Uvalde veterans bid goodbye to pair of soldiers

Harold Farris (L) and Travis Babbitt (R)
by Margaret Palermo - Staff writer

In a cruel twist of fate, Uvalde veterans found themselves bidding a final goodbye to two soldiers during Thursday's Veterans Day ceremony at Uvalde Adult Activity Center.

Army specialist Travis Babbitt, killed Tuesday during fighting in Iraq, was remembered at both Uvalde High School and Uvalde Adult Activity Center activities.

Also remembered, however, was the man who was to have been guest speaker for the program at the Activity Center.

Harold Farris, honored as a 60-year continuous member of American Legion Post 26 in July, initially cancelled his appearance as guest speaker due to a fall earlier in the week. He died Wednesday.

Post 26 Commander Phil Higgs announced Harris' death during the ceremony Thursday.

Harris, 79, was born and reared on his father's ranch near Uvalde and graduated from Uvalde High School in 1941. He entered Texas A&M University he same year, but left school to when he turned 18 in 1943 to join the Army Air Corps.

Harris became a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot, flying 35 missions over Germany, France and Belgium from a base in England.

After the war, Farris returned to A&M to finish a degree in aeronautical engineering, though he stayed in the reserves. He transferred from the Army Reserves to the Air Force Reserves when the Air Force was created in October 1947.

Farris went back to war in 1951 when the Korean War started and was given a regular commission in the Air Force. While with the Air Force, he was able to complete his master's degree in engineering and started work on his doctorate in aerospace engineering.

When Vietnam came along, Farris, a pilot, was a squadron operations officer and instructor pilot and flew 88 missions in C-123K aircraft in South Vietnam.

He retired in 1974 and moved back to Uvalde, becoming chairman of the science and mathematics division of Southwest Texas Junior College. He retired in 1986.

In honoring Babbitt, County Judge Bill Mitchell, who took Harris' place as guest speaker at the UAAC event, called on veterans to "remember a member of our community who just this week gave his life for the freedoms we so honor and enjoy.

"Specialist Travis Babbitt will forever remain a hero, not only to this community, but also in the eyes of the United States of America," Mitchell continued.

"We are here today to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served in the military of the United States of America," said Mitchell. "We are here to salute and honor all veterans, including those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, the Persian Gulf and Iraq."

Mitchell said the numbers of surviving veterans has continued to decline over the years.

"We would be remiss as a nation, as a community, not to take the time to say thank you to a group of people who sacrificed so much that we as a people can live as we see fit and as we choose," he continued.

"Soon we will be observing the 63rd anniversary of many historical events of our nation, including the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the establishment of Garner Air Field," he said.

"The can-do attitude of Uvalde propelled Garner Field into existence. The U.S. government did not come to Uvalde and say we want to establish an airfield here. It took Uvalde and its citizens working together to invite the U.S. Army Air Corps to Uvalde," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Uvalde approved bond issues twice to construct Garner Field. "Construction of Garner Field added a boost to Uvalde County, gave birth to new businesses and brought new families whose roots still remain in this area," he said.

"I have seen first hand some of the aircraft that were being used to fight and win World War II. I have seen the small cockpits and cramped navigator sections and the smaller than life gunner turrets," he said.

"I have also seen the walls of airplanes with a thickness not much greater than a piece of paper," he said. "The machinery did not win the war; the people did."

Speaking specifically to the veterans at the ceremony, Mitchell praised their service.

"You and Specialist Travis Babbitt are cut from the same mold," he said. "Thanks to each of you and to Specialist Babbitt and other comrades who have fallen and who will not return home. May God bless the veterans."

Also participating in the ceremony were Jeremy Underwood of Uvalde High School, who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Zack Laning, also a UHS student, who led the Pledge of Allegiance.

The high school choir, under the direction of Bevely Flynn, sang several patriotic selections.