  Her five step process for success is:

  1.  Create your own flight plan, develop consciousness and awareness of what you are good at.
  2.  Pre-flight – check out all the details, and troubleshoot. Release fears holding you down.
  3.  Take off – give it some power and just do it.
  4.  Execute – stay on course and focus. In each situation practice self-discipline to achieve mastery.
  5.  Review, recharge, and re-attack!  If faced with obstacles find solutions and go again.Zero to Breakthrough

Vernice tells people, “If you do what average people do, you’ll have what average people have. And honestly, I haven’t met a single person who admits to wanting to be average.” She recognizes that people want to accomplish significant goals and become assets to their communities.  Making that flight plan and committing to go beyond is the real breakthrough that leads to success, significance and a meaningful legacy for our society.

Believing that there is no such thing as a dream out of reach, Vernice integrates the concepts of preparation, strategy, courage, legacy, and the importance of high spirits and enthusiasm to create an inner force.  This “FlyGirl” blends compassion, humor, drive, and a no-nonsense attitude to ignite the fire within, help lay the groundwork for success, and discover the self-discipline that enables anyone to blast through obstacles and challenges.

For these reasons and many more, AgeView Press is proud to have Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour as the fourteenth Belle of Steel.  What are you waiting for?  Go Zero to Breakthrough!

The Dark Side of Heaven – one Vietnam pilot’s perspective on the atrocities of war

What does it take to erase memories of the atrocities of war? Many a veteran of conflict struggle with this question. Through withdrawal, social faux paux, story telling or even failed self-medication with mind altering substances they attempt to numb the horrific images, sounds, nightmares, panic attacks, moral questioning paranoia and psychoses as survivors of war.  Welcome to the world of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Our Vietnam veterans attempt to cope with this each and every day. They celebrate their successes in reunions and camaraderie, but for some, when they return home and are alone in their private thoughts, the negative thoughts return. Like an incessant, never-ending trauma.

A-4 Skyhawk

Marine A-4 Skyhawk

In 2012, I had the fortuitous luck to come upon a pilot’s manuscript called ETERNALLY AT WAR while researching the Vietnam Center and Archives at Texas Tech University.  From its first pages, I was captivated. Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a Marine pilot for VMA 311 out of Chu Lai. He was writing about the base and USO club I wanted to feature, Chu Lai and was also writing about the air war in Vietnam.  He flew the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The plane I wanted to write about. What luck!

Who knew that graduate students had taken scads of oral histories recorded, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia and converted them to digital medium for preservation. The Vietnam Center at TTU was a goldmine! How awesome that the intimate details of this controversial war were being preserved! As a Red Raider alum, I had no idea this even existed! Way to go Big Red!!

Using some sleuth techniques, I was able to track down Gene’s address in Washington. After thoroughly devouring his manuscript, I was anxious to speak to him about its content. I reached his wife who informed that sadly, Gene had passed away only months before. I was heartbroken. I explained that I was a writer and what I wished to do with the material. After some thought, she graciously granted me the rights to utilize some of his stories for my historical fiction novel SOLO VIETNAM.

As I was crafting SOLO VIETNAM, I propped Gene’s picture up next to the computer. It was like we were penning it together. I felt honored to be in his world and indeed his presence. SOLO VIETNAM featured many of Gene’s missions which were weaved into my feature character, a Navy pilot with VA 153 off the USS Coral Sea CVA-43 WestPac cruise of 1967-68.  SOLO VIETNAM was awarded the silver medal by the Military Writer’s Association, featured at Tailhook 2014 by the A-4 Skyhawk Association, and won fourth place in the Readers’ Favorite 2014 book awards. Gene would have been so proud.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop

After reviewing the books, his wife asked if I would turn his entire manuscript into a memoir. I was honored and said “YES!!”  During the research for ETERNALLY AT WAR’s production, we discussed including how post-traumatic stress disorder greatly affected many of the veterans returning from Vietnam. She revealed how it had impacted Gene some ten years after his return. How initially, no one knew what it was. Gene’s sister related how many family members and friends would politely smile, yet roll their eyes, tired of his repeated stories. She requested that I cover that in the book, as a message to others. Again, I was humbled to be challenged with the task.

But Gene sent me an internal message from above. He had a better idea. Going back into the archive, I discovered that the graduate students had been very busy beavers indeed. There now were several documents in the archive, including a manuscript of Gene’s poems and an oral transcript. His family was thrilled. It was amazing to hear his voice.

Although I continue to work on ETERNALLY AT WAR, I am pleased to announce that Gene’s other book, a collection of poems written about his experiences flying in Vietnam, the conflict, and the aftermath will be released in time for Christmas 2015!!!!  It is called THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN. So make your plans now to reserve a copy of the beautiful collection of prose, photography, and pen and ink drawings depicting the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath to be published by AgeView Press.

pastel portrait of Robert Gene Lathrop

Gene Lathrop, USMC retired pastel painting by Susan Hirst

I feel strongly that Gene is dancing a jig to know that his words will find meaning in the comrades, friends, and families of Vietnam veterans affected by the perils of PTSD. He believed the required acts delegated to servicemen during war inflicted a moral bankruptcy which threatened their psyche and well being upon their return.  Thus provoking PTSD.

Enjoy an excerpt, indeed the title poem from the upcoming release THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN.

THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN

It’s two in the morning here comes the fire.

They’re still shooting low, but they’ll walk it up higher.

I’m on bearing to target, ten thousand to go.

“Roger, I copy, turning left three five oh.”

Out to the east, orange balls of flame

Are bursting right now, from where we just came

I’m approaching the target, five thousand to go

“Roger, I copy, fifteen knots slow.”

Only three thousand meters, and I’ll be headin’ back

For a shot of French cognac, and some time in the rack.

I feel a big buck and six eggs for free,

I’m clearing the target, heading east to the sea.”

Once clear of the target, I’ll fly just offshore

Heading south to recovery and just watch the war.

I’m totally drained and this planes not the best.

“This is Hellborne, Vice Squad; keep me clear to the nest.”

Look, there is a Spooky, a spittin’ out lead

to the west of Dong Ha, the ground will be red.

There’s a fire near that Base, it’s at three o’clock

“I see it, Vice Squad, it’s that big floating dock.

I’m coming up on the lights of the city of Hue

‘Twas overrun during Tet; taken back during May

That big flash at twelve, is the Jersey at play

“I’ve got her, Vice Squad, her salvo’s away

All those lights off to starboard are at Danang

Where the bomb dumps went up with a helluva bang

Those tracers at one are at little Ho’ An

“Chu Lai’s under fire; we’ll land if we can.”

I get so damned tired, flying three hops a day

I just get numb, that’s all I can say

The base is secure; no more enemy fire

“I’m coming in approach, and takin’ a wire.

There’s flares on final, but I’ve made the decision

 I’ll be going in hook down, without my night vision.

 If Hades was the earth and with firepits in the sky

 The center of Hell would be at Chu Lai.

I’ve got three down & locked, and dropping the hook

 I’ll be takin’ the wire, just like in a book.

The arrest was just perfect, I’m so good it’s a sin.

“What the hell do you mean? You got rockets comin in.”

The rockets are comin like a spew from a fount

But on the Dark Side of Heaven such matters don’t count.

 I’m back in the deck and out of the sky

It’s a hell of a home, but it’s ours at Chu Lai.

Written by Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, UMSC during treatment for PTSD on Ward 7A, VAMC American Lake, 1987

 

Honor, courage, commitment . . .meet Belle of Steel # 13 Shannon Wermers

Shannon Wermers navy widow

Navy widow and survivor Shannon Wermers

The naval officers’ mantra is honor, courage, commitment. As she stared at the flag draped coffin in which her dashing, young, and brilliant naval aviator husband now rested, Shannon Wermers bit back tears and tried to muster up the strength to get through the military funeral ceremony. It had all started out so brilliantly. Although her husband’s aviation career put his life in jeopardy on each and every flight, she never dreamed in a million years that in one brief moment; one freak accident; her husband would be taken from her forever.

On January 23, 2010, LT Clint Wermers, instructor pilot, and his student were out on an instrument training flight during their cross-country weekend. All had gone A-okay. They were shooting an approach to Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, LA when the foggy and wet weather rushed in, the altimeter dropped from 300 ft to zero, slamming the aircraft down into Lake Ponchartrain, a large body of water emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Climbing out of the cockpit, LT Wermers and his student had survived the landing. Now treading the cold waters with limited visibility due to the fog and dark evening hours, they fought for their lives. The student was the only to survive. When the knock on the door showed to be the command’s Commodore, Deputy Commodore, Commanding Officers wife, and the base chaplain, she began to shake. Surely what she feared wasn’t happening.

RIP Lt. Clint Wermers

RIP Lt. Clint Wermers

But it did happen. She was now standing aside his coffin. The bright smile and adoring eyes that twinkled every time he talked about flying were extinguished. At age 29, she was now a widow with two girls and a baby on the way. She could hear the maritime anthem of the Navy. Its familiar chords poignantly accompanying the tears that she could no longer hold back. She gripped her middle daughter’s hand and put her other arm around her oldest.How would she get through the next hour, the next day, the next week? She hadn’t a clue. As she held her daughters close, she clung to the one thing she had left – her faith. God was testing her. He needed to see her own honor, courage, commitment.When Shannon first started out as a military girlfriend, she dreamed and planned everything out in her mind. She and her handsome naval aviator would be “lifers” in their military career. Even though she knew life would take them in different directions, she never dreamed the road of widowhood would be one. Shannon believes as a society, people plan for marriage, children, and careers. Individuals rarely etch the what-ifs into their aspirations. As she puts it, “life wouldn’t be as fun if we viewed our goals and aspirations from the anxiety producing what-if perspective.”Once everyone went home post funeral, Shannon faced a period of self-doubt, abject loneliness, and depression. The huge psychological impact of her husband’s untimely death threatened to leave her in a dark place. But she refused to stay there for long, pushing through it for the sake of her girls. Her belief in God and her faith were a huge influence in helping pull her out of the quagmire. By studying the scriptures, she identified with the significant struggles that Jesus went through in his life. As bleak as her life without Clint seemed, she was determined to overcome it. She also got support from her husband’s operational and flight instructor commands. As a young navy wife, Shannon admired and looked up to the commanding officer and executive officer wives at TACAMO as a part of Strategic Communications Wing 1. TACAMO stands for “take charge and move out.” She looked up to these woman for their zeal of adventure, leadership and grace in any situation. She credits them for teaching her how to be the best version of herself and how to look out for others.  She needed to TACAMO.

Together for life until death they did part.

Together for life until death they did part.

In her darkest days, Shannon never lost sight of the fact that she was first and foremost a mother. Her small children needed her to be strong and help them feel safe; that despite the pain everything would be okay. Summoning up all her courage, she forged on. Hour by hour. Day by day. Each and every time a bad thought came in making her want to melt away into a stupor, she leaned on prayer and her faith. Knowing her God had complete control, she felt safe and at peace.

Shannon also credits the Navy for helping her overcome the financial impacts of losing her military spouse. An amazing group of aviators, many of whom are Vietnam vets heard about her story. They are known as Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, a reference to where they flew in Vietnam. Launching a program known as The Air Warrior Courage Foundation, they sought our Clint’s command and established 529 accounts (essentially trust funds) for all three of the girls to fund their future education. Shannon is eternally grateful to the many who donated whom she’s never met. So much so, that she now volunteers for the same organization, touring all over the country sharing her story of survival and encouraging other pilots and families to join.

Shannon believes the most rewarding experience of her young life has been to survive tragedy while playing the roles of both mother and father to her girls. They have now grown into well rounded, happy young ladies – warm, giving, and faithful to God, family and friends. Overcoming adversity with strength, dignity, and yes honor, courage and commitment has developed Shannon into a strong and independent woman; one who is compassionate to others suffering. She is a natural born leader who is cool under pressure. She takes on challenges and overcomes obstacles without blaming others, knowing that forgiveness is indeed divine.

The results of honor, courage, and commitment.

The results of honor, courage, and commitment.

Shannon has drafted a memoir of her journey. For her future plans, she has a second book in the works. She plans to spread her message across the nation by giving briefings and talks to both military and civilian groups about the importance of having your assets (wills, life insurance, etc) in place, so that in the event of a tragedy loved ones are not left with a web of legalities to untangle. For the purity of her honor, courage and commitment to make the world a better place by giving back, AgeView Press proudly honors Shannon Wermers as Belle of Steel number thirteen.

Lady Jessie Beck and the Navy Ghostriders – Belle of Steel #12

It isn’t any secret that the ultimate gift is giving without expecting anything in return.   As the first woman to own a casino in Nevada, for rootin’ tootin’ Jesse Beck, it was second nature.   Jessie was a colorful, spirited woman with an independent streak.  But to VA – 164, a group of Navy attack pilots who flew the A-4 Skyhawk, she was a woman with a heart of gold.

A patriot with the gift of giving.

A patriot with the gift of giving, Jessie Beck.

While on a holiday in Texas, “Pappy” Harold Smith, who owned Harold’s Club in Nevada during the late 1930s, offered Beck a job as a roulette dealer.  He noted her quick mathematical skills while she was working as a cashier, post two divorces.  Never afraid of a new adventure, Jessie packed her bags and relocated to Reno.  She quickly rose through the casino ranks, building a reputation for friendliness and good business sense.  This did not go unnoticed by Fred Beck, who owned and operated the keno, poker, pan and horse race booking concessions at Harold’s Club.  Not able to resist Jessie’s charm, Fred became Jessie’s third husband.  When Fred died in 1954, Jessie, now a widow, took over the operations.

She spent most of her time at the casino roaming the floors, and serving her customers, sometimes staying until three in the morning.  It was not unlike her to take over a 21 game and deal for hours, which is how she met a young future Navy pilot, Richard Perry who worked part time as a dealer.  His dream was to fly jets.  Jessie was moved by his story, and took him under her wing.  She befriended and encouraged him,often bringing him home for homemade meals.  Dick became Jessie’s pseudo-adopted son.  It was a proud moment for Jessie when Richard Perry was commissioned in 1957 and winged circa 1958.   Part of Naval aviation training took place out at Naval Air Station Fallon, just east of Reno.   Jessie would give out baskets of goodies, including playing cards and such from the casino to the young, love-starved pilots.

Lt. Commander Dick Perry, VA-164

LCDR Dick Perry, VA-164

But good times were not to last.  Dick was assigned to VA-164, the Ghostriders who flew the A-4 Skyhawk and was deployed to the Western Pacific to conduct bombing missions in Vietnam.  During his cruise time, Jessie continued sending the care packages.  In no time, the entire squadron came to know and love the generous gifts sent over from Lady Jessie, as they deemed her.   As homage to Beck, Perry had his A-4 painted with Lady Jessie on its side.

Unfortunately, while flying his Lady Jessie, tragedy stuck during Perry’s second WestPac cruise.  During the summer of 1967, Perry, now a Lieutenant Commander, served as VA-164’s division lead and led a strike into Haiphong off the USS Oriskany, CVA-34.  A surface to air missile struck the underbelly of Dick’s Skyhawk. Watching fuel stream out of his plane, Perry turned toward the Tonkin Gulf, speaking calmly to his wingman watching the disaster in horror.  As they reached the coastline, Dick became silent, his A-4 engulfed in flames.  As the plane rolled out of control, he ejected about a mile from the shoreline.  His chute deployed, but due to massive chest wounds received on impact, Perry remained lifeless in the water.  The helo attempting to rescue him came under heavy fire, and it became impossible to retrieve Dick’s body.LadyJessie A-4

As can be expected, upon hearing the news, Jessie was heartbroken.  But she forged on, spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars sending care packages to Vietnam servicemen, especially, VA-164.  The squadron honored the gracious lady from Reno even after LCDR Dick Perry’s death by displaying her name on each commanding officer’s aircraft.  This continued until the squadron was disestablished in 1975.

In 1967, the Nevada Gaming Commission revoked the gaming license of a casino named the Riverside over a dice-cheating scandal, shutting it down in 1968.  Shortly after, Beck lost the lease to the concessions at Harold’s in 1970 when the club was sold to the Hughes Corporation, who subsequently terminated most of the club’s staff.  Jessie was irate, but was not going to take this latest blow without a fight.  In 1971, Beck scraped up the money and bought the Riverside Casino for three million dollars.  To the delight of many, she rehired the majority of the former Harold’s Club employees.

Jessie's Riverside Casino

Jessie’s Riverside Casino

Now known as the Gambling Grandmother of Reno, Lady Jessie continued to give back, sharing her good fortunes to support military personnel all over the world.  She was bestowed with the Award of Merit, the highest honor the Defense Department can give a civilian, in 1968.  In 1969, the governor of Nevada named her a Distinguished Nevadan.  She was honored at a reunion of VA-164 and VA -163 pilots in the late 1970s.  A lifetime member of the St. Mary’s Hospital Guild, the Washoe County Medical Center League and the VFW Auxilliary, staunch Republican and pro-defense Lady Jessie continued to serve the military she loved.

In 1978, Harrah’s bought out the Riverside Casino which allowed Jessie to finally retire.  In 1987, LCDR Richard Perry’s  remains were returned, having been recovered previously by native fisherman when washed ashore from the Tonkin Gulf. Twenty years had passed since Lady Jessie had endured his loss.  A building had since been dedicated to Dick at the NAS Fallon. Fittingly, this loving warrior was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with our country’s heroes.  Family, Ghostriders, and other fellow officers, many by then of flag rank as Dick surely would have been, gathered from far and near, including his adopted mother, Lady Jessie.

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

Pilots of VA-164 and VA-163 with Lady Jessie

On July 17th, 1987, Jessie Beck died at the age of eighty-three.  All that knew her described her as a not only a credit to the gaming industry and to the state of Nevada, but a great business woman.   However for VA-164, Jessie Beck was honored and remembered as a loving, caring, and generous person.  “We all held her in the highest regard.  More than anything else, Jessie was a lady.”The Navy’s ideals are honor, courage and committment.  Lady Jessie Beck lived out these ideals and became the darling to many of our military.  In honor of her service to our country, through her patronage of the  mighty Ghostriders of VA-64, AgeView Press is honored to posthumously name Lady Jessie Beck, Belle of Steel #12.

Confirmed by Colbert: Amazon does rip off authors!

This blog post is an update to a story on my blog written over two years ago regarding the inaccuracy of Amazon’s reporting of sales to authors.  It seems that even authors published through traditional publishing, not just us Indie folks, have been affected.  Just ask Emmy award winning TV journalist Stephen Colbert!  Watch the video –>  Stephen Colbert Amazon vs Hachette

stephen colbert takes on Amazon

So let’s get this right, Amazon!

I have a list over over 150 authors who have contacted me regarding this subject. Story, after story, after story of Amazon and CreateSpace inaccurately reporting sales. I personally have experienced it with all three of my books loaded onto CreateSpace through our small press, AgeView. I have, as many of you do, copies of receipts from friends who have bought the books; screen shots of their verified purchases, yet the sales never showed up. And let’s not even begin to talk about Amazon’s “expanded distribution.”

What a joke!!! My award winning Flying Solo trilogy is in over twenty countries, but do you think I have ever seen a fraction of the sales through “expanded distribution” reporting? Hell no!  Don’t get me started!  Most recently, I have heard about Amazon’s fake book companies that “resell” your used book!

That is why many Indie writers, including the authors recently signed with AgeView, have decided to circumvent the dragon. We use Amazon only for what we have to. Afterall, over 50% of all book sales are through Amazon, so one really doesn’t have much choice. But any other stuff, like expanded distribution, goes through Lightning Source (which is part of Ingram) for print and BookBaby for ebooks. Forget the KDP rip off. Another Amazon scam.

So, thank you! Thank you! God bless you Stephen Colbert for posting your experiences and multiple disgruntlements with Amazon on TV to a very captive audience. Continue to shout about it from the roof tops. And when you are ready, contact us ! Our small coalition of Indie writers will band together for a class action lawsuit to take on the giant. Or at least tarnish them a little with mass media!

stephen colbert shoots Amazon the bird

Take that Amazon!  (photo courtesy of Comedy Central)

Please reblog this story everywhere. Facebook it. Google plus it!  And “link” it in! Maybe, just maybe the Associated Press or Oprah will pick up it. Add your email and comments to our list if this atrocity has happened to you. Because if you are an author, you know it has!