Profile: Hon. Judge John J. Farley, III
Two years later, 1st Lt. Farley found himself halfway around the globe, owned by the Army. Over the next nine months, few days would be without the potential for hazard. An idyllic calm could be shattered in an instant.
And it was on January 10, 1969. “Charlie [the Vietcong] hit us with 82mm mortar fire,” Farley says. A round exploded next to him. “I remember flying through the air,” he continues. “I crawled five feet to the parapet. A medic peeked over and asked me if I was okay. I remember clear as day thinking, ‘What would John Wayne say?’”
“‘Doc,’ I told him, ‘go look after the other men.’”
It turned out that Farley was the only one who’d been hit. As he wrote to his father a few days later, it “took five pints of blood to get a pulse.”
Learning to Walk
Farley returned from Vietnam with four Bronze Star awards, three with “V” device, the Army Commendation Medal, a pair of Purple Hearts, and a shattered body. He would spend 14 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering from his wounds and learning to walk all over again: His right leg had been amputated above the knee.
No, he wouldn’t be playing any more lacrosse, the sport he had come to love and at which he had excelled. He had been All-Scholastic in high school and captain of the freshman and varsity lacrosse teams at the College of the Holy Cross, from which he received his undergraduate degree in economics. At one point, as the realization began to sink in that the parameters of what he could do had narrowed and that he would never run again, he became very upset. Almost instantly, however, he recalls a little voice telling him, “Farley, you never could run anyway!”
Recovery had begun.
Lying in his bed at Walter Reed, having been told that he was now 100 percent disabled, Farley knew he had to come to terms with the altered state of his physical self if he was to lead a productive life. Determined not to look back, he reasoned that he would have more control over the course of his life if he mastered a profession. After retiring from the Army as a captain in 1970, he got married, went to the School of Law at Hofstra University, and earned his Juris Doctorate, cum laude, three years later. He was the founding editor-in-chief of the Hofstra Law Review and graduated first in his class.
He went on to a 17-year career as a litigator with the Department of Justice, rising to become the director of the Torts Branch in 1980. When the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims was created in 1989, he was nominated by President George H. W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate as one of its first judges.
He has been there ever since, as the accolades acknowledging an honorable life continue piling up. He received the Distinguished Alumni Medal from his alma mater, Hofstra, in 1986. A decade later, he was accorded the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Hofstra Law School Alumni. In 1997, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Amputee Coalition. In 1999, he was inducted into the Massapequa High School Hall of Fame. He presently serves on the adjunct faculty at the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the inaugural Board of Directors of the U.S. Army Amputee Care Program at Walter Reed.
Sharing the Lessons Learned
What he had seen and done as a soldier would not stay neatly filed in a side drawer of memory, however. So Farley, who lives in Bowie, Maryland, with his wife and the youngest of their four children, ventures forth to elementary and high schools and talks to young people about the meaning of war and the fact that, as the Duke of Wellington said, “The next dreadful thing to a battle lost is a battle won.”
Farley borrows from the book General Hal Moore wrote with Joe Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, and tells them that while individual acts of bravery and courage are daily events, war is an “awful, bloody, destructive business.” It all too often shows us the inhumanity we humans are capable of. He also teaches that at times war is necessary. Yet the reason to fight must be “vital to the society because of the tremendous and terrible price those who fight and those who die must pay,” he says. Given the huge cost of war in terms of lives, limbs, and psyches, he urges students not to forget the human toll of battle should they become the decision-makers and have to decide whether a war is necessary and wise.
An Elite Fraternity
As one who has suffered the loss of a limb, Farley is a member of an elite fraternity. Overcoming his disability, he has become an avid golfer and skier. And he assists other disabled veterans by teaching them to ski, serving for the past 13 years as a volunteer instructor at the VA/DAV (Department of Veterans Affairs/Disabled American Veterans) Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colorado.
A dozen years ago, while on a family vacation in Snowmass, he noticed “all these disabled guys skiing.” Used to being “the only gimp on the hill,” Farley had “stumbled” onto the third annual Winter Sports Clinic for disabled veterans. He was invited to join the clinic, was awarded his gold medal as a participant, and, when he received a letter a few months later asking if he would like to join the clinic cadre of 180 volunteer adaptive ski instructors, he found it hard to say no.
“I’ve taught vets from World War II through Desert Storm, Somalia and Bosnia,” he says. When confronted with the reality of a traumatic disability, “some vets react better than others. Most people accommodate their disability; some, though, are weighed down by it.
“Whether sitting in a monoski or standing on one ski and using outriggers, you can be as fast and as free as anybody else on the slopes,” he says. One veteran who lost both legs below the knee “was skiing with us the following March and, when he returned the following year, he was an expert. Watching him ski, you’d never know he was disabled. And he isn’t!”
For Jack Farley, to be an enabler of such a life-enhancing experience “is just an unbelievable thrill,” he says. “It’s the highlight of my year.”
Farley served as a board member of the Amputee Coalition from 1997 through 2004. He retired as a judge in 2004.
—by Bernard Edelman
About the Author
Bernard Edelman, a Vietnam veteran, is a journalist, photographer and editor. A version of this article originally appeared on veteransadvantage.com
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Amputee Coalition, the Department of the Army, the Army Medical Department, or any other agency of the US Government.
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