The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
December 2004
SONS AND DAUGHTERS IN TOUCH
 
 

The Story Behind The Name
 

BY KAREN ZACHARIAS

Meet SDIT member Gail Worley Permenter, of Wauconda, Ill. Gail is the daughter of MGen. Robert F. Worley, U.S. Air Force. During the Vietnam War, Gen. Worley served as vice-commander of the Seventh Air Force at Tan Son Nhut. He was shot down and killed on July 23, 1968, while piloting an RF-4C Phantom.

Worley, 48, left behind wife, Bette, 48, and five children: Sue Anne, 25; Dana, 23; Gail, 21; Vicki, 16; and Robert, 12.

A vivacious child, Gail always mimicked her father’s derring-do. In 1968, she was living in San Francisco, working as a flight attendant. The night she learned of her father’s death, “I was out celebrating my 21st birthday with my roommates. We’d been to a bar in North Beach. We’d had lots to drink. I was drunk when we walked back to our apartment at about 2:00 a.m.

“My Great-uncle Frank was outside our apartment door, trying to get in. I saw this elderly man and couldn’t figure out what he was doing,” Permenter recalled. Frank’s explanation was enough to sober her. He said, “I’ve just heard from your mom. Your father has been killed.”

“No! That’s not true,” Gail cried out. “No, it can’t be true.”

Gail called her mother. Bette Worley calmly talked over her daughter’s sobs. “You need to come home, honey,” she said.

Home was Hampton, Virginia. And so Gail went to stand beside her siblings as their mother was handed a flag and their father’s casket was lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery.

It all seems surreal, even after all these years. “I struggle more with my father’s death now than I did then,” Gail said.

“When my dad died, I grieved but I was also just falling in love with the man I would eventually marry. I was flying all over the place, meeting new people. There was just a part of me that didn’t think about my father’s death. I just pushed it all away and told myself I deserved to be happy.”

But the marriage faltered. Her own children grew up and moved on. Then, slowly, Gail realized she wasn’t over the father she’d lost.

“Ten years ago, I was at a professional storytelling event,” she said. “We were given an assignment. All these things, repressed feelings, started bubbling up. I ended up writing a story about my dad. It was the first time I’d told anybody anything about my father: how much I missed him, how he died. When I finished reading my story, the audience was sobbing.”

That event started Gail on a journey that eventually took her and her sister, Vicki Worley Hall, to Vietnam in 2003 with other members of SDIT. Gail wept as she and Vicki dropped rose petals on the white sands of Wonder Beach in honor of their father. “As I stood on that beach, I waited for something concrete to happen. I thought perhaps the heavens would open. But they didn’t,” she said. “And now I realize I’m never going to get any closure. To the day I die, there are things that are going to happen that will make me miss Father. Things that will make me sad. Yet that realization has helped enlighten me. It’s cast a new light on the relationship we had.”

As a young man, her father joined the Merchant Marines and spent much of his time traveling the Far East. In the 1940s, he joined the Army Air Corps and became a fighter pilot. He loved flying.

Gen. Worley was on a reconnaissance mission, taking pictures of enemy territory near the DMZ, when the plane he was piloting was hit by ground fire. He turned the plane around and headed back for Danang. He instructed the “GIB” (guy in the back) to eject, but Worley remained at the controls. When the plane crashed on the beach, the cockpit burst into flames.

“He’d been shot down three times in World War II,” she said. “I think there was a part of him that thought he could make it back to Danang and land that thing. He also knew that if he ejected and was captured it would have been a big coup for the enemy. The daughter in me thinks Dad nurtured feelings of immortality. I don’t think he thought it was his time.

“It angers me that as a nation we use war as a means of solving problems” she said. “I think we need to do something evolutionary to get past that. We’ve been killing each other since the dawn of men. War is painful for everyone. We are all humans. We all have family. When somebody dies, we all lose.”

Gail’s search has not ended. She would love to hear from people who served with her father. She’s particularly interested in talking to Sgt. Samuel Bracey, who served as her father’s personal assistant. Gail can be reached at GPerment@aol.com
 

   

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