And all the days which followed
words: James Conley and June Conley
images: James Conley and Frank Farley
Kentucky’s Henderson County is rolling hills and arable land. Although there are corn and soybean farms, it was tobacco that in the early 1900’s made Henderson home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world. Nevertheless, isolation was the norm, and people from the county stayed in the county. This is where Frank Farley was born on September 5, 1921, into a farming family which wasn’t one of the millionaires.
Frank’s family farmed tobacco, and farming took up his time. It was a subsistence farm, and his family raised cows, hogs, chicken, vegetables, and corn. Tobacco was sold as a cash crop, as was any corn not needed for livestock, and any excess eggs and vegetables. They traded meat with neighboring farms, depending upon who had the most of what that year. It was hard living, and they didn’t have what they didn’t grow—down to churning butter and making cheese from milk, or grapes for juice.
Frank hated the farm and farming. He dropped out of high school at age 16, and often worked at an auto body shop. From a young age, he fell under the guidance of his grandfather, Alva Griffin. While most in Henderson County stuck to the county, Alva was willing to make the drive across the bridge to Evansville, Indiana, where he would check the newspapers for commodity prices. Because he was willing to leave the local orbit, he was able to get advance information and play the market. He also purchased novels which he read and shared with his grandson. Frank would later recall that he and his grandfather would sometimes go out in the night to look at the stars and his grandfather would tell him, “The horizon goes on beyond this place.”
Frank took that to heart, and he figured that the best way to get beyond Henderson County was to find the polar opposite: so he joined the Army. In January 1941, he was 19 years old. His mother, Bessie, reacted to the news by saying she would drown herself in a pond if he left. This was a threat she would continue to make throughout Frank’s military career.
His first posting was close to home, where he trained to be a medic. He was also a marksman with a rifle. In 1944, he started his first European tour. As a combat medic, he not only fought on the front lines, but was witness to the horrific wounds suffered by the troops. Unlike the various forms of protection soldiers today wear, during World War II almost the only protection a soldier had was a steel helmet. This meant that combat wounds were severe, and combat medics were the only chance an injured soldier had for survival.
Frank served in the European Theater in World War II, and was also stationed in Guam, Japan, and Korea. Due to combat injuries in 1945 from a German sniper, Frank received the Purple Heart. On April 16, 1945, after his section commander and sergeant were captured, he took command of a platoon that was ambushed by the Germans and led them to safety. For his bravery and leadership he earned a Bronze Star.
He never talked much about what he saw or experienced, with his notes home sticking to facts or expressing the emotion of wanting to be with his family. Even after the war, he spoke little of it, even to the friends who served with him. Standing on the beaches in Normandy and traveling through parts of northern France liberated by the Allies, it’s easy to understand why Frank didn’t talk about the war. The scale of the task was overwhelming, and each day of war was a compression of lifetimes. But for him, the war was something which had to be done to preserve freedom in the world. He embodied and cherished that freedom for the rest of his long life.