Char Fontan Westfall has experienced one of the most significant losses a human being can endure: the death of a loved one during a military deployment. Her Navy SEAL husband, Jacques, died on June 28th, 2005, as part of a SOF quick reaction force in Afghanistan responding to a call for help from four of his SEAL brothers on the ground. The scene in which his helicopter was shot down was a memorable part of the 2013 film Lone Survivor.

Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Jacques Fontan. Image Credit: Char Fontan Westfall

Char’s story is one of resilience and survival. Although the events we talked about occurred over 17 years ago, I could tell they were still quite fresh in her memory and not incredibly easy to talk about. The raw emotion is still there, and we thank her for sharing her story with the SOFREP community. It’s never easy to talk about things like this.

She has also shared her story with the world in the form of a book, A Beautiful Tragedy: A Navy SEAL Widow’s Permission to Grieve and a Prescription for Hope, published in 2020. As I remarked to Char during our talk, this is one of the most universally praised books that I have ever encountered. Her story boosts people up; it gives them hope. It makes them think, “If she can get through that, I can get through my rough times as well.”  It fully earns its 4.9 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon. 

Prepare to be inspired. I hope you enjoy reading the SOFEP interview with Char Fontan Westfall as much as I did talking to her.

SOFREP: Can you explain your experience on June 28th, 2005? 

CFW: I was a private tutor for an autistic boy, and I was out to dinner with him and his brother when I heard an announcement come over the news. It said a military helicopter had just been shot down, and there were possible casualties. I remember seeing that and thinking, “That’s so heartbreaking for those families; I can’t imagine what they are going through.”  Then maybe 30 minutes or an hour later, I got a call from one of the other SEAL wives who told me there was an incident where SEAL Team 10 was involved, “and I just wanted you to hear from us before you started getting misinformation.” 

Something in me immediately felt “off,” so I dropped the kids off and called my parents. They tried to keep me from getting too stressed out, told me to keep praying, and told me to have friends come over for the night. Later the next morning, I got a phone call that said it was definitely SEAL Team 10, but they had no other information, and they told me to “hold tight.” At the time, I was holding a weekly dinner for Team families, so I had about 15-20 people in my house that day. I remember walking down the steps with one of my husband’s friends to get a grill, and we heard a car door shut. You know, I’d seen movies where a military member died, and they came to tell the family, and I wondered in the back of my head what that would be like…it’s exactly what it was like in the movies. They show up in uniform. I just remember melting down.

Our friend said, “Char get upstairs; we’re not going to do this in the middle of a parking lot.” So they [the servicemen who arrived in the car] came upstairs and sent everyone away except for myself and two other Navy guy friends…One of the things that Jacques had requested before he went on this deployment was that if something like this were to happen, somebody that knows both of us would be there to tell me. So, I remember our friend Gonzo being there. At this point, they knew the helicopter had gone down, and they had not recovered anybody, and so the men aboard were considered missing in action. I looked at Gonzo, and I remember this so clearly; I looked at him and said, “so, there’s still a chance?” and he didn’t even answer me.