In honor of Veteran’s Day, we wanted to write an article with a little more substance and relevance to our local community here in Richmond, Virginia. So, we decided to do a spotlight interview on a local war veteran, Gordon Parker. Gordon is now 88 years old, and suffers from dementia, so much of his story was relayed through his daughter, Sharon Parker.
Gordon’s story of resilience and service is humbling and awe-inspiring—read on to find out more about this incredible veteran.
Gordon Parker was born in 1930 on a small farm in Grassy Meadows, West Virginia. During the height of the Great Depression, Gordon’s family survived off of the food they made from their farm and from the fruits they picked from their small orchard.
The military was always a large presence in Gordon’s life as he grew up. With six older brothers serving in World War II, Gordon felt like the military was a family legacy to uphold. But he also saw military service as a way to see the world and, ultimately, to get out of his coal mining West Virginia town.
Young Gordon (in his early 20's) a few years into his military career.
Gordon joined the army at age 18, serving in both Korea and Vietnam, as well as rotating in stations around the States and abroad. He served as a private in the 17th Infantry Regiment in Korea and as a soldier in the “Big Red One,” or the 1st Infantry Division, in Vietnam.
If there’s one word Gordon would use to describe Korea, it would be “cold.” Some soldiers call Korea the “Chosen Frozen” because it was so unbearably cold for many during their service there. To this day, Gordon dislikes the cold. His daughter, Sharon, said that during a particularly cold winter in Virginia over the holidays, her father would get emotional and tear up occasionally—the cold weather triggered memories of Korea.
Korea was where Gordon saw the most active combat. He stayed in Korea for 6 months (the length of one tour), and those six months were brutal. The cold weather, constant combat, and general fatigue of wartime were hard on Gordon and the other soldiers. When a new batch of men arrived in Korea a few months into Gordon’s tour, they took one look at the ragged, haphazard crew and said, “Where the hell have you people been?”
There was one particular instance that Sharon remembers her father telling the kids after Korea: while he was engaging in open fire with the enemy, the crossfire got so close to killing him that, on one instance, his helmet was blown clean off by hailing gunfire—bringing Gordon within inches of death.
Gordon received a purple heart and a CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge) for his service in the Korean War. After being treated for frostbite and almost losing his toes, Gordon came back to the states, serving in various stations throughout the country, and eventually serving in the Vietnam war. Vietnam wasn’t quite so nightmarish for Gordon as Korea was—but it was still war.
In both the Vietnam and Korean wars, Gordon fought bravely alongside some of the greatest men in our nation’s history. But active combat isn’t the main thing Gordon took away from his military career.
Gordon (center) with fellow soldiers in Vietnam.
Resiliency: The Army’s Biggest Lesson
For Gordon, the biggest thing the army taught him was how to be resilient. Sharon stressed how, despite dealing with the trauma of PTSD and the worries and struggles of everyday life, her father never ran from his problems. The army taught him how to stand up and face what life threw at him with strong, silent resolve. Throughout his life, Gordon has maintained the “can-do” army attitude. And this isn’t just found in Gordon—his whole generation that went through similar circumstances were taught this resilient approach to life. As Sharon puts it, “we could use a lot more of that.”
Gordon in his military uniform.
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
Even though the army exposed Gordon to the evils and the horrors of war—and still leaves him with unpleasant flashbacks, decades later—he holds that the army life was a good life. Despite the wars, the frostbite, the crossfire, and everything else that comes from serving your country, the army gave Gordon a way out of his small mining town. It exposed him to other cultures and ways of life. It changed his life direction and expanded his worldview.
Gordon loved being a soldier. It certainly wasn’t an easy life, by any means—but it was a good life, he says. Even now, in his old age and dementia and other health issues, Gordon looks back on his 20 years of military service as being the best years of his life. He’s proud to have served his country. He’s proud to have learned the lessons of resiliency that he did. He’s proud to wear his uniform and say, “I was a part of history. I helped shape the country that America is today.”
Gordon and his daughter, Sharon.
This is just a little glimpse into one soldier’s story. This Veteran’s Day, SkyBlue encourages you to connect with the veterans in your life and reflect on the invaluable service they’ve selflessly given to our country.
We’d like to extend a huge thank-you to Gordon and Sharon Parker for allowing us to conduct this interview (and providing pictures as well). We love you guys! We will never forget the time we were able to spend with you two.
Wishing you a healthy, happy, and reflective Veteran’s Day—from all of us here at SkyBlue.
What experiences with veterans do you hold close to your heart? They could be your own stories or the stories of a loved one. We would love to hear about them in the comments section below!