Parker to visit Washington, D.C.
Russ Parker of Washington will be another veteran from Washington County traveling on the Honor Flight April 22.
Parker served in the Army for 20 years during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He was drafted in 1953 by the Army. At that time young men had no choice which branch of service they could join. They were just told which base to report to.
He spent most of the Korean War in basic training. He only spent a couple of months in Korea.
“By the time I got out of basic training the armistice was signed in July of ‘53,” Parker said, “I went to Korea in ’53 and came back there in October of ’53 or somewhere around there to help them when the armistice was signed.”
While he was in Korea he spent time in the 55-mile area of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. His job was to help keep the peace between the two countries.
“It’s still a combat zone today,” Parker said.
After he returned from South Korea, Parker spent two years in Hawaii from 1954 to 1956. Then he was transferred to Fort Riley in Kansas. From there he volunteered to go to ‘jump school’ and became an instructor for the airborne division at Fort Benning, Ga.
When you ask Parker what divisions he served with during his 20 years in the Army, he names quite a few. He spent most of his time with the 82nd Division and the 101st.
When he wasn’t in the 82nd Division he was assigned to an infantry unit.
One day in particular still stands out to him today. It was Nov. 22,1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. He was putting tires on a military vehicle when someone told him.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Sir, have you heard the news?’” Parker said. “I said, ‘What news?’ ‘President Kennedy has been shot.’ ”
Shortly after, Parker’s infantry unit was given orders to get ready to go to Dallas.
The country was on high alert and the troops were on standby in case something else happened, Parker said.
“We were like that so, in case something came up, we were ready to go,” he said.
Parker never did end up in Dallas. He spent another two years stateside after the assassination of President Kennedy before getting orders to go to Vietnam in 1965.
“I was lucky I didn’t get shot at,” Parker said.
He said there were many times when the airborne division would be shot at while parachuting out of the plane into a combat zone.
He returned from Vietnam in 1966. He had orders to report to an Army base in Louisiana, but he called the main instructor at Fort Benning. The instructor found out his orders had changed and he would have new orders to return to Fort Benning.
In 1971 Parker returned for a second tour to Vietnam. He returned later that year and finished out the last two years of his service at Fort Benning.
“When I was drafted, see, it was for two years,” Parker said, “and I tell my mom I couldn’t make up my mind if I liked it or not. Re-enlisted as soon as I made up my mind and one day someone said, ‘You can retire after 20’ and I decided I didn’t like it anymore.”
Parker received several service awards including a Bronze Star and medals for his time in combat during both Vietnam and the Korean wars. However, he doesn’t boast about them because to him he’s not the hero.
“The real heroes are the ones who were shot up, tore up, and didn’t come back,” Parker said.
Parker is excited to go to Washington, D.C., next Tuesday. This will be the first time he will be able to see the actual Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Back in the 1990s the miniature wall came to the Washington County area, Parker said. He stopped on his way down to Ottumwa to see the names of some of his friends who didn’t come back from Vietnam.
Parker found their names on the wall and stood there for a few moments thinking about his comrades.
“Nobody ever forgets,” he said.