Former Fort Eustis commander dies

alrockett@dailypress.com
Retired Maj. Gen. Harold “Hank” Small, who was the commanding general at Fort Eustis from 1980 to

Retired Maj. Gen. Harold "Hank" Small, who was the commanding general at Fort Eustis from 1980 to 1983, died last week. He was 83.

Retired Army Col. Jim Rockey served under Small from 1977 to 1985, including time as his chief of staff while Small led at Eustis. The two men became friends and, later, neighbors.

When they met in the early '70s, Rockey was working at the Pentagon and Small at the U.S. Army Transportation School, which then was located at Fort Eustis but has since partially moved to Fort Lee, Va.

"He was at the meeting where we solved all the world's problems," Rockey joked. "He just had a way of doing things that he didn't tell them what to do, but forced them to do it, in a nice way."

The two men went onto other commands after that, but they wouldn't part ways for long.

After serving in Europe, Rockey said he wanted to return to the Pentagon, but found himself at Fort Eustis. It wasn't until later that he discovered Small had requested him.

"I was here because he wanted me here," Rockey said.

After his three-year stint as commander of Eustis, Small moved to the Military Traffic Command in northern Virginia. Rockey soon followed.

In 1985, the two returned to Fort Eustis for a conference. Their wives also came along and talk of retirement came up — Small was nearing the end of a 37-year career, after all.

"Well, we can't build a house on the parade grounds at Fort Eustis," Rockey remembered the then-major general saying.

They found side-by-side properties in Poquoson, where Small, a Maine native, built a home in 1992 and Rockey in 1993, and they were neighbors ever since.

Small was instrumental in growth of the U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Rockey said, so much so that he talked Rockey into becoming the museum's foundation president — a position Rockey held until last year.

York County resident and retired Army Maj. Christopher Valentine also served under Small, a Korean and Vietnam veteran.

In 1967, Small commanded the 116th Assault Helicopter Company, nicknamed the Hornets, in Vietnam. Valentine was just a warrant officer then, and his memory has since faded, he said, but he remembers Small.

"He took care of us," Valentine said. "If something went wrong, he got us out of there."

Valentine visited Small when he was commander at Fort Eustis, nearly two decades after their war-time service.

"I told his secretary that Hornet 2-4 was here to see him," Valentine said. "He came storming out with open arms. He remembered all the old guys from the unit."

Last year, the company had a reunion in New Jersey. Small was already in frail health, Valentine said, but he came and "everybody loved him up."

Small's wife, Shirley, designated all members of the Hornets, past and present, as honorary pallbearers for his mass at Fort Eustis and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife; his three sons, Harold, of Lakewood Ranch, Fla., and Robert and Michael, of Newport News; his daughter Cheryl, of Poquoson; and two granddaughters.

There will be a visitation from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Peninsula Funeral Home on May 22 and a mass at 11 a.m. at the Transportation Corps Regimental Chapel on Fort Eustis on May 23. A reception will follow at the Fort Eustis Club.

Small's body will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.

Rockett can be reached by phone at 757-247-4942.

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