Mike Sherrer - Life After Vietnam

The following text was provided to Harvey Rientz by email on 18 August 2014 by Anita Sherrer. It is her portrayal of "...a thumbnail of Mike´s life after Vietnam."

Mike left the Army and Texas in 1976, spending a short interim time with friends in Panama City Beach, Florida, where he met Anita Griffis, before heading to Ft. Rucker, Alabama for M.O.I.in 1977 and she heading to Atlanta to train as a marketing representative for I.B.M.. They had a long distance relationship for several months and married in December of 1977. Mike finished M.O.I. and became an Instrument Flight Instructor, instructing in Hueys, for A.C.E., Aviation Contract Employees and Anita became an assistant marketing representative for I.B.M.

Mike began thinking of of how he and Anita could be together and he began to imagine having a store catering to Army Helicopter pilots. Most people he spoke with didn´t think his idea would be successful because¨, "Ärmy Helicopter Pilots are given all they need by the government". Mike held to his vision and Anita quit her job and moved to Daleville, Alabama. Mike found the perfect location and asked Anita to do whatever she had to do to get a lease. When she arrived home late that evening, with lease in hand, he questioned giving her those instructions and they laughed about that over the years. In fact, Anita was having such a wonderful conversation with the landlord, they both lost track of time.

In April 1980, Wings Aviator Shoppe was born and was an instant success, turning its inventory in a week !! Mike continued to work, after the store opened, but eventually quit his job as a flight instructor to work in the store full time In 1982 an arsonist set fire to the store and shortly thereafter, they moved to a very small location in a strip mall. In 1983, they built a 5,000sf retail store. Over the years, they expanded the 5,000 sf retail store to 11,000 sf branching out to mail order, wholesale and manufacturing with a work force of 35 team members. On the adjoining land, they built a rental office complex and their first tenants were Singer-Link, Sikorsky and Mc Donnell Douglas. In 1989, Anita was diagnosed with breast cancer and while she was recovering, they decided to sell the store. Dick Rowland purchased the business in 1990 and Mike and Anita retained the real estate and set off on their 39 foot trawler to go cruising and enjoy life.

While cruising in South Florida, they escaped the crowded Intercostal waterway and anchored in a quiet cove. The next morning, they noticed someone shouting, from the shore, while throwing branches at their boat, allegedly to get their attention. At the time, they were unaware that it was a deputy with the Broward County Sheriff´s department. They were told it was a private anchorage, when in fact it was not. Mike had just read an article in Sounding's magazine regarding anchoring rights and he contacted the admiralty law attorney mentioned in the article. The incident sparked even more controversy concerning boater's anchoring rights. Several boating magazines picked up on the story, interviewing Mike regarding the incident. Over the years they were boarded on several occasions by a polite and courteous Coast Guard; however, this wouldn't be the last unpleasant encounter with a Sheriff's Department.

In 1989, while listening to friends play music, two rambunctious deputies stormed the outdoor family venue, unplugging his friend's electrical equipment and shutting down the music while being rude and overstepping their bounds. The manager confronted the deputies who proclaimed to him that their badges gave them the right to go anywhere they wanted and do anything they wanted. The manager wanted a witness and Mike volunteered as a witness and was promptly arrested and later released. He filed a lawsuit for false arrest and lost after sitting through a trial, listening to the deputies make up a story that would justify their actions. This violation of his civil rights and the Sheriff´s subsequent refusal to discipline his deputies, after complaints from many other patrons that evening, and a failing court system led to his major discontent. He felt that he risked his life for his country to protect the rights of people whose language he couldn't speak only to come home to his own country to have his civil rights violated. This triggered his memory of events in Vietnam and he was diagnosed with PTSD. After a failed appeal, he decided he couldn't remain in the US and moved to the Republic of Panama, finding peace in the interior of the country. He lived on several acres on the confluence of two rivers, amongst a prolific fruit orchard of citrus, banana, mango, star fruit and papaya. He took great pleasure in growing his own coffee. He enjoyed exploring the beautiful countryside, first on horses, then 4 wheelers and then on foot. He made his best attempt to speak Spanish and integrate with the local Santaferenos. He lived in a community where cars were scarce and where traveling on foot and on horse back where the primary modes of transportation. He would often drive around in his truck looking for people to whom he could give a ride, who were often carrying heavy loads in baskets strapped to their backs. He gave away fruit from his orchard, made donations to the local school and church and helped people whenever he could.

He died suddenly on December 12, 2013 of right ventrical fibrilation. His funeral was attended by over 200 persons. After the funeral over 100 walked, in the misty rain, from the church to the cemetery, escorting his casket as it was driven in his truck to the local cemetery in Santa Fe, Veraguas.