Terry Lee WetzelMarch 4, 1948 ~ February 2, 2018 (age 69)
CMSgt Terry Lee Wetzel, Ret, USAF, age 69, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, peacefully entered into his eternal life on Friday, February 2, 2018 with family by his side. Terry was born on March 4, 1948, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, to Edith M. Soles and Kenneth D. Wetzel. His family moved in the summer of 1963 to West Newton, Pennsylvania, which Terry considered his hometown, and where he graduated in June 1966 from South Huntington HS as class president.
After high school, Terry left West Newton to pursue a rewarding and exciting career in the Air Force, dedicating himself to the service of others as a Pararescueman, an elite brotherhood that became his passion and honor. In a career that spanned almost 30 years, Terry’s assignments took him to Kunsan, South Korea; Da Nang, South Vietnam; Woodbridge UK; Hill AFB, Utah; Elmendorf, Alaska; McClellan AFB, California (twice); Okinawa, Japan (twice); Scott AFB, Illinois; and Hurlburt AFB, Florida. He was the manned space recovery team leader for the Apollo-Soyuz and project Skylab space flights while assigned to McClellan AFB, California, and Royal AF Woodbridge, England, respectively. At McClellan AFB, Terry was the noncommissioned officer in charge of what came to be the largest Pararescue team in the history of the Air Force Pararescue. At Scott AFB he was Chief of Pararescue Operations. Because of his endeavors and sustained accomplishments, Terry was chosen to work on a multitude of important programs concerning doctrine, policy, and force structuring that made the Air Force Pararescue career field what it is today.
During his remarkable career, he was responsible for saving 121 lives, became a master parachutist with more than 500 jumps, and a senior aircrew member with more than 3500 flying hours in a multitude of weapon systems. The Rescue motto is: “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.”
His military decoration and awards included:
United States Air Force 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, 1979
Distinguished Flying Cross – 1 Oakleaf Cluster
Airman’s Medal – l Oakleaf Cluster
Purple Heart – 1 Oakleaf Cluster
Meritorious Service Medal – 1 Oakleaf Cluster
Air Medal – 5 Oakleaf Clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal – 1 Oakleaf Cluster
Air Force Achievement Medal
(And many more, with multiple awards.)
After retiring from the Air Force, Terry attended Okaloosa VoTech in Fort Walton Beach for two years, majoring in the building trades. He then went on to run his own business in construction and home remodeling for a number of years. It was during this time that Terry met and married Kathleen. God graced them with many years together, to grow in love for Him and each other, to travel and enjoy the retirement years together.
Terry always loved the outdoors and was on the first High Altitude Rescue Team to successfully climb to the top of Mt. McKinley. Interestingly, shortly afterward, he was actually on a high altitude rescue mission on Mt. McKinley. Terry was always loved and respected by everyone with whom he worked, and was an inspiration to many.
Terry was perhaps most proud of and devoted to his children, Jason and Dana, as he watched them grow and develop into adulthood, as they chose their career paths and raised their own children. Jason followed in his father’s footsteps, being selected at the United States Air Forces’ (USAF) first Combat Rescue Officer (CRO) Selection and graduating as the first class to complete the Combat Rescue Officer Training Pipeline. To the grandchildren Savanah, Austin, Gabe and Fyn, he was known as their beloved Pappap, as he took them individually on trips across the country, as he took them on walks on the beach in Fort Walton Beach, or through the wash in Vail, Arizona, picking up treasures along the way, and creating cherished memories for a lifetime. They all were his pride and joy.
Terry was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Fort Walton Beach. It was in his later years that Terry grew closer to the Lord, and endeavored to show God’s love to all. It was this love of God that radiated from Terry’s sweet smile and easygoing manner.
Terry is predeceased by his mother Edith and father Kenneth, and by all his aunts and uncles. He is survived by his wife Kathleen; his siblings Karen, David and Keith Wetzel; his son Jason Wetzel and daughter Dana Wetzel Fragoso; a daughter-in-law Chrissy Wetzel; a son-in-law Mario Fragoso; grandchildren Savanah, Austin, Gabe and Fyn; his former wife Sandi Rosado; and by many cousins, nieces and nephews.
A memorial will be held in Terry’s honor at the First United Methodist Church, 103 First Street SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL, on February 24 at high noon. A reception will be held after the memorial at the church.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Terry’s honor to either the Gideons International or the Building Fund of the Fort Walton Beach First United Methodist Church.
Expressions of sympathy or interesting stories/anecdotes can be shared on Terry’s tribute page at McLaughlinMortuary.com
The Gideons International
PO Box 140800, Nashville TN 37214