2017-04-21 / Life

No longer forgotten for his service

Honor Flight Austin gives Lampasas veteran the welcome home he never received after serving in Korea, Vietnam
BY DEREK MOY
DISPATCH RECORD


Retired United States Marine James Parr, fifth from left, sits at the Marine Corps War Memorial. He and a group of veterans went on an Honor Flight Austin 36-hour tour through the nation’s capital, seeing the many war monuments. Parr received VIP treatment from the organization, which focuses on giving once-in-a-lifetime trips to the nation’s eldest veterans. 
COURTESY PHOTO Retired United States Marine James Parr, fifth from left, sits at the Marine Corps War Memorial. He and a group of veterans went on an Honor Flight Austin 36-hour tour through the nation’s capital, seeing the many war monuments. Parr received VIP treatment from the organization, which focuses on giving once-in-a-lifetime trips to the nation’s eldest veterans. COURTESY PHOTO When Lampasas resident retired Master Sgt. James Parr, 86, finished serving in the Korean War as a United States Marine, there was no one on hand to meet him in 1952 except government workers.

And after serving in the Vietnam War, he had only one person greet him upon arrival home in 1965: his wife Louise.

“When I came home from Vietnam, my wife was the only one there to meet me,” Parr said. “I flew back into the United States, landed in the airbase in California. My wife was the only one there.


James Parr waves, shakes hands with a crowd of people as he arrived home from an Honor Flight Austin trip to Washington, D.C. Parr served as a United States Marine in Korea and Vietnam. 
COURTESY PHOTO James Parr waves, shakes hands with a crowd of people as he arrived home from an Honor Flight Austin trip to Washington, D.C. Parr served as a United States Marine in Korea and Vietnam. COURTESY PHOTO “In fact, the Korean War the only ones that were there to greet us was the working party of Marines to load our sea bags,” he said. “As we came off the ship, we dumped them in a pile, and they loaded them into trucks and hauled them to Parris Island where we were going to be processed. That was all that was there when we came back from Korea.”

The 20-year veteran didn’t get a ticker-tape parade or warm remarks or even thanks for serving his country during those two conflicts. “We were told not to leave the base in uniforms,” Parr said. “They’d bark at ya, throw rocks at ya, spit on ya.”

That all changed when he was selected to be a member of an Honor Flight Austin trip to Washington, D.C.

“It was phenomenal; it was an experience of a lifetime,” Parr said of the recent trip. “We got to go through the World War II Memorial and all that.”

The Honor Flight organization is part of a national effort to get aging veterans on trips to see the monuments made in their honor and to thank them for the service they gave to their country, Chairman Allen Bergeron said.

“The theme from this last flight that he was on was ‘Simply Magnificent’ because it’s a 36-hour trip, and every step of the way they were constantly being surprised…,” Bergeron said. “They get their long overdue welcome home.”

The trip included the Austin Fire Department spraying water cannons over the plane while it taxied – a rare honor – a hero’s welcome home and many more surprises along the way. While serving in Vietnam, Parr said it wasn’t unusual for him or his fellow Marines to get a care package of dog food – not treats or homemade items as gifts.

But during his Honor Flight, Parr experienced quite the opposite as scores of people crowded into the Austin- Bergstrom International Airport and cheered the group of veterans on and off the plane.

“I did not know that all the rest of the people – my daughters, granddaughters – they were all going to be there when I came in …,” Parr said. “And I didn’t think we’d get [a big welcome] up in Washington, D.C., but we did.

“I never shook so many hands in my life,” he said. “Everybody wanted to shake hands with you … They just lined up there, and it was almost like a parade – it was a parade both times. A lot of them wanted to have their picture taken with you. It was always, ‘Thank you for your service.’ ”

His family members made a sign that read: “He isn’t just our Papa, he’s our hero.”

Honor Flight’s chairman said the mission of the organization is simple: honor the veterans.

“We have a very strong group of folks that we’ve been doing this with for about five years now,” Bergeron said. “I always tell people that want to get involved, whether it’s board members or volunteers, to never lose focus on the why – why we do what we do. And that’s to honor our most senior veterans.”

Veterans like Parr, who served not only in the Korean War but also the Vietnam War, are becoming fewer and fewer, Bergeron said.

“When we did our first flight of Korean and Vietnam vets, it was an eye-opener for us because we realized it was the right thing to do …,” he said. “The message was, to the Korean War vets, that you are not forgotten. Then for the Vietnam vets, of course, they did not get that gratitude campaign – they didn’t get a welcome home.”

The Korean conflict is often called the Forgotten War, and Parr got to see the monuments in honor of the sacrifices he and others made.

“I had a ball ’cause I enjoyed so much talking with the old World War II veterans, associating with them,” the Lampasas man said. “That’s my cup of tea, so to speak. Just to associate with the veterans. It was a big ol’ group of us sharing stories. From the time I got to Austin, till the time I got back to Austin, every moment was cherished by me.” Parr was not only a Marine but a recruiting officer and a casualty assistance officer. He said he had one of the worst jobs in the armed services: delivering the bad news to families that their loved one was killed or missing in action.

While on the recent trip, Parr never looked too closely at the names of those on the memorials. He said it would bring back too many bad memories.

“I went to the Korean War Memorial, and they looked like ghosts – it made my ol’ heart go,” he said. “That’s where I was wounded, in Korea.

“In Vietnam, I was in charge of the people in my company … I did not try to get very close with any of my men for the simple reason I didn’t want to lose any of them. I lost a few, and it was devastating. If you were real close to them, you can imagine it’d be like losing your father with the kind of feelings you’d have. I didn’t want that.”

Honor Flight pays for everything on the trip – hotel, airfare, food. It also provides veterans with a guardian – someone who can push them in a wheelchair when they get tired of walking or handle other issues that come up.

“They made sure I was well taken care of,” the veteran said. “They really bent over backwards checking on me. This lady [guardian Danielle Splendoria] was a peach. She volunteered. They’re all volunteers.”

The Honor Flight trips are funded through donations, Bergeron said. Many businesses and individuals come together to make the 36- hour visits happen.

“Our one and only mission is to fly our most senior veterans to D.C.,” he said. “That’s what we do. We want to keep on … All we need from the community is to help us find more veterans and help us raise money.

“Raising money means they can sponsor a veteran; they can come to our fundraiser events; they can go to our webpage and make donations at honorflightaustin.org,” Bergeron said.

There was only one drawback, according to Parr. The retired Marine didn’t get to settle the U.S. Congress down the Marine Corps way. Instead, he got a gift replica of Congress.

The next fundraiser for Honor Flight Austin will be May 20 at Nyle Maxwell’s Vehicles Unique Showroom in Georgetown for a “Crawfish, Brew and BBQ” event. The event will begin at 5 p.m. Tickets for the meal and entertainment by musician Brandon Rhyder are $250.

Visit HonorFlightAustin.org for more information about the organization.

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