Keeping a Fighter Pilot’s Legacy Alive Through Story

Updated February 6, 2018

USAF Capt. Roy Westerfield and his wife, Petey (Maryellen). Roy was killed in a midair in 1980. Petey did remarry and passed away in 2009.
USAF Capt. Roy Westerfield and his wife, Petey (Maryellen). Roy was killed in a midair in 1980. Petey remarried and passed away in 2009.
















Red, White and True anthology, Potomac Books, Univ. Neb Press, origianl essay kathleenmrodgersEvery Feb. 6, Tom and I remember our dear friend, USAF Capt. Roy Westerfield, killed in his F-111 as he made his final approach into Cannon Air Force Base, Feb. 6, 1980. Roy was a gifted musician, and he played the trumpet at our wedding just a few months before his final flight. His beautiful wife, Petey (Maryellen), took our wedding photos.

For us, Roy and Petey were always larger than life. Petey is gone now, too, but both of them live on in my Air Force Times’ essay “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors” republished in the new anthology Red, White and True  from Potomac Books. Thanks to editor Tracy Crow for including my essay in the collection. In some small way, my story helps keep their memories alive for future generations.

Petey’s poem “Taps” graces the opening pages of my first novel, The Final Salute. She did get to read the book before she passed in 2009. Her poem is a tribute to Roy.

Roy Westerfield’s death haunted me for years. With Petey’s permission, I gave Roy’s first and last name to two different characters in The Final Salute. Tuck Westerfield and Roy “Wheaties” Wheaton carry on the legacy of so many fighter pilots who die in the prime of their lives…while flying peacetime training missions.



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Author of the novels The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately & Seven Wings to Glory. Former contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Future work represented by agent Diane Nine, Nine Speakers Inc.

12 thoughts on “Keeping a Fighter Pilot’s Legacy Alive Through Story”

  1. It’s wonderful to keep the legacy of these friends alive, Kathleen. Glad your article will be out in a book so the story will not die. Sweet innocence in the photo. Sigh…
    Blessings on your kind heart,

    1. Elaine,

      You are so kind to take a moment from your day and read my blog and leave such meaningful comments about Roy and Petey. What’s not mentioned in the brief blog post is how talented both of them were. Roy was a gifted composer, played several instruments, and was such a great family man to Petey and their two young sons. Petey was a writer, artist, photographer, dancer, and a teacher. Although I was more than ten years their junior when I married Tom, they never treated me like the “baby” in the bunch. They treated me as an equal and they both encouraged my writing. Petey remarried another fighter pilot, a great man named Matt Husson, and they enjoyed many years together. Sadly, Petey died of a rare neurological disorder in 2009. Her husband Matt called us to break the news. We knew she was ill, but it was still a shock. She had a girlish laugh that rang deep in her throat and she wore her hair long right to the end. I always loved the free spirit in her which is not really captured in this photo. Tom and I are deeply honored that we are still in contact with their youngest son, Kip, an extremely gifted artist like his mother.

      You and Petey would have been good friends I am certain. She loved nature, her sons, and the creative life.


  2. Kathleen,
    I remember this tragedy like it was yesterday. I am Petey’s cousin Suzanne, she and the boys stayed with my parents when they brought Roy home to Arlington. I read and enjoyed your book “The Final Salute”. Thank you for always remembering such a wonderful couple.
    Petey and Matt visited us not long before she passed away and I cherish that visit to this day. Taken from us way too soon, hard to believe it has been seven years.


    1. Hi Suzanne,
      Nice to meet you and thank you for leaving your thoughtful note. I’m so honored that you read The Final Salute, but especially because you got to see Petey’s poem at the front of the book. I can still hear her girlish laugh.
      She graced the lives of so many of us.
      Take care and thanks again for stopping by. You made my day.

  3. Kathleen,

    I love it! As I look back over the past 19 years of flying, I have seen many tragic accidents — some flying related and some not. I have seen (and still see years after the tragedy) the heart-ache of spouses and the hole left in the lives of children. Thank you for keeping the memories alive. I know the memories of a time gone by and the dashed wishes of a fairy tail ending are still very real to those left behind.

    1. Hi Buzz,

      So good to hear from you! Hope you and your family are doing well. Your opening line in your comment speaks to my soul.
      If you recall, Tuck Westerfield in The Final Salute had been flying fighters for 19 years.
      So glad you were able to see the blog post. Again, great to hear from. Keep us posted on your flying career.

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