David E. Farnham dies at 86; retired Army colonel

January 25
David E. Farnham
Army colonel

David E. Farnham, a retired Army colonel who worked in military assistance programs in the Middle East with the State Department and served in three wars with two branches of the military, died Jan. 14 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He was 86.

The cause was renal failure, according to his son David B. Farnham.

Col. Farnham’s military career spanned World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, where he served in a unit that trained officers in counterinsurgency tactics and strategy. He was a principal staff officer serving under John Paul Vann, an Army lieutenant colonel who was a principal subject of Neil Sheehan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Vietnam, “A Bright Shining Lie.”

David Edward Farnham was born in Augusta, Maine, and began his military career with the Marine Corps in 1945. He served in China after the Japanese surrender ending World War II.

He graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1951, then served with the Army during the Korean War at posts in the United States.

Col. Farnham then taught school in Massachusetts while serving in the Army Reserve, and he received a master’s degree in philosophy from Boston University in 1958.

In 1962, he was recalled to active duty with the Army. He served in Vietnam, and was later assigned by the Army to the State Department and the CIA. He retired in 1978. His decorations included three awards of the Legion of Merit.

In retirement, Col. Farnham lived in Reston, Va. He was sought after by authors and historians seeking his recollections of the Vietnam War.

His marriage to Linda McKinley ended in divorce. A son from his first marriage, David R. Farnham, died in 2006.

Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Juliette Bach Farnham of Reston; a son from his first marriage, David B. Farnham of Falmouth, Maine; a stepdaughter, Paula Fulton of Brambleton, Va.; and a granddaughter.

— Bart Barnes