STILLWATER, Okla. — “Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak,
and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid.
One who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat,
and humble and gentle in victory.”
The poem written by Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the early days of World War II were building blocks in the life of a son of the Oklahoma prairie, Judge Donald L. Worthington.
After graduating in 1944 from Braman High School near Blackwell, Worthington enlisted in the Army for a rendezvous with history.
“Everyone was in the service,” he said. “The country was completely mobilized for World War II, so I volunteered.”
After induction at Camp Chaffee, Ark., and armored training at Ft. Knox, Ky., he was shipped off to New Guinea as a replacement soldier — someone who replaces those killed in action. On the way to the replacement depot, Worthington met Gene Howard, a fellow Oklahoman with whom he was destined to connect throughout life.
Worthington was assigned to the 24th infantry and encountered several skirmishes.
“I grew up pretty fast,” he said.
MacArthur’s famous words, “I shall return,” placed Worthington in the campaign to liberate the Philippines. The mission was to defeat and expel the Imperial Japanese forces occupying the Philippines during World War II. Amphibious landing began on the eastern Philippines island of Leyte and continued with the Luzon campaigns where Worthington earned two battle stars. The Battle for Luzon cost Japan some 205,535 killed and 9,050 captured. American losses were 8,310 killed and 29,560 wounded. Worthington earned the Bronze Star as a unit citation.
He was assigned to MacArthur’s headquarters where operations were established in the bombed and damaged city of Manila. Most of the soldiers assigned to MacArthur were college graduates but he and Howard were taken out of replacement soldier duty and posted to the general’s headquarters. Worthington had top secret clearance and his job was “directing where messages of all kinds were filed and maintained.”
The biggest message involved MacArthur sending directions to the Japanese on how to surrender. Worthington said there were specific instructions on which Japanese “zero” aircraft to use and where to land the aircraft. When they were waiting for the Japanese to arrive, MacArthur asked Worthington what he was going to do when the war ended. Howard was planning to study law after the war and Worthington had listened to countless stories about Howard’s father’s experiences as an attorney so he made up his mind to study law, too, and that’s what he told MacArthur.
Worthington said MacArthur was very tense before the Japanese officially surrendered but he expressed interest in the soldiers around him.