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