Lt. Col. Harry Lynn Fancher is my oldest living friend, and is to be treasured. I have already written about him along with an older and a younger brother, Paul and Don, as "The Fancher Boys". Harry is about 1.5 years my junior, but we early-on forgot the difference and grew up together as equals in age. Harry paid my wife and me a visit recently where we reminisced a bit more than usual.
Harry went to City High School and then on to Tennessee Tech at Cookeville where he majored in Accounting, although simultaneously interested in Law . He received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S.
Army, and served his first Army hitch in Germany. By then he definitely decided that law school could boost his Army career, so for this he settled on Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville. His new wife, Katherine, helped him achieve that goal by working full-time as a high school teacher. Upon graduation from Vandy, Harry went back into the Army, serving in the Judge-Advocate General Corps for the remainder of his army life. This story will mainly be about all his various assignments...
I asked Harry what had been his most "ideal" assignment, so far as "living" was concerned; what places he and his family had enjoyed most. There was no hesitation that Germany had topped the list. He actually served at least two assignments there: the first as an Armor Officer in command of a tank company, and the second in Heidelberg. Berchtesgaden was a favorite place the Fancher family enjoyed visiting when time permitted, and was also a favorite place for Harry’s parents when they paid a three-week visit there one year. The elder Mr. Fancher – Roy - was a man of few words, but remained glued to his hotel window for most of the time, declaring that Berchtesgaden was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Wife, Audrey, was of equal mind.
While in Berchtesgaden, Harry and his immediate family were able to take in some Alpine skiing - under professional instruction as none of the Fanchers had had any prior experience in that sport. Another friend of mine - an enlisted soldier - also had the pleasure of being stationed near Berchtesgaden and was able to take the same advantages as the Fanchers. Sadly, in my own Air Force career, I was never able to get an overseas assignment. Once, in my Air Traffic Control school, the entire class before mine was sent to Germany, but all MY class went to assignments in the USA!. (I was sent to Sewart AFB, near Nashville! Aargh!)
Harry Fancher came from industrious East Tennessee stock, believing in "work" as the best way to get ahead in life. Harry had been employed at the Brainerd Grocery and Belvoir Pharmacy before ever leaving home for higher education. He even had a paper route for a time. So his pathway to success was predetermined for him - just to take one step at a time. His earliest elementary education had been at Anna B. Lacey and Sunnyside, before going on to City High.
As an Army officer, Harry was qualified to take certain privileges, such as Embassy flights. These flights were weekly, if not daily, occurrences. Embassy pouches were required to be hand-delivered from one American embassy to the next, so these flights were constant, and any qualified personnel could hop aboard. In this way, Harry was able to visit many world capitals and take in a lot of sights. It may sound idyllic to many, but remember that there was a "Cold War" going on at the time of Harry's tenure overseas, and not everything was sweetness and light. We (the U.S. in general) lived in constant fear of sneak attacks for many of those years, and the home folk were urged to build bomb shelters stocked with food and water).
Early in his Army career, Harry was stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, surrounded by all those "free" museums and other cultural and historic places. Although I personally have had business in Washington, and have visited there from time to time, I have not really liked it because it has either been too hot and sultry or too cold and snowy. Their stay in D.C. was before the days of "high security" where every bag has to be checked, making access to most buildings much easier than today. But I am sure that living there would make a difference. The Fanchers seem to have liked it a lot.
One of Harry's favorite stories about his travels in the military - or the one that I personally like best - comes from his stay in the Panama Canal Zone. Harry's young son contracted a very serious disease while visiting his grandparent’s farm in Middle Tennessee. The disease did not manifest itself, however, until some time after his arrival in Panama, and he had to be hospitalized for it. It puzzled the doctors for a time, until it was found to be Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, NOT a tropical disease, and was the first-ever known instance of that disease in Panama! Once diagnosed, however, it could be readily treated although the serum cure had to be flown in specially from the States. The Fanchers were very relieved that it all turned out well, and their young son was able to amuse himself during the entire ordeal by watching MONKEYS playing on the fire escape outside his window.
From Panama, other Central and South American countries were easily accessible by car and the Fanchers took full advantage of this feature. Harry and family were very fortunate! When asked what he considered to be his worst assignment I could have predicted that he would say, “Vietnam”. And that was right, although not because of the country (which I think he enjoyed), but only because his family was not allowed to go with him. It was only for a year, however, and they were able to have a meeting in Hawaii half-way through the assignment.
After retiring from the Army, Harry was employed by the IRS - from which he is also retired.
Harry lost his wife, Katherine, several years ago, but he still enjoys traveling with family, and lives a full life, volunteering both for his church and for veterans’ causes. This summer he plans to take his grandchildren on their first Alaska cruise, which will be HIS third – and will include a nice inland railroad excursion.
(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )