JUNE 11, 1920 | JULY 30, 2017
“We left shaken, stunned. We were changed forever. We felt only profound compassion. The leaders of the world today should have shared this.”
John Dow “Tex” Farrington Jr. ’42 was among the first Americans to see the devastated city of Hiroshima, Japan, after it was leveled by the atomic bomb known as “Little Boy.” He later wrote about the experience that shaped his life in a book for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren he titled Waging the Peace, which includes the quote above.
Farrington, who once escorted Nancy Davis Reagan to her society debut in Chicago, joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant after graduating from Princeton, where he was in ROTC, with degrees in engineering and economics. Like many of his fellow Americans and soldiers, he felt a deep anger toward the Japanese in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was his experience in September 1945 in Hiro, Japan — where his mission was to secure the area in advance of American troops arriving to occupy Japan after its surrender to the U.S. — that would change Farrington’s heart forever.
After accepting Hiro’s Japanese flag from the city’s mayor, Farrington began a healing process for both himself and his country. “I nodded; they bowed,” Farrington told South Carolina’s The State newspaper. “It was the beginning of a profound change in attitude that affected all the years to come. It was, in a way, my epiphany.” He was 25 years old.
Soon after, Farrington visited Hiroshima — a day his daughter, Nancy Novak, says transformed him. “He realized that we were all really one world. The devastation of it was something he never, ever wanted to see happen again,” she says.
When Farrington then took command of 3,000 Japanese prisoners of war at a camp he helped create on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, he refrained from using corporal punishment on the Japanese troops in his care. Instead, he gave them weekly lessons on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “four freedoms of democracy”: freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom of religion, and freedom from want. “Each Sunday, my desk was moved out to the parade ground, and I was available to openly discuss any subject and, in return, to ask [the POWs] about their beliefs,” Farrington wrote in a book he coordinated to share the Class of ’42’s wartime experiences. “At first, there were only a few attendees, but after a few weeks, up to a thousand came and were well-prepared. It was quite a challenge and a defining event that I recall with pride.”
Farrington also began a friendship with his Japanese interpreter at the camp that would last the rest of his life; he gave the eulogy at the man’s funeral decades later. “He taught us as children to befriend everyone, that no one is better than anyone else, and to respect people’s views even when we did not agree with them,” says Novak.
For 65 years, Farrington did not show anyone, including his children, the Japanese flag he brought home from Hiro. In 2010, he returned it to the city, where it is now on display.
Novak says Princeton was the second defining force in her father’s life, and during his retirement on Hilton Head Island, he was a devoted member of the local Princeton club, famous for his bright orange corduroy sport jacket.
“He was so upset to miss the Old Guard luncheon at Reunions last year,” remembers Novak. “He was a Princetonian to the end.”
Allison Slater Tate ’96 is a freelance writer and editor.