Henry Ransaville Farrell
West Point, 1966
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Frank Hartline on November 5, 2014:
What a special person Rance Farrell was. He could light up a room the moment he walked into it, or an AUSA Board Meeting, or a class room, or a golf foursome. We would be lucky to have known briefly or even met such a person. I was blessed to know him for over half a century.
I cannot accept that he is gone. He brightened my life for 53 years. We shared each others triumphs and defeats, through long Army careers, families created/wounded/and healed, the challenges of West Point Prep School, the grind of a Military Academy education, the pain, suffering and self-knowledge of Ranger School; jumping out of perfectly good aircraft at Ft Bragg, surviving defense industry travel and intrigues and active retirement -- not to mention delightful golf matches around the world.
We met as fellow privates in the 4th Platoon barracks at Ft Belvoir VA in 1961. This 1960's home of the West Point Prep School was originally a WW II era military hospital, with wooden single story wards connected by covered ramps to wheel the patients throughout the hospital. Before Interstates were built, you could see it off US 1 south of Alexandria near the post water tower. Each former hospital ward housed a platoon of "prepsters", Army privates fresh from high school and basic training centers around the country, with some regular Army enlisted men -- all studying the two subjects that failed most cadets in those days (English and Math). We each had a bed, a wall locker, Army trunk and an area to keep clean and buffed. Life was simple then: marching to class six mornings a week, eating or performing KP in the mess hall, physical training or sports in the afternoon, shining our shoes or area after studying and lights out at 10PM.
Rance and I bonded almost immediately, sharing a love of sports (basketball/volleyball), poetry (Mr. Frazier's English Class especially) and fun (drinking 3.2 beer and chasing girls on a $78.80 private's pay at "Bennys', Rands' and "the Hayloft" bars in DC). Our favorite English teacher, Mr. Frazier committed suicide some years later, when being gay was much more difficult than it is today. I think Rance's mom and Mr. Frazier were the principal reasons Rance loved literature and went on to study and teach English at West Point.
Rance's love of literature was legend: surprising everyone with a poem for all occasions. Our favorite was one of Kipling's Barracks Ballads, Gunga Din, perhaps because of our time as enlisted swine at Ft Belvoir.
You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
He was "Din! Din! Din!
You limpin' lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Rance memorized the whole thing, plus many more sometimes appropriate to the situation, and would regale us over a whiskey ... or before a short putt.
We were in different regiments at West Point but got together often -- playing bridge at Mrs. Holland's Cadet Hostess refuge to hide from the upper classmen and dating the girls tough enough to survive West Point weekends. Rance was much more successful with cadet "drags", as the lovely girls we dated were called in those days. His long confinements for PDA (Public Display of Affection") confirmed this. Rance even dated my sister and we might have been related -- two calamities avoided. Rance was captain of the track team and if the conversation lagged a bit, would tell you about his happiest moment in life -- beating Navy in the 800 meters.
I became a cavalry officer and Rance an artilleryman, probably since we were told that artillery "brings class to what otherwise would be a vulgar brawl". Our Class of 1966, being graduated into the Vietnam War as Platoon Leaders, suffered the most casualties of West Point graduates during that long conflict -- inspiring a book called "The Long Grey Line" and forging a class cohesion that continues to this day.
We taught at West Point at the same time -- Rance in English and I in Social Sciences. We enjoyed raising our kids in such a vibrant community -- Rance loved his white clapboard tree house on the Hudson, just up the street from the English Department, and having Karin, JoAnne and Thorsten so close.
The Ft Bragg years were just as golden, with Rance commanding a Civil Affairs Bn in Special Operations and I an Armor Bn in the 82d Airborne. We loved commanding American paratroopers. His monthly poker games were a welcome respite. He liked to play 5 - 21, a game as far from real poker as you could get, partly because he said I could never disguise a good hand, even hiding behind a cigar. I never found out if he could or not but it didn't matter -- he had my number.
Rance was in his element as the Defense Attache to Switzerland -- speaking French, German and Pennsylvanian at embassies all over Bern. It was fun visiting him, watching Susan entertain royally three times a week, skiing with Amy and hiking in the Alps.
After he retired, Rance used his defense attache skills to become a counter-spy. I cannot divulge his exploits, since he never told me what exactly he was doing snooping around London for weeks at a time, but he loved to host his friends at an English club over a Cuban cigar, attend plays in the West End and frequent fondue restaurants in Piccadilly.
Cherie and I have been blessed to have had Rance and Susan only 90 miles away during the past 15 years or so, attending our children's weddings, playing golf and enjoying great times ending with cigars and whiskey. He enjoyed having his families so close, launching beautiful daughters Amy and Wendy on successful careers, writing 25,000 words a month with talented daughter JoAnne, hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim with his strong son "T" and getting together frequently for golf and good times.
For the past 10 years Rance, Don Brown, Jeff Vincent and I have been traveling down to Pinehurst NC for a week of golfing bliss in the pines of the Sandhills. One of Rance's many passions was classical music. He had every famous and obscure concerto and opera on his laptop and would take over the CD player on our journey down the back roads to North Carolina, playing Beethoven, Brahms, the Magic Flute, Rigolleto and countless other "foreign" pieces at maximum volume throughout the journey (artillery is not good for hearing). We only got him to put more American pieces of the player as we travelled the back roads in redneck country after reminding him of what happened to the culturally clueless hunting party in the movie "Deliverance".
Rance was always in motion: teaching school, running AUSA boards, regions and events, supporting the Veterans Heritage Project, being inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame, meeting returning AZ National Guard units -- he was Phoenix's own Energizer Bunny. He loved being a substitute high school teacher and his knowledge of literature, history French and German made him the best utility teacher/infielder in Phoenix. He told me he once got an emergency call to substitute for a Spanish teacher. I said "Rance, you don't know the first word of Spanish." "Yes that's true", he said, "but that class now knows how similar Spanish is to French." Rance was never at a loss for words.
At times like these, you think of when you last saw someone who dies unexpectedly. I remember having to tell the wife of one of my soldiers killed during a training accident that her husband would not be coming home. She cried out in pain, but her first words were something I never understood: saying that they had quarreled that morning when he left for the field. Rance and I never quarreled but the last time I saw Rance we had finished a round of golf. As usual, he had won the front nine and was two up on the 18th. I pressed all bets and double-bogied the hole but Rance 4 putted and gave me the tie. He had to skip lunch and drive back to Phoenix for an AUSA meeting. I want the history books to show that we finished even.
Rance and I discussed eternity quite often over cigars and whiskey. He loved to point out the obvious inconsistencies, errors and downright tragedies of organized religions. He had read all of Dawkins' books and other atheist screeds and tried to get a debate going on religion and afterlife possibilities. I always thought he was searching for alternatives to atheism, however. I also reject most organized religions, particularly those that profess to have all the answers, even to the point of blowing themselves and others up in the name of God, but I am not an atheist. I am a deist and think that there has be some existence beyond this brief lifetime, so Rance and I could have an enjoyable debate without end. So, if you can hear me Rance, you owe me $5.
It was a shock to learn of Rance's life-ending injury in the surf at Newport Beach. On reflection, how like Rance: Leaping the wave instead of ducking under it .... all wounds toward the enemy, as he would say.
Rance, I think of you every day and have memories enough for all of them but I will miss growing old with you -- Goodbye old friend -- see you soon. Frank.