PLEASE, NO SMOKING GENERAL EISENHOWER.
During World War II, the United States was a “united nation.” Men and women of all races, classes, and political views were firmly behind FDR; our greatest war president in history.
In 1943, the tide was turning against the Reich and the Empire of the Sun. German military commanders were being ignored and overruled by a corporal, who somehow seized power years before. Japan’s brutal grip on the Pacific was beginning to be ripped apart by brave American marines. Boys from Alabama to Oregon were fighting and dying to protect the American flag and all it represents.
One of these young fighters was a former quarterback for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Not even facing the Crimson Tide defense in Birmingham would prepare him for what he would experience during the war.
A paratrooper pilot carrying loads of ferocious American soldiers in his C-47, he would lead numerous missions during Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa. One of those missions was derailed by faulty navigation information. This resulted in his squadron running out of fuel over the skies of Spanish controlled Morocco. While Spain was technically a neutral nation, their dictator adamantly admired Adolph Hitler and was not on good terms with Roosevelt. The squadron was forced to make an emergency landing in Morocco. The pilot, along with the other soldiers, would become prisoners of war.
Their ordeal would last for three months. After successful State Department negotiations, they were finally freed.
As the Allies pushed the Panzer Divisions and their brilliant commander, General Erwin Rommel “The Desert Fox” to the East, the pilot would go back to flying paratroopers to the front lines.
One day, fate would bring the pilot and General Mark Clark, one of the lead commanders of the invasion of Italy, together as General Clark asked the pilot to fly him to the quickly moving front. As the war progressed, he would become General Clark’s personal pilot.
This duty required him to fly other generals to specified locations. Some of these generals included Omar Bradley and George Patton.
However, his favorite flight companion was General Dwight Eisenhower.
He and the future president would have a number of flights together. Eisenhower would always make his way to the cockpit and chat with the young pilot. The pilot once said, “General Eisenhower, on longer flights, loved to sit in the C 47 co-pilot seat beside me and ‘guide the plane’. He said it relaxed him. Like so many of us, he loved and missed his wife immensely and he would write letters to her. The General admired and respected Prime Minister Winston Churchill but they did not completely see eye to eye. Some of our conversations were impermissible.”
The two became close enough friends that the young pilot felt comfortable enough addressing a habit that he did not like. “He (Eisenhower) often wanted to smoke a cigarette in the pilot seat. But, I respectfully encouraged him not to.”
I don’t know if President Eisenhower lit one up or respected my grandfather enough to abstain.
But, I do know this. One of my biggest regrets I have is not taking the time to sit down with Papa Jack and asking him about his conversations with the president. While he may not have told me everything, as a student of history, law, and politics, having more knowledge about his relationship with Eisenhower would have been priceless.
Jack Wills Worley was part of the greatest generation. He was a Christian, a man of honor, and loved me despite my faults. He also encouraged me more than anyone to become a lawyer. He said that protecting the Constitution must be done in courtrooms and on battlefields.
I pray that God gives this column to Papa Jack in heaven. I would hope that he would smile.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the young pilot’s life is this; he is the only man I have known who never had a single person speak a negative thing about him to me.