PARRISH -- As a U.S. Army infantryman during World War II, Vern Farnham saw hard fighting from Marseilles, France, to Stuttgart, Germany.
Along the way, there were 190 days in the front lines with many nights spent shivering in wet or frozen foxholes, and always ferocious resistance from the retreating Germans.
Now, more than 70 years after the end of World War II, the 90-year-old Parrish resident continues to serve his fellow veterans by crocheting colorful afghans for patients at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
So far, he's made 425, all to show the vets that someone
cares about them, and bring them a little cheer.
The Veranda Springs resident estimates that if his afghans were placed end to end, they would measure 708 yards long, about seven football fields.
That's a lot of stitches: 22,175 hooks per afghan, or a total of 9 1/2 million.
He learned to crochet from his mother during the Great Depression, a talent that helped develop his analytical mind and his artistic flair.
Later as an architect, he designed hospitals, using a slide rule and doing his own drawings and precise lettering -- the same skills he applies toward his afghans.
"He has to use his mathematical brain to analyze how many rows, how many stitches. He is a perfectionist," says his daughter, Laura Dunkle. "It's a wonderful, philanthropic thing he is doing for his fellow vets."
Farnham has no end game other than to make as many afghans "as the Lord will allow."
His faith goes back a long way.
He recalls a time in France near the Vosges Mountains when the chaplain said a prayer for his unit.
"At that moment, I am sure the Lord placed an angel on my back to protect me from harm," he said.
Farnham emerged unscathed from his wartime experiences.
In a memoir he has penned of his military service, he writes that from Jan. 10, 1945, until March 10, 1945, his unit was in a defensive position.
"During the winter's endless cold and misery of fox holes," he almost lost his feet to trench foot, he writes.
Late in the war he was assigned duties as a field switchboard operator.
Near Heilbronn, a crew that was running wire to the switchboard came under sniper fire.
"I took my rifle and started toward the wire crew. I exposed myself and the sniper fired at me. I dropped to safety and tried to find where the fire came from. I saw a window on the second floor of a house across the street. I fired two clips of shells at the window and the sniper left the area," he wrote in his memoir.
For saving the wire crew, Farnham was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
After Germany surrendered, Farnham was assigned military police duties in Mannheim.
One day a general came to his office and told him there had been an accident nearby and that he would be receiving many visitors in the next few days.
Later he learned that Gen. George Patton had been fatally injured in the accident when a speeding 2 1/2 ton pulled in front of his staff car.
"After this happened I was swamped with dignitaries from our allies. Three days after his accident, he died from a broken neck in a military hospital in Heidelberg," Farnham recalled.
Farnham knows first-hand the hell of war.
"One day during World War II, I was coming across a pontoon bridge and I saw coming the other way dead American soldiers being transported from the front. I saw a lot of misery, a lot of people hurt," he said.
He can't help but feel compassion and empathy for America's newest war veterans.
"I wanted to do something for the veterans, so I started crocheting," he said.
Betty, his wife of 68 years, has nicknamed him "Captain Hook" for all those crochet hooks.
She has a front-row view of his crocheting, sitting next to him a recliner.
"I am glad that he does this for the veterans," she said. "It's a nice thing to do, and it helps keep his mind going."
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.