Although Artillerymen look to our patron, Saint
Barbara, to watch over us and shield us from harm, for decades there has
been a more earthly lady, Mrs. Edith G. Fanning, who has taken air defenders by the hand and
steered them in the right direction. Since Saint
Barbara is undeniably the First Lady of Air Defense Artillery (ADA) and
Ms. Genevieve Swick was unofficially named the second, perhaps a most fitting
title for Mrs. Fanning would be the “Duchess” of ADA. Mrs. Fanning, or Edith
as she would insist you call her, has devoted her class, grace,
experience and knowledge to members of the ADA community for decades.
Known as the face of the ADA Association, Mrs. Fanning
has been the torch bearer of the Association since its inception. By
request of Major General CJ LeVan, Edith set up an office in Building
5000, the then home of the Air Defense Artillery Museum at Fort Bliss, Texas,
which was managed by the Curator and Director of Museums Mr. Sam Hoyle. Together,
Mrs. Fanning and Mr. Hoyle sat down and drafted the new ADA
Association's Constitution and By Laws. Mrs. Fanning would be the first to
say Mr. Hoyle was the backbone of the Association, but the truth is that
he had many fish to fry in his assigned position and the task to see it
successfully through fell to Edith.
Once incorporated on 14 June 1975,
the task of selling ADA Association memberships fell squarely and solely
on Edith's shoulders – her
first stop was General LeVan’s office where she may have stressed that
"a leader leads by example" – but, however she presented it, General LeVan
ended up with membership number one, followed closely by Colonel Ashby
Foote, General LeVan's Chief of Staff and Colonel Bernard Sapp the then
Assistant Commandant equivalent. To keep the momentum going she sold
membership number four to her own husband Major John (Jack) Fanning who
was the Secretary of the General’s Staff and it progressed from there.
Edith actively recruited membership for the Association in all the Fort
Bliss housing areas, so she literally walked the streets of Fort Bliss
During our interview the Duchess admitted that there
were times she felt much like the “Fuller Brush Man” going door to door,
which eventually progressed to from classroom to classroom selling memberships to
newly accessed Air Defenders. Simultaneously, she also became Mrs. LeVan’s unofficial aide/personal secretary keeping very busy, but never
remiss in her duties as a mother and wife, fulfilling expectations set
forth in the “How to be a Proper Officer’s Wife Handbook.” To this day,
guests to the Fanning residence are treated with the utmost care and
proper decorum. One might find the above reference humorous or even
demeaning by today’s standard, but the art of proper entertaining is
something every visitor learned in the presence of the Duchess.
Edith hosted many events and sponsored many ADA
Soldiers and their families over the years. Adding to her list of
accomplishments and significant contributions to the ADA community were
her involvement in Association projects such as fundraisers and
exhibits. She was instrumental in raising funds for the new ADA Museum
Project, the Annual Gala/Auction, the Children’s Bi-Cultural Living History Program, the Museum
Gift Shop and the Order of Saint Barbara/Molly Pitcher Awards
Program. She unselfishly attended every retirement, awards and
recognition ceremony and gave full participation on behalf of the
Association at venues such as conferences, symposiums and class
graduations. When one thinks about putting the "right foot forward," the
Duchess always represented ADA in the best light.
Through the years, almost every
officer going through the ADA
Officer Basic Course, Captain’s Career Course and/or Pre-Command Course has had
the opportunity to meet with the
Duchess on their way to becoming a bon-a-fide Air Defender and member of
the ADA Association. Enlisted and noncommissioned officers
benefitted as well, by having a reliable go to source on ADA
information, guidance on military customs and courtesy and/or ADA
Association related business.
The Duchess, born Edith Geysen, in Washingtonville, New
York, grew up on her father’s farm which coincidentally backed up to the
grounds of the United States Military Academy's (USMA's) Camp Buckner training area
at West Point, New York. Annually
Mr. Geysen granted the Academy permission to use part of his farm
for the ever growing summer camps and mock battle engagements. Edith fondly remembers her
Mother taking phone calls for or from the USMA Commandant, while she and
her sister Marion, acted as unofficial dispatchers carrying messages by
bicycle out to the encampments. A privilege bestowed only to them, while
others were forbidden to gain entrance past the guarded check points.
There were times when they sat atop a hill and watched the action as if
they were onlookers at Gettysburg, only without all the carnage.
So, is it any wonder that after graduating from
Washingtonville Central High School, and the Katharine Gibbs School of
New York City, that she would meet and fall in love with a USMA cadet?
Miss Edith Geysen and Lieutenant John Fanning were married in
1960. The renowned artist, Don Stivers, even used the Fanning’s wedding
photograph as the subject of his painting “Wedding at West Point”.
Although our Duchess may
sound like she lived the life of a socialite, Miss Edith actually had an
interesting job prior to
her marriage. She was employed by the Central Hudson Gas and Electric
Corporation in Poughkeepsie, New York, as the Executive Assistant to the CEO. Today almost anyone working
with or around the military knows about the need for security
clearances, but imagine if you will, that in the 1950s Miss Edith was
required to have a Secret clearance sanctioned by the
Atomic Energy Commission even though she had no military/government
affiliation. However, during her tenure there, she also had the opportunity to have lunch at
Paramount Studios with Sophia Loren and Elvis Presley.
Add to that, with her nonexistent
spare time, Edith was also very active in
the Junior League of Newburgh, New York.
While the Fannings were on active duty, Edith was very
involved in Officer Wives' Club functions having served as Publicity
Chairman, Member at Large, and President of the Club at Fort Hamilton,
New York. She
volunteered with the Red Cross Volunteer while at Fort
Leonard Wood, Missouri, and in 1984 received the Commanding
General’s Award for her “exceptional orchestration of the Fort
Leonard Wood Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Reception”.
was extremely proud when their daughter, Jacqui, was selected as the
1978 Fort Bliss Sun Princess.
Edith worked with the Association from its inception until Jack was
reassigned to a new duty station in 1980. Upon their
return to Fort Bliss in 1985, Edith
volunteered in the ADA Association Gift Shop and soon became the Secretary of the
ADA Association, a position which she held until her recent
retirement due to the Base Realignment and Closure, moving the Air
Defense Artillery School and along with it the ADA Association to Fort
Sill, Oklahoma. Mrs. Fanning concluded this interview by saying, "No one
has ever had a better 30 some years of serving the best Soldiers in the
Army." The Duchess and Colonel (Retired) Fanning will continue to
represent ADA in the El Paso community.
Although the Duchess felt
privileged to serve Air Defenders, the honor was all ours. We will
always carry Mrs. Fanning (the face of the ADA Association), in our
hearts wherever we go, as she has always held us in hers. Thank you, Edith Fanning for
representing us with such tremendous grace, elegance and heart. You have inspired a
generation of Air Defenders, both military and civilian.
Mrs. Edith G. Fanning shakes hands with Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher,
while Major General Stanley E. Green looks on at Fort Bliss, Texas