By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Wesley Schierman was the hero of the neighborhood.
That’s how Terri Kendall describes the Vietnam veteran who was her longtime neighbor.
“It was an honor to live next to the Schiermans,” said Kendall, whose home is in a close-knit cul-de-sac near Everett’s Silver Lake. “He was the hero of the neighborhood. He was very humble. And he never talked about what he went through.”
Hero does not begin to describe what Schierman went through. During the Vietnam War, on his 37th combat mission, the Air Force major’s F-105 fighter-bomber was shot down. It was Aug. 28, 1965. He was 30, a young husband and father.
Captured west of Hanoi after ejecting from the plane, he survived nearly eight years in North Vietnam’s prisoner of war camps. He was freed with other POWs on Feb. 12, 1973.
When the 78-year-old Schierman died Saturday after a short battle with lung cancer, his neighbors found a way to honor his service and incredible sacrifice.
“Neighbors saw the fire department, paramedics and police at the house, and must have known about my father’s passing,” said Stacy Schierman, 37, the youngest of Wes and Faye Schierman’s three children. “As my family was gathering inside the house, the neighbors came over unbeknownst to us and set up a remarkable memorial outside.”
She said the family thought neighbors might be taking down Christmas lights. “The next thing we knew, we saw them putting up flags,” she said.
Miles Kendall, Terri Kendall’s 15-year-old son, built the small wooden cross now on display in the Schiermans’ yard. A Glacier Peak High School sophomore, Miles has helped the Schiermans for years. His small jobs included picking up mail when his neighbors were away. “My son has a tender heart for that generation. He wanted to do something to support the family,” Kendall said.
On the cross is a photo of Wesley Schierman in uniform. Planted next to it are two U.S. flags. Smaller flags line the walkway to the Schiermans’ door. Neighbors have left flowers near the cross, which is illuminated night and day.
“It has meant the world to my mom and family,” said Stacy Schierman, describing her father as “an honorable and amazing man.”
After his years as a POW, Wesley Schierman flew for Northwest Airlines until retiring in 1996. Born in the Eastern Washington town of St. John in 1935, he served in the Washington Air National Guard, earned a degree in psychology from Washington State University, and was a commercial pilot before going on active duty with the U.S. Air Force in 1962.
Schierman was featured in this column in 1999. That article was about Schierman meeting an Arlington woman, Melanie Jordan Hecla, who during his years of captivity had worn a POW bracelet inscribed with “Maj. Wesley Schierman 8-28-65.”
Hecla, a 1970 graduate of Renton High School, had volunteered with the American Red Cross at Madigan Army Medical Center during the Vietnam War. She learned about POW bracelets through the Red Cross.
Beginning in 1970, nickel-plated or copper POW/MIA bracelets were sold for $2.50 or $3 through a Los Angeles student organization called VIVA — Voices in Vital America. During the Vietnam War, thousands of people wore them to draw attention to the POW issue.
Efforts to contact Hecla this week were unsuccessful. In 1999, she explained how she found the former POW. She said her husband had learned that Wesley Schierman — the name on her bracelet — was part of a formation flying group called the Blackjack Squadron at the Arlington Airport. “I never dreamed my POW was flying up there,” Hecla said in 1999.
Schierman passed his love of flying on to the next generation. Stacy Schierman is a pilot for SkyWest Airlines. Her older brother Steven flies for Alaska Airlines. They have another sibling, Sandra. All three live in the Seattle area. Wesley Schierman is also survived by his wife and three grandchildren.
Stacy Schierman said her father rarely talked about his eight years as a POW. His time in North Vietnam was two years longer than the captivity of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a POW from Oct. 26, 1967 until March 14, 1973.
“He talked about the friendships and he talked about the camaraderie. He talked about strength and inspiration,” said Stacy Schierman, who was born after her father was freed.
Schierman’s wife and two older children were living at an Okinawa air base when he was captured. Faye Schierman moved the family to Spokane and waited for years, with her husband listed as missing in action.
In the 1999 interview, Wesley Schireman briefly described his captivity. As one of more than 400 American prisoners of war in North Vietnam, he experienced torture, saw his weight drop to under 100 pounds, and communicated with other prisoners using a tap-code system.
On his cul-de-sac Tuesday, Linda Clark recalled the retired pilot shoveling snow for all his neighbors. She is a walker and Schierman was a runner. Clark remembers asking Schierman if he’d had a good run — and she remembers his answer.
“He would say ‘Any time you can turn the doorknob and go outside is a good day,’” Clark said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.