Ralph Vernon Parks. Staff Sergeant United States Air Force (retired). That hardly does the man justice. It does not tell enough about the man, his contributions or his accomplishments. Today may well be the last official recognition this American veteran may ever receive. We should not let the moment slip by.
Ralph enlisted in 1958, and after Basic Training at Lackland, the Air Force sent him to Syracuse University to study Polish. After that it was Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany and duty flying in the back end of C-130A models during Cold War surveillance missions. he then went to Security Service headquarters at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas and back to Syracuse to study Russian. His subsequent assignments took him to Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts, Khorat in Thailand, McCoy in Florida, the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, Vandenberg in California, Camh Ranh Bay in Vietnam, back to Khorat, then McClellan in California and finally Homestead in Florida. A lot of good duty stations, and a lot of tough, dangerous ones. Appropriate because Ralph was a tough guy. Give him a job, and he did it.
I barely knew Ralph, and then it was well after he had retired. We met through an internet group of us ex-flyers who had flown and, in some cases, are still flying those worldwide surveillance missions. We call ourselves the Prop Wash Gang. I will try to represent them and their farewell salute to one of their own.
Ralph was an early leader in the airborne communications reconnaissance business. He arrived at Rhein-Main only months after the Soviet MiG's had shot down one of his new unit's unarmed C-130's over Soviet Armenia. Ralph did his job with distinction so that even today, forty years later, there are those who still can tell stories about him. In the air and on the ground, on-duty and off, Ralph was a memorable man all his life.
Ralph flew in various models and configurations of C-130, C-121, C-47 and T-29 aircraft. When he retired in 1978, Ralph Parks had amassed over 7000 flying hours. To put that in perspective that is more than 290 days. Imagine being in an airplane doing dangerous things from January first to Halloween straight, and that is how much time Ralph Parks spent flying in the Air Force for his country. And of those 7000 hours 1200 were combat flying hours. He flew rescue missions, too, and is credited with 38 saves as the Air Force calls them. Thirty-eight crews knew him to be a hero.
Ralph was a resource. Some people remember everything. Some people know important facts about a wide range of subjects. Ralph seemed to do both. His technical knowledge of aircraft was always a surprise, even long after one had come to expect him to know such things.
But Ralph was also a curmudgeon, more like General Patton, however, than like Andy Rooney. Few people knew Ralph without feeling his caustic comments periodically, but Ralph was also a gentle-voiced man who could be sincerely charming. He valued his friends openly and they reciprocated as well they should have. It would be impossible to collect all the Ralph Parks stories and fit them into a book, and if someone ever tried to do so, Ralph would be the first one to criticize the endeavor as pointless. But neither Ralph nor his Air Force career was pointless.
We of the prop Wash Gang will miss Ralph Parks, most especially those who flew with him forty-plus years ago, and remember the young man and all the stories. Along the way, he picked up the nickname "Schmedley" from a long-forgotten joke. His close friends still called him that. He was that one-of-a-kind person about whom we often read, but rarely actually meet. In today's world of slick packaging of worthless products, Ralph was the opposite: a man of character who saw no need to package or advertise himself at all. personally, I wish that I had gotten to know his sooner and better. I do wonder what sort of conversation he and Saint Peter are going to have at the pearly Gates.
Ralph Vernon Parks. Schmedley. Staff Sergeant. Flyer and friend. Goodbye and God bless you..