Military promotion comes after 56 years

World War II veteran happy to have honor

June 04, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

At the height of World War II, a young Army sergeant was promised a battlefield commission. Two days later, he was severely wounded. For the next few years, he recovered, and an officer's insignia became a distant memory.

Then came marriage, four children and decades of work on the family's three Carroll County farms.

That the promotion has come 56 years after the promise, when he is 77, in no way diminishes the honor for Joseph A. Farinholt.

The decorated veteran has pinned silver lieutenant's bars to his military cap and placed the notification of his promotion among an array of combat service awards at his Finksburg home. Those include a Purple Heart and four Silver Stars, the most ever awarded to a serviceman, say veterans groups. As soon as he can make an appointment with the tailor, he will have his officer's uniform made.

"I worked awful hard to go from private on up the line to officer," he said. "It doesn't matter that it took 56 years to receive it. It is an honor. You can't help but be proud."

It's an honor he happily displayed when he was grand marshal of the 133rd annual Memorial Day parade in Westminster. An old leg wound makes marching difficult, so he waved to the crowd from a restored 1941 DeSoto.

He has not removed his first sergeant insignia from his cap.

"I wore the lieutenant's bar but I didn't take my other rank off because I worked hard to get that, too," he said. "That was my original rank and I am still proud of it. It showed I was the platoon leader."

Notification of his promotion arrived in the mail May 19, his 55th wedding anniversary.

The idea of back pay makes him laugh.

"They have done enough for me in 56 years," he said. "I don't need back pay."

On Nov. 24, 1944, when Farinholt, a member of the 29th Division, was battling the Germans near Normandy, his commanding officer promised him a battlefield commission. In a letter to Farinholt's mother, Lt. James E. Brown, who recommended the promotion, called her son "a real soldier, the best I've ever met in my four years in the Army."

Two days later, Farinholt was severely wounded while diverting a German attack, which led to his fourth Silver Star. With more than 20 machine gun rounds in his body, he spent the next two years in hospitals. The last two bullets were removed in 1986.

"My battlefield commission fell through the cracks," he said, acknowledging he never pursued it. "I waited for an official announcement, but it never came."

He suspects his commission was revived at the prodding of his American Legion friends.

"He was shot 22 times and this is something he truly deserved," said Alfred Warner, a fellow 29th Division veteran.

Farinholt has in recent years become one of Maryland's most celebrated World War II veterans. In 1998, he was made a distinguished member of the 175th Infantry Regiment in Baltimore.

"Any time an honor comes from your peers, it means a lot," he said.

The Motor Vehicle Administration presented him with a license plate displaying four stars. He speaks frequently to veterans' groups and at area schools.

"People call what I did `heroism,' but for me it was just a job I had to do," he said. "I did my job to the best of my ability. That I got a medal for it, so much the better. It was more to appreciate later on."

His job is to keep alive the memory of the war years and the sacrifices made by so many, he said. He keeps copious and accurate records. Families of his war buddies often contact him, asking him for information about their loved ones.

"I am meeting sons of vets and they end up thanking me for giving them something to tell their sons about their grandfathers," he said.

He never tires of memorial services. In addition to the Westminster parade, he participated in several others last weekend. He plans to attend a service today at Aberdeen Proving Ground in recognition of the 29th Division. He will be holding his cap over his heart during the ceremony, he said.

"You are talking about honoring people who made it possible for you and me to be here today," he said. "They should be honored in every way, shape and form."

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