Major General John Warner’s Last Flight
by Carol D. Warner
Carol D. Warner, author and psychotherapist, recently wrote this moving tribute to her father, John S. Warner, an Army Air Force pilot who flew 35 missions in Europe during World War II. It is published here for the first time. She serves on the board of the 390th Memorial Museum, Tucson, Arizona.
My dad, Major General John S. Warner, flew 35 missions in the 390th Bombardment Group during World War II.
After retiring as General Counsel for the CIA in 1976, he moved to Tucson, Ariz. where he co-founded the 390th Memorial Museum, in honor of his fellow veterans.
In 2006, I flew to Tucson to attend the spring veterans’ reunion with dad. Earlier that day, had lost his balance and hit his head on the corner of a wooden table. He had a swollen “egg” protruding from his head.
My mom told me he didn’t want to see a doctor. If he didn’t want to see a doctor, the General wouldn’t go. My mother watched him closely for signs of a concussion and made sure he did not take a nap.
A group flying a restored B-17 was offering rides to reunion attendees from the Tucson airport after the reunion. I thought it would be an amazing experience, so I asked dad did if he wanted to go ride on the B-17. Feeling a bit off from his head injury, he said no. I was a little surprised, as he had recently expressed his interest.
In a playful manner, I said to him, “Come on, dad, you’re 88 years old. What bigger thrill will you ever get for the rest of your life than to go on this ride?”
He thought about it for a moment, and not missing a beat said he would get the tickets. I was really excited.
All dad knew was that he wasn’t feeling well, and he wanted to be sure he could go on the flight on Monday. He was getting pretty excited about it. He stayed home on Saturday, so he could rest up. We didn’t know then that he had a slow brain hemorrhage, which started when he hit his head.
The day of the flight was a beautiful morning.
As an older man, dad got chilled more easily, so I asked him: “Shouldn’t you bring along your bomber jacket so you would have it to wear if it got chilly up in the air?"
At first he declined.
"You just spent good money to get this jacket professionally restored," I playfully said. "Where else are you going to wear it? This would be a perfect time.” My mom agreed.
He wore the jacket, and what a great thing it was that he did! “The Bad Egg” is what it says on its back. That was the name of his first plane. The “Bad Egg” jacket now sits in the 390th museum display case, where it has been for many years.
My mom waited by the tarmac as we walked to the beautiful plane, glistening in the sunlight.
The pilots were excited to meet my father and to learn he flew 35 missions in a B-17 during World War II. They told us we could sit in the pilot seats until we were ready to fly. As you can see in the photo of dad at the pilot’s wheel, he was in second heaven sitting there. They even let dad and I sit on the jump seats right behind them so we could have the best possible view during the flight. My brother, Jay, sat behind us.
The flight, though brief, was an amazing experience. Watching Dad, I could tell he was remembering and feeling so many things from long ago and far away.
As we were on the final approach, he was completely focused on the runway. He said later he was remembering his final approach, on his final and 35th mission. The approach was laden also with memories from the war.
When we got off the plane, the pilot asked my dad to autograph the plane, which he happily did. He was wobbly and I held his arm to steady him as we walked back to the staging area. I attributed his balance problems to the flight.
Some people saw dad’s jacket, and asked about his experiences in the war. They asked him for his autograph. They said he was a hero, and said they were grateful for what he had done for our country. Although he was by now physically really struggling, he wrote a rather long note for each one. Dad never did anything halfway. Jay held him upright as he wrote each note.
Dad was very happy with the day. Of his memories during the flight, he said simply, in his characteristic, understated way: “a lot of good, and a lot of bad.”
This flight was the last thing my dad ever did on this earth. By the next day, he did not know where he was. He passed soon after.
If he and God had written a script for a perfect ending for him, I don’t think they could have come up with a better plan for his final moments on earth, and for that final approach to the world beyond this one.
Maj. Gen. John S. Warner and his daughter Carol, sit in the pilot's seats before their flight together in a World War II era B-17 bomber April, 2006, in Tucson, Arizona.
Pilot John S. Warner outfits his wife, May Belle, in a parachute before taking her for a spin in a P-16 two-seat fighter aircraft. Warner, who flew 35 missions in Europe during World War II, was shot down over France. When he returned to his barracks in England he discovered he was the only surviving officer. An attorney in D.C. before joining the Army Air Corps, Warner went on to serve with the OSS, CIA and Air Force Reserve.