Mildred Worley became a mother and a father during World War II.
After her husband, Jim Worley Sr., left to serve in the U.S. Army’s 5th Air Force in 1941, Mildred and the couple’s three children learned to run their household without him.
For Mildred Worley, like so many others, V-J Day meant her husband soon would be home from war.
“There were days that were lonesome,” says Mildred Worley, who turns 90 years old today. “But the children adjusted well.”
Everyone filled in for Jim Sr.
Mildred Worley helped the children with their schoolwork.
Fifteen-year-old Jim Jr. and 13-year-old Jack were, by war’s end, doing the grocery shopping and helping take care of the furnace, the lawn and their 5-year-old sister, Betty.
Betty was 5 months old before she saw her father for the first time when he came home on leave; then he headed off to war again for the duration of the fighting.
During those years, she remembers sitting on a curb, imagining that daddy would pull up in a taxi, still wearing his uniform, and scoop her up in his arms.
Years of having a husband and a father fighting for his life overseas made V-J Day all the more special for the Worleys.
For them, V-J Day meant no more telephone calls in the middle of the night from neighbors, who had been glued to the radio, with the latest war news. No more going days not knowing if Jim Sr. was dead or alive. No more grief when friends received telegrams that loved ones had been killed; no more wondering, with every knock at the door, if they were next.
For Mildred Worley, V-J Day meant there soon would be no more lonely nights for a long, long time.
Jim Worley Jr. was a sophomore attending his seventh different school, North Central High, when the war ended. He was 10 years old when his father had left, and he became the man of the house.
Jim Worley Jr., who followed war news religiously, remembers certain events better than others, especially Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945.
“I was in Washington history class and my teacher left the room and returned in tears,” he says. “I remember the uneasiness of Harry Truman taking leadership, and I remember living without a father between the ages and 10 and 15. Those are pretty important years.”
For his younger brother, Jack, having a father in the military during World War II exposed him to airplanes at an early age because the family often lived near airfields where Jim Worley Sr. was stationed.
While his dad delivered B-17 bombers from Seattle to Hamilton field in California or ate raw bacon sandwiches in Java in the East Indies, Jack Worley rode his bike to nearby airfields on Saturdays.
He remembers gazing at a confident, yet casual pilot at Felts Field; the pilot was strolling around his plane with ease, doing a preflight check. At 13, Jack Worley decided he wouldn’t be happy until he could be that at ease with a plane.
Fifty years later, Jack Worley talks with pride about the nearly 30 years he spent restoring a Hawker Hurricane - one of the British planes that won the Battle of Britain - from bare bones to flying condition.
“Without that plane, we’d all be speaking German,” he says.
The Hawker that Worley helped restore now is in the Pearson Airpark in Vancouver, Wash. There are fewer than 10 such planes in the world, and about half of them aren’t flyable.
Jack and Jim Worley sent their father off to battle with a rather unusual gift which became his good-luck charm. They packed a pair of Grade A Air Force fabric boxer shorts in his suitcase as a gag. Jim Worley Sr. took those shorts with him and had them signed by people all over the world. He even kept them in his cockpit on his missions.
“He would hold the gun with one hand and wave the pants with the other. When they squinted to see what he was holding in one hand, he shot them down with the other,” Jack Worley says, not quite sure how much of the story is true.
The things both Jack and Jim
Worley missed most were the hunting and fishing trips with their father.
“We rowed around every lake within an hour’s drive of Spokane,” Jack Worley says. “I was dad’s outboard motor for a while.”
On V-J night, the Worleys talked all night about the unleashed storm of people rejoicing in the streets, the homecoming of Jim Worley Sr. and what a wonderful present it all made for Mildred Worley’s birthday.
Last weekend, the Worleys and Mildred’s niece, Annette Hyne, whose married name is Losey, were reunited to celebrate Mildred’s birthday and V-J Day together, like they did 50 years ago today.
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