Anybody who ever saw Rock Hill’s Leonard Farrington – old and bent, tough and brazen, waving his American flag – will never forget him.
For years on Sept. 11, on the anniversary of the worst attacks in American history, Farrington snatched the flag from his porch and waved it from the Sutton Road bridge over Interstate 77.
He waved his flag and shouted out such great lines as, “America kicks terrorists in the ---!”
Thousands of drivers honked at him over the years as he waved his flag in almost-anonymous glee and toughness.
One day soon, all those drivers will know his name.
If politicians who rarely get anything right approve, the state will give that bridge a name, emblazoned on signs that read: “Patriot Leonard A. Farrington 9/11 Memorial Bridge.”
“It will be unanimous,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, whose Senate resolution was introduced last week at the same time state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, submitted the same in the House. “No doubt. We all want it. The man did a great thing.”
The Legislature should vote in the coming weeks, Hayes said. After that, the York County Council would have to approve spending a few hundred bucks for the signs, then Department of Transportation workers will put up the signs.
Farrington – a Navy veteran of World War II who ran out of a theater in 1941 to enlist after hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor – died in January 2012. He was 89.
He died laughing and holding up his fist right to the end.
The bridge to be named for him would be the first locally not named for some big shot political figure.
“He would be so thrilled,” said Betty Farrington, who was married to Leonard for a lifetime. She even waved the flag at the same spot, at the same time, on Sept. 11, 2012, after her husband died.
“He never wanted notoriety. He just wanted to wave his flag. He wanted people to remember what this country is really about. So that’s exactly what he did.”
Farrington was no flunky phony patriot looking for cheap publicity, like so many hacks claiming to love freedom all the while subverting it for others who do not look like them or pray like them.
Farrington spent a lifetime battling for freedom of religion and expression and equality for everyone.
“ ‘American’ means freedom,” he once said, “and that means freedom to do what you damn please as long as you don’t hurt anybody.”
A devout Methodist who lived through wars and saw hatred all along the way, he despised politicians of all parties. He believed equally that liberals and conservatives were awful.
Farrington’s flag-waving took on a life of its own, after The Herald took his picture the first day he ever waved it – Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, killing some 3,000 people.
I interviewed Farrington that day.
“Get outta here,” the great man told me. “I am waving a flag, not running for office.”
Each year after that, Farrington would go back on the anniversary and wave and try to shoo away reporters and photographers. He only stopped in the middle of the last decade when a state trooper told him that his flag waving might cause a pile-up on the interstate.
“Took the law to stop me,” snarled Farrington.
But greatness would not be denied. When Osama bin Laden – the mastermind of the terrorist attacks of 2001 – was killed in 2011, I called Farrington.
“Meet me on the bridge in 15 minutes,” he said. “Don’t be late.”
Farrington could not drive by then. He could barely walk. So his wife drove him to the bridge, and he marched onto that Sutton Road bridge like de Gaulle into Paris.
He waved his flag. His arm quickly tired so he switched arms. He chuckled through the fatigue and pain of old age.
“No bin Laden is ever going to beat the United States of America,” Farrington said that day. “Nobody takes on us and wins. You come after us, you get smacked right in the mouth.”
Farrington left with these words: “We got you, you son of a -----! Take that, bin Laden!”
The police no longer stopped him.
The last two years on Sept. 11, dozens of members of Rolling Thunder, a veterans advocacy group best known by the motorcycles most members ride, has taken up the Farrington cause of flag-waving at all I-77 bridges in York County.
One of the members, Harvey Mayhill of Rock Hill, proposed to the politicians the idea of naming the Sutton Road bridge in honor of Farrington.
“It was a no-brainer,” Mayhill said. “Len deserves it.”
Leonard Farrington’s name will live on at that bridge, and people, maybe forever, on Sept. 11 will wave flags from that bridge.
Not for any political party. For something far greater.
It is a tradition started by one man for whom a bridge will now be named. An old man who stood up for America.