Earl C. Acuff of Blacksburg, United States Army Airborne Light Infantry and commandant of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets from 1973 to 1980, died Wednesday, Feb. 13. He was 94.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary-Low Fahrenwald Acuff and son William Dean Acuff.
Acuff was born on July 24, 1918, to Walter and Agnes Patterson Acuff in Whiteburg, Iowa. Following the death of his mother at age three, Acuff and his siblings lived with his older sister, Ollie Erickson.
He learned to box as a young boy and with his older brother Art, became a Golden Gloves champion in high school. Following high school graduation in Des Moines, Iowa, his family moved to Kellogg, Idaho, where his father worked in the silver mines. Always a gifted and über competitive athlete, Acuff was scouted by a coach while playing baseball with friends. He was offered a full football scholarship to the University of Idaho and enlisted in ROTC.
While at the university he met Mary-Low Fahrenwald. They were married in Carmel, Calif., in 1941 while Acuff trained in desert warfare at Ft. Ord with the 82nd Airborne. Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in typical Army fashion, he was secretly shipped to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
He was executive officer to the 1st Intelligence Combat Platoon, also known as Alaskan Scouts. His fondest memories were serving in this unique unit, that survived without resupply or personal contact with the outside world in order to scout Japanese forces in the Aleutians Islands. After the war, the Scouts mapped the entire western coastline of Alaska and provided Acuff with a lifetime of memories of the Alaskan bush.
Acuff left the military in 1946, started a family and built his first home overlooking Cook Inlet. He was a bush pilot, big game guide, and taught physical education at East High School in Anchorage until he was asked by the Army in 1949 to return to service and teach Arctic survival skills. This was the beginning of an Army career that spanned 33 years.
In 1952, as commander, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, 7th Infantry Division, he fought for and defended hills 255 and 266 – also known as Pork Chop and Old Baldy, earning a Purple Heart, his second Combat Infantryman Badge, a Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star with four Oak Leaf Clusters and V for Valor.
He was a Master Parachutist. In 1965 when the Army asked him to evaluate and recommend changes to the Ranger training program at Fort Benning, Ga., at age 47 he became the oldest man to successfully graduate as a U.S. Army Ranger.
In 1966 he received a master's degree in international policy from George Washington University and worked for the State Department on Central and South American affairs. In 1968, he served as Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division Republic of Vietnam and earned his 3rd Combat Infantryman Badge.
In 1969, he served as Deputy Post Commander at the U. S. Army Infantry School in Ft. Benning, Ga. In 1970, he was asked to teach military science at Virginia Tech. In 1974, he was promoted to Brigadier General and became the commandant of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
While at Virginia Tech, Acuff and his wife built their second home on their farm in Ellett Valley. He raised cattle with his border collie, Mack, gardened and began a competitive career in racquetball. He was inducted into the University of Idaho Sports Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and the National and World Champion Racquetball Hall of Fame after earning 20 gold medals at major national and international tournaments.
Acuff truly loved people and was an incredible storyteller. His range and depth of knowledge was astounding — how many people know you shouldn't try to eat walrus meat? He had a rapier wit to the end, but he never stopped worrying about his eight children and 12 grandchildren.
Acuff is survived by Thomas and Jan Davis Acuff of Smiths, Ala., and their children Michael Acuff of Auburn, Ala., Dana and Kristin Acuff May of Auburn, Ala., Katy Acuff of Columbus, Ga., and Alex Acuff of Atlanta, Ga.; Dan and Mary Ann Acuff Bowling of Pearisburg, Va., and their sons, Russell and Jessica Nicole Bowling of Stephens City, Va., and Evan Bowling of Roanoke, Va.; Mike Schaas and Ardis Acuff of Copper Hill, Va., and her sons, Nate Preston of Portland, Ore., and Bill and Mikal Bohne Preston of Anchorage, Alaska; Rodney Acuff and Bobbie Hanby of Roanoke, Va., and his daughter Lindsey Acuff of Christiansburg, Va.; Janice Acuff and Mike Judkins of Seattle, Wash., and her daughters, Kerry Low Beckman of Atlanta, Ga., and Kim Beckman of Seattle, Wash.; John and Teresa Acuff McMahon of Asheville, N.C.; Larry and Dawn Acuff Connor of Fairfax, Va., and their young son, Callum Connor. It was our honor to love Earl and spend so much time with him.
The family would like to convey their deepest gratitude to Debra Kittinger and Brooke Lawson of Medi Home Health and Hospice in Christiansburg and the entire staff at the Kroontje Center, Warm Hearth in Blacksburg, who honored our father with the finest, most loving care in a way that preserved his dignity to the end.
The family will receive friends at 1 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the War Memorial Chapel on the Virginia Tech campus. A memorial service will follow at 2 p.m. and full military honors will be held graveside at the Memorial Gardens of New River Valley at 3:30 p.m.
Acuff will be laid to rest beside the great love of his life, Mary-Low.
In lieu of flowers, family would like donations to be given to the Wounded Warrior Project. Arrangements by McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg.
- Veterans of Virginia Tech: Earl C. Acuff