Courtesy of the York Sunday News
A neighbor knocked on Nancy Worley's door in North Carolina on October 23, 1983, and asked if she was OK.
Worley, then 23 and home with her 6-and 2-year-old sons, explained she was sick.
The neighbor said, “No. Because of the bombing.”
Confused, Worley flicked on the TV set. Newsmen were reporting on the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, where Worley's husband, David, was deployed.
“Immediately, I knew,” remembers Worley, now 47 and living in Manchester Township. “And at the same time I said, ‘This isn't happening.' And that stayed with me a lot of years.”
Unlike today's Middle East, suicide car bombings were unheard of in 1983. U.S. military leaders later attributed the attack, which killed 25-year-old David E. Worley and 240 other U.S. servicemen, to the group Hezbollah – a claim Hezbollah has denied.
David's body was among the last to be identified. Military notification officers delivered official news to Worley's home on Halloween, eight days after the explosion.
As Nancy remembers, her 6-year-old son, David, wailed. He said, “But I still need him. I still need him.”
Nearly 24 years later, Worley has talked publicly about her husband's death for the first time – although with difficulty.
The catalyst was news of Amish families forgiving the gunman who fatally shot 10 schoolgirls, killing five, in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, six months ago.
Members of the Interfaith Alliance of York discussed the Amish forgiveness and other similar acts of mercy since. Nancy, president of the group, emphasized how important it became for her after David's death to forgive the terrorists who murdered him.
At the Alliance's Thanksgiving service, she told those gathered how she felt trapped by the gravity of her loss. Speaking of it again in a later interview, she became overwhelmed. Tears choked her storytelling, then cut short her words.
“When you're 20-something, you think you're invincible. When something like this comes along, well, it grabbed me here and ripped me all the way up,” said Worley, pointing to her gut.
“Everyone around me was screaming for vengeance. I didn't have any energy left. I had to focus on just taking a step.”
With two boys to raise and protect, Worley wished for peace. She tried to focus on what her husband would have wanted for their sons: A happy life.
“He was always in my thoughts, even in how I'd answer their questions. I'd try and consider how he might've answered had he been there to do so. There's no way to know, had he matured and changed his opinions on things, if I was getting it right or not. But I did think of him all the time,” she said.
“I still do.”
A short time together
Nancy met David when she was 11 and knew right away they would marry.
He lived five houses down from her in Baltimore County, Maryland. He was a few years older, had long hippie hair, a moustache and made Nancy laugh. He was shy around her parents and brought her flowers.
They started dating when she was 16, hanging out with friends and going to concerts – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Nazareth and Frank Zappa.
“The first thing he did was ask me if he could hold my hand,” she said. “I fell head over heels that second.”
They married when she was 17 and had a baby, David; then, four years later, came Bryan.
David was proud of his job as a Navy hospital corpsman, which took the family to a base in Jacksonville, N.C., before he volunteered for duty to Beirut.
Looking back, Nancy believes fate brought the couple together in their youth because they would have only seven years together.
“He only had a little bit of time,” she said.
“Immediately after he died, I felt closer to him than ever. I felt like he was sitting right next to me.”
Nancy tried her best to bring her sons up as her husband would have wanted.
They had discussed raising the boys Catholic, so she converted. She had David and Bryan baptized and sent them to parochial schools. She told them stories about their father whenever they asked or as random things jogged her memory.
Now, Nancy's a mom again, raising another son, 9-year-old Mikey, and working part time as a theatrical costume seamstress in Baltimore.
David and Bryan have grown and moved away, but they stay in close touch with their mother.
David, 29, lives in Teaneck, New Jersey, and works as a Web developer.
Bryan, 26, is a helicopter mechanic for the Navy. He lives in Middleburg, Florida, outside Jacksonville, where he's stationed.
David's memories of his father are scarce, but he hears from family how much he looks like him.
“My handwriting is identical. I've picked up some of his talent for drawing,” he said by e-mail. “My mother tells me some of my mannerisms are similar to his.”
When asked how he feels about the bombing, he replied, “I don't. I was 5 when it happened. I was very upset at the time, but to have an emotional reaction to it now would be irrational.”
Forgiving the terrorist responsible isn't an issue either.
“He's dead. The question is irrelevant,” David said. “I don't mean to be facetious by my answer, it's just that the question of forgiving a dead guy doesn't really matter.”
Bryan has wrestled with forgiving the terror cell that put a bomber in a Mercedes-Benz truck with the equivalent of 12,000 pounds of TNT.
While Bryan has no memories of his father, he does recall trying to answer other grade-school children who asked where his daddy was.
Bryan can describe memories in which, as boys, he and David climbed cherry blossom trees in Arlington National Cemetery as Nancy wept at their father's grave.
“Nobody kept it from me when I was young, but I didn't understand it. I was a boy,” he said.
In his teenage years, he learned more. As high school ended in 1999, Bryan harbored two contradictory sets of emotions – a longing for forgiveness and a longing for vengeance.
“The vengeance side, that's part of why I wanted to join the Navy. I was 18 years old, fresh out of school with a ball of hate in one hand and a body of steel,” he said.
“You're invincible at that age, and I said, ‘Let me at 'em. It's time for a son to show you what my dad should have.'”
After September 11, 2001, Bryan's unit was among the first in Afghanistan, and he later served a second tour there. At war, amid firefights, Bryan did things – things on which he can't and won't elaborate. There are things of which he's extremely proud, he said.
“But I don't know if they were true of my nature or if they were from vengeance.”
The experience changed him.
Friends returned home in body bags, and Bryan understood more clearly than ever how his father had done the same.
“I've seen what war is, and I won't have any part in it anymore,” he said.
“Hate will eat you alive and consume you and then turn it into somebody you were never meant to be. Forgiveness is the only thing you have to make that not happen.”
The past returns
The Navy brought Bryan in contact with men who served with his father. A superior called Bryan into his office one day and, with wet eyes, removed his shirt to reveal scars covering his right side, down to his fingertips.
The man had slept two beds away from David Worley the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, and survived.
Since, Bryan has feverishly researched the bombing and collected scraps of information from survivors.
He tries to visit his father's grave each October 23 and often runs into survivors or eyewitnesses paying their respects at Arlington. He's asked whether they remember seeing his dad that day, but none have so far.
When he talks with his mother, Bryan omits some of the graphic details he's learned.
“I love my mom to death because she did things and made decisions at such a young age that I wouldn't have been able to do,” said Bryan, who's married with a 3-year-old daughter.
His brother, David, recently reconnected with their father's family after about 20 years of distance. Since then, Bryan has detected a change in his mother, as memories resurfaced and they've talked more about what happened.
From his father's family, David obtained and returned to Nancy a copy of a photo taken on the balcony of the barracks before the bombing. In it, David E. Worley stands with his hand on his hip, half smiling at the camera.
The photo arrived by mail after his death. Nancy gave a duplicate to her mother-in-law, but Nancy's copy was later destroyed by water damage.
She hadn't seen the photo in years.
“All those emotions started flooding back,” Bryan said.
“It's tough. Forgiveness is an easy thing to say and force on yourself, but, you know, it's a whole other thing when you have to deal with the emotions that are involved with it.”
A widow's love
Nancy has blocked out much of the chaos in the aftermath of her husband's death, she said. She remembers refusing to look at the body and banning an open casket at the wake.
“I shut down, I guess,” she said. “It cost me in the end. I think if I'd seen him, I wouldn't have still been looking for him 10 years later.”
She'd see a face in a crowd and feel a rush, only to realize it wasn't David. It couldn't be.
“I knew he was gone but didn't really believe that could've happened,” she said.
“I thought that at any minute someone would tell me it had all been a big mistake, that they found him, and he was coming home.”
Nancy said she has loved since David's death but never remarried.
“I don't believe I will,” she said.
“I know what marriage is. I know how permanent it is. I know that the 'til death do you part' statement is not true. Long after my husband's death, I was still very much in love with him.”
It was as if her heart didn't get the message. She still loves David, but not in a way that keeps her from moving forward.
“It's the kind of love that encourages me to do so. I was incredibly privileged to have found true love – the permanent kind. Some people go through their entire lives and never know what that is.”
Name: Nancy Worley
Lives in: Manchester Township
Family: Sons David (29); Bryan (26); and Mikey (9)
Occupation: Part-time theatrical costume seamstress and full-time mom
Volunteer work: President of the Interfaith Alliance of York
Hobbies: Gourd artist and bookaholic
Read our general and most popular articles
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard