3 generations of flight: Crystal Lake native gets wings, joining father, uncle, grandfather

Marian Central’s latest Marine pilot in Wember family

Retired United States Marine Corps pilot Paul Wember, 87, looks a photograph of his grandson on Monday, March 20, 2023 at his home in McHenry. Three generations of Wember men have "earned their wings" as pilots for the United States Marine Corps.

A former Crystal Lake resident, 1st Lt. Steven Wember remembers spending time with his grandfather and father as a child listening to their stories about being U.S. Marines and flying jets.

The 2015 Marian Central Catholic High School graduate decided at the age of 10 that it was the path he also wanted to follow.

Their stories were about “great people doing great stuff, and it was something I wanted to do as well,” said Wember, now 26.

And he followed through.

In February, Wember was pinned with the same gold wings his grandfather, Paul Wember, was pinned with in 1957. He received his wings at the Wings of Gold ceremony at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas, the same location where his father, Anthony Wember, 58, was pinned in 1988.

Two years later, in 1990, Anthony’s brother, Tom Wember, 55, of Bull Valley, also became a U.S. Marine jet pilot. Tom Wember was pinned at Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi.

Their father, Paul Wember, earned his wings at a former air base in Beeville, Texas, which today is the site of a prison.

Paul, Steven and Anthony Wember at Steven Wember's wedding in 2018 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Three generations of U.S. Marine jet pilots.

However, each generation of Wember men attended the same officer candidate and pilot training schools in Quantico, Virginia, and Pensacola, Florida, and each became U.S. Marine jet pilots.

Even the syllabus is the same as when his father, uncle and grandfather attended flight school, Steven Wember said with a laugh.

The now-married father of a 1½-year-old son began his journey after high school, attending the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at the University of Colorado.

He said training to become a Marine and pilot is challenging.

“You have to push yourself mentally and physically, and you have to prove yourself as a Marine before becoming a pilot,” Steven Wember said.

Paul Wember, 87, of McHenry, who after the Marines had a long career as a commercial airline pilot, said he is proud of his sons and grandson following in his footsteps.

Anthony Wember, who now lives in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, is a FedEx pilot and captain of an Airbus A300. He flew jets in dozens of missions during Desert Storm.

Anthony Wember, who had graduated Marquette University in Milwaukee with a civil engineering degree, said he joined the Marine Corps as a way to pay for college.

It also was around the time the movie “Top Gun” was released, and he said he thought about how cool it would be to live like “Maverick,” Tom Cruise’s character.

He recalled thinking, “What a great way to spend your life.”

Retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot Paul Wember, 87, holds a photograph of his favorite plane a FJ-4 Fury on Monday, March 20, 2023, at his home in McHenry. Three generations of Wember men have "earned their wings" as pilots for the U.S. Marine Corps.

But after only a few months, the Gulf War began, and things turned very serious, Anthony Wember said, adding that he was quickly reminded of what his job was.

He wound up flying in dozens of missions and was shot at nightly, he said.

The senior Wember praised his grandson’s accomplishments. In particular, that he has been selected from the top 1% of his class to fly the latest, multimillion-dollar elite F35B jet.

“I’m just a proud grandpa. That’s all, with all he’s gone through,” Paul Wember said recently. “I’ve been there, and I know what he’s been through. The Marine Corps doesn’t make things easy, and now [training to become a jet pilot] is very specialized.”

Paul Wember, who never saw combat, said that when he went through training during the 1950s, the Marine Corps trained and selected a larger number of Marines to fly jets.

Today, he said, fewer are chosen, and the process is much more competitive.

Anthony Wember said neither he nor his father pushed the Marines as a generational career. He said it wasn’t until Steven was in high school that he saw him become serious about school and his future. Earning good grades and becoming a competitive athlete led to his success in the Marines, his father said.

Steven Wember and his son Noah Wember

But if things turn serious, such as when war took Anthony Wember by surprise, and Steven Wember is sent into war, the elder Wembers said they have faith in him and his training.

Anthony and his wife, Helen Wember, said they try not to think about it and just focus on the fact that their son is successful and doing what he loves.

Describing the first time he flew an airplane in 2020 as “very surreal,” Steven Wember, who just moved his family to a base in Beaufort, South Carolina, said he could not imagine doing anything else with his life.

“Being a Marine is by far the best job I could ever imagine,” Steven Wember said. “The stories they told of working with and being around Marines, I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of.”