During WW II, the United States was a “united nation”. Men and women of all races, classes, and political views were firmly behind President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR); the greatest war president in history.
In 1943, the tide was turning against the German Reich and the Empire of the Sun; Japan.
German military commanders were being ignored and overruled by a former Austrian corporal who fought for Germany during WWI and gained complete control of the Third German Reich. 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 despised FDR.
The squadron was forced to make an emergency landing in Morocco. The pilot, along with the entire squadron, would suffer for months as prisoners of war. After successful State Department negotiations, the emaciated squadron was 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 be trusted to fly other top U.S. generals to critical areas in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and western Europe. Some of these generals included Omar Bradley and George Patton.
However, the commander of all Allied forces, General and future President Dwight Eisenhower, decided that this young pilot would no longer fly the honorable Clark, pragmatic Bradley, nor the most feared U.S. general; George Patton. The young man would become Ike’s personal pilot.
When the aircraft would reach cruising altitude, 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 to repeat”.
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 informed him that smoking was not allowed on the plane..”
The heavy smoking Eisenhower was taken aback. However, he respected the young pilot enough to abstain even during the long flight from England to a meeting of three WW II allies, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, in the city of Yalta, located in the Ukraine along the Black Sea coast of the Crimean Peninsula.
One of the biggest regrets I have is not taking the time to sit down with that pilot and asking him about his conversations with the Ike and his experience during WWII. More knowledge would be priceless.
The pilot was Jack Wills Worley; my grandfather. He 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 on battlefields. But, if the Constitution is not applied in the courtroom, the sacrifice of brave men and women would be meaningless.
I pray that God gives this column to Papa Jack in heaven. He would simply smile.Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the young pilot’s life is this; he is still the only man I have never heard anyone speak a negative word about.