Part IV: Going Home
Everything written here is based on Lee Farrier’s heart-memories of people and places, the way things were. If you've missed any of the story or you'd like to review, you can click on the links below.
"My classmates and I graduated in 1951, and I guess we did the normal thing. Most of us scattered, looking for adventure or jobs. I wound up in Little Rock first, working cattle for Uncle Pat Hogan, and that’s where I saw a flyer about Boeing Airplane Company hiring workers. I interviewed on the spot and signed on. A week later, I was flown to Wichita, Kansas, where I started assembling and installing airplane wings. I stayed in an apartment with friends and worked the evening shift.
“Mama forwarded my mail to me about once a month. One day before my shift started, I picked up a mail package and carried it into the coffee shop in the plant. One letter looked official—a letter from the draft board. No real concern though, since few were called to serve at this time. Surely, they’d let me know when I was to register, but this letter read like this: ‘This is our third letter to you. You are to report (on a certain day) at 7:00 a.m. in Little Rock, Arkansas.’ The day to report was the very next day! It continued, ‘If you do not show up at the enlistment center at this time, a U.S. Marshall will pick you up, and you will spend your enlistment period at Leavenworth, Kansas.’ I suddenly shrunk up. I couldn’t say a word. I took the letter to my boss, who read it, reread it, and said, ‘Lee, you better get on the road right now. I can save whatever is in your apartment for you.’
“Stunned, I walked to my car, drove to Norfork, picked up Mama, and headed south. Our plan: Mama would drive my car back home. But before she left the office, I heard her plug me. ‘That boy is one fine boy, so take good care of him.’ The recruiter nodded. I passed the physical, and they said I could go on home and they’d get in touch with me for induction in two weeks. I spoke up. ‘But I quit my job, have no money, and can’t go anywhere.’ The recruiter replied, ‘If I had you shot, Son, we’d both be out of our misery.' None of that sounded real good. ‘Okay,' he said. 'Will you take any branch of the service?’ ‘Absolutely,’ I responded. ‘Will you take the Marines?’ ‘Of course not. If I truly have a choice, I will not take the Marines.’ Then he opened a door that was labelled 'Navy' and asked if they could take one more. ‘One more. Yes, one more.’ I was sent through that door.
“The Navy recruiter swore me in. Then, he addressed all the men waiting. He wanted everyone to line up in twos, go outside, and get on the buses waiting to take us to the airport. I was getting in line when the recruiter added, ‘The guy named Farrier is to stand fast.’ Already in trouble. When the other recruits were gone, I asked what I’d done. ‘Farrier, you made me start over on the oath. Because of that, you will swab the floor. Then I will take you to the airport.’ I did as told, but he said, ‘Farrier, you will never make a swabby. You cannot swab a floor.’ I was then put on a Howard Hughes plane and arrived in San Diego at 4:30 the next morning. Many stood in line at the mess hall that morning. At 8 a.m., we were served beans and cornbread for breakfast. I remember how good it tasted. I’d always look forward to that breakfast and never tire of it.
“It was the start of a new life for me. I was doing all the things I didn’t know how to do, but I was doing them. The thought of being on my own was exciting, and it was great fun until they lined us up for shots in both arms. I remember not being able to go to bed that night until 2:00 a.m., only to be awakened at 4:30 a.m. and told to get up. It was so bad that grown men were shedding tears. I did not cry, for fear they’d call my mama.
"From that day on, I became a sailor and eventually received my assignment to become a Signalman. Night or day, ships communicated with signal flags. I was the man holding two flags on the signal deck, responsible for transmitting and receiving messages from ships in the area, and delivering messages to the Officer of the Day who stood alongside me, telling me how to respond. When my four years were up, I stayed a bit longer to complete that last maneuver. Some of the best days….
“Communicating with flags was my job, and writing letters back and forth to Erma Farris from my hometown was my pleasure. Through our letters, we grew closer. When my service time was over, I received my discharge and went straight back to Norfork, Arkansas. After a few days, the Admiral called me and asked if I might consider another tour. ‘It won’t be hard for you to get promoted,’ he added. I chose Erma and have never regretted that decision.
“A job, as promised, was waiting on me at Boeing in Wichita. Erma and I were well acquainted with long distant relationships. That’s how we continued—I would come and go from Wichita to Norfork. But then, on one visit, Erma told me about another guy knocking on her door, wanting to spend time with her. It broke my heart, of course. To add to my troubles, Uncle Paul wanted to go to Wichita with me. After the war, he’d become the town drunk. Amazing how kind the people of Norfork were to him. Almost like they understood. I was the reluctant one, highly reluctant to take him with me to Wichita. He said, 'This is it. No more alcohol. Lee, I’m through with it.' He wanted to apply at Boeing. Almost begged me. I gave in.
“On another visit to Norfork, I invited Erma to come back with me to Wichita. I was renting a room from a family there, and they were happy to have her. That family and the neighbors noticed that Erma and I couldn't take our eyes off of each other. Erma and I decided to go to another town and get a marriage license. We were both ready. While we were gone, someone baked a cake and dragged a preacher in. When we returned, one of the neighbors said, ‘Not wanting to push you two, but if you lovebirds want to get married, we’re ready for a wedding!’ That sounds like they rushed us, but not so. They gave each of us the opportunity to say, ‘No, no, not now.’ Neither of us spoke such words. It thrilled us! I married the most wonderful, most beautiful girl in the world that day. We wasted no time finding an apartment the next day.
“At Boeing, my job was to go anywhere there were grounded Boeing airplanes and troubleshoot them. It meant knowing the workings of the entire plane, but my specialty was the wings. About 20 of us guys would go through a plane, identify its problems and fix them. The pilots were grateful but commonly said, ‘Great that you fixed the plane! Just hang on, you guys are now going to get a free flight. We’ll test it out before you leave us.’ And before you knew it, we’d be in the air!
“Uncle Paul made me proud. His last drink was in Norfork. I don’t know how he quit, but he did. An absolute miracle in my eyes. Not only that—he was bright and well-liked at Boeing. He was climbing the success ladder.
“Later, Erma, our first son, and I were on a trip from Fort Smith to Little Rock. We were driving through Morrilton when I saw a huge building. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I told Erma, ‘That’s where I lived a long time ago.’ We stopped, but I could not go in. We left Morrilton and headed on to Little Rock. Later, after returning home, I wrote a letter to the Southern Christian Home in Morrilton. I was hoping they’d help me find my older brother and sister.”
To be continued….
P. S. I'm receiving enthusiastic responses to Lee Farrier's story from near and far, and I hope you are enjoying his story, too. Please let me know in the Comments below how you feel about Lee's story, and as always, please share!
Lee Farrier, U.S. Navy, 1951-1955
Books by Pat Durmon