As if turning 100 weren’t a great enough milestone for one year, Teresa Schmierer took a cross-country flight with other veterans in 2019 and saw her name displayed at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
“She did excellent, she has so much energy,” said Kim Pontrello, who was among travelers on a Puget Sound Honor Flight journey in September. “She’s a hundred and a half, and doing well.”
The two women were featured in this column June 30. Schmierer had celebrated her 100th birthday with a party at Everett’s 24 Hour Fitness. Friends for years, they join in a water aerobics class twice a week at the fitness center. Pontrello, who lives in Everett’s Silver Lake area, regularly picks Schmierer up at her nearby retirement community and drives her to the pool.
It was Pontrello, 61, who learned about the Honor Flight program and let her friend know about it. As one of more than 11,000 women in the Navy Nurse Corps during World War II, Schmierer — then Teresa Walsh — served aboard the USS Repose, a hospital ship. She met her future husband, Clifford Schmierer, in Shanghai, China, during the war. A teacher, he died in 2014.
Puget Sound Honor Flight, part of the nonprofit Honor Flight Network, offers several short trips each year, giving U.S. military veterans the opportunity to see the memorials of the Washington, D.C., area. More than sightseeing, the trip gives veterans, many of them elderly, a way to share camaraderie with others who have known war.
About 50 to 60 veterans travel on each trip, with all expenses paid. Each is accompanied by someone, usually a family member, who pays $1,000 for the journey that includes a hotel stay, transportation and celebratory meals.
Pontrello went on the September trip, accompanying two Korean War veterans who needed her help. And one of her friend’s two sons, Mike Schmierer, of Oregon, acted as the official escort for his mother, a woman with an infectious smile.
From start to finish, veterans get special treatment — cheers and salutes on their departure, a special banquet and thank-you notes on the plane coming home.
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial, part of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, was a highlight for Schmierer.
“What she loved about that, she looked up on this big screen and they were featuring her information,” said Pontrello, who believes the display was there to coincide with the visit of Puget Sound area veterans.
The video display featured a photo of Teresa Walsh Schmierer in uniform, her dates of service (Jan. 5, 1943-May 20, 1946), that she had reached the rank of lieutenant, and a quote: “I served on the USS Repose, a hospital ship, in the eye of a storm, typhoon, on September 15, 1945, in Okinawa.”
At 100, Schmierer was the oldest traveler with the group, and the only female veteran.
For this new year, there’s inspiration in both women’s lives.
While Pontrello first met her older friend through water aerobics, she’d known of Schmierer through a tragedy. In 1994, Schmierer’s 38-year-old son, Kurt Schmierer, was killed while climbing a peak in Nepal. A geologist, his body was never recovered. A doctor had recommended exercise as a way for Teresa Schmierer to cope with her grief.
Pontrello remembered Kurt Schmierer from Cascade High School. A 1976 Cascade graduate, she said Kurt was two years ahead of her at the Everett school. “For the first five years, she would cry at the pool, she missed him so much,” Pontrello said.
“I feel it’s important to talk about people who have passed away,” said Pontrello. Friendship with Schmierer has enriched her life, she said.
“I’ve had ups and downs, she’s had ups and downs,” Pontrello said. Schmierer prays daily for one of Pontrello’s family members who has had challenges. Pontrello said her friend “remembers everybody’s birthday, names of everybody’s kids — she still does.”
“She is so positive, she sees the big picture,” Pontrello said. “She saw a lot of hardship. It doesn’t color her world.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.