When The Old Man Was a Happy Guy

John Hamilton Farr (Sr.) in October, 1941

AT-6 Texans in the background. Sunny Texas skies. Pearl Harbor hasn’t happened yet.

This is probably my favorite photo of him, taken at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas on his birthday in 1941. He doesn’t have his wings yet but he will just five months later, when he married my mother and it all began. That’s a 23-year-old Officer Candidate School flight cadet you’re looking at, and Jesus, did he love to fly. With my own birthday coming up in two days, all of this is on my mind.

At this point he didn’t know he wouldn’t be sent off to fight the Germans or the Japanese. (For that matter, the country wasn’t in a declared war yet.) After graduation, the Army Air Corps made him an advanced flight instructor instead—too damn good a pilot to be wasted under fire—so he spent the whole of WWII teaching hothead buddies how to fly and swivel their heads to look for Messerschmidts. Most of those boys died. The crazy bastards made for better killers, I expect, and the survivors came back from Europe or the Pacific at least two ranks above him. He stuck it out regardless for another 20 years and retired from the Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The ones he taught taught well enough to save their asses made it all the way to general! I don’t think he ever got over that.

There’s an inscription on the back side in his handwriting. (That’s my mother’s on the front.) Being who he was, he felt compelled to apologize for what he called “a horrible expression.”

“Was looking into the sun, and a smile was being forced upon me.”

I guess so, because he rarely cracked a grin that I remember when he was older. If we called him on it, he would say that he was smiling “on the inside.” I don’t know, though. And I’m not known for smiling like a fiend myself. It does get better, chilluns, it really does. But you have to go down deep and find the ruts. Learn the “rules” and then move on so you can break them. I know now how important these things are. My wife from Iowa has a smile that melts brick walls, and I see it 50 times a day.

If I woke up and it wasn’t there, I think I’d just drop dead.

  • Joe August 7, 2013, 2:22 PM

    Great story JHF. I learned to fly when I was 19 but never flew for Uncle Sam. Your dad was surely a great birdman.

    • JHF August 7, 2013, 2:53 PM

      Thank you, and he was. I think it was the only thing he really liked. Once when we lived on Long Island and he flew for the FAA out of what was then called Idlewild, he took the two of us up in a DC-3 (with me as alleged “co-pilot,” totally against the regs) and flew us quite low all around the skyline of Manhattan. What a treat. One could never get away with that today. He loved the Air Force, too, even after they stuck him behind a desk. I’ll never forget his retirement ceremony a couple years earlier at Dyess AFB, him standing there saluting while the band played “The Wild Blue Yonder” and tears streamed down his face. One of the few times I ever saw him cry, too. Things kind of went downhill for him after that, what with the booze and trauma in his marriage.

      He could have taught me to fly there in Abilene (TX). I was in 10th grade. Gave me a couple of lessons, actually, in a Piper Cub, but for some reason we stopped, probably due to money. In my family, it always came down to that. Not that we were poor, but I’d have had to earn the money for the rental and the gas somehow, otherwise it would count as “spoiling.” Still, I always wondered why he didn’t try to pass on that skill. I would have been so happy and so good!

  • Greg August 7, 2013, 3:40 PM

    Hmm, Dyess in Abilene. I was raised for a while there in the early to mid 60’s, then mom had to rearrange back to the SC low country. Been on the east coast ever since.

    • JHF August 7, 2013, 3:42 PM

      Wow, no kidding? He was stationed there from mid-’58 through early ’62. Were you old enough to remember anything? Maybe we went to the same Saturday matinee on Butternut Street.

      • Greg August 7, 2013, 5:55 PM

        No, that was a little early for me, though we were there in ’62. My memories, such as they are, didn’t start till ’64. My father was a captain and flew cargo, 119’s and later 130’s, but I didn’t know him. My brothers and I did a cross country road trip to see him in ’04, and part of the return trip was to roll into Abilene to see if we remembered. All of our mind pictures were different.

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