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.
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.
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.
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.