My Silent Partner: Capt. Robert Farrington

 

My Silent Partner

by Barbara L. Smith

ROBERT DEAN FARRINGTON is honored on Panel 15W, Row 48 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

Bob Farrington was my fiancé.  We became engaged before he left for Vietnam, where he was a scout helicopter pilot.  He loved flying. He loved adventure. He loved life. Yet, three months after reporting to Vietnam, he was dead.  Bob was 24 years old; I was 26. 

Bob was the sole surviving son of his family. His parents were dead, and he was raised by his grandmother.  He was a wonderful man—sensitive to the needs of others, but with a funny streak that could keep you laughing for hours. We met on Easter eve 1968, and we spent many hours investigating the areas surrounding where he was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, either on his motorcycle or in his new Mustang convertible. 

But, since I was not family, I did not receive information about how he died. And, for 30 years, I lived with the questions:  Did he suffer? Or did he die quickly?

I lost Bob on Dec. 11, 1969. In June 1999, almost 30 years later, I visited The Wall That Heals, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, when it traveled to Mansfield, Pa.  There, I met John Anderson, The Wall That Heals site manager. When I asked him if he could use the computers in the information area to give me information about Bob, he became very excited and said, “He was a Blue Ghost!”  I did not know what he was talking about, but quickly learned that John was a medic in Bob’s unit, the Blue Ghosts. John hooked me up with those wonderful veterans who served with Bob.  Soon my questions were answered.  The members of the Blue Ghosts saved my life and helped me move on.

From that encounter in Pennsylvania, I decided I wanted to help people the way I had been helped. I wanted to help them find information, reconnect and remember those lost in Vietnam.  When John and his wife Linda retired in 2005, I became one of the site managers for The Wall That Heals.  I had gotten my commercial driver’s license and learned to drive a truck, which was challenging, several years before. But the rest of the work, helping people and teaching them about Vietnam, was easy. My previous job had been as an adult educator and manager.

As I brought The Wall That Heals to communities throughout the United States and Canada, I felt as if Bob were traveling with me, as a silent partner in my mission to help people remember and heal. We were a great team. Bob’s name was on The Wall, helping young and old remember that each name represented a loving member of a family, a friend, a buddy, a lover, a neighbor. I drove the truck, set up The Wall, set up the tent, trained the volunteers, collected donations, wrote reports and helped people find their special names on The Wall. Even when they thought it would be impossible to find the name, because they had so little information and maybe only a nickname, I was patient and persistent and was able to find many names for people. We were helping people reconnect and remember in our own way.

Throughout the four years that I was site manager, I always left yellow roses at the panel containing Bob’s name. We had given each other yellow roses while we were dating, and it was a symbol of our love. At each stop, I would approach The Wall, touch his name and say, “Here we go again.”  Even after 40 years, we were working together as a team. As I write this essay, I have a bouquet of yellow roses on my desk, reminding me of one man who died to give me freedom.

 

Barbara L. Smith lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif. She was the site manager for The Wall That Heals from 2005-2009