Face of Defense: War Veteran Hangs Up Wings at Age 90

VALDOSTA, Ga. — More than 70 years of fly­ing expe­ri­ence came to a close after one last flight in a Piper Sarato­ga air­craft in Val­dos­ta, Ga.
While retired Air Force Col. Clarence Park­er has been a pilot for the major­i­ty of his life, the now 90-year-old has decid­ed to hang up his wings and start a new chap­ter in his life with one last flight on May 20, 2011.

Retired Air Force Col. Clarence Park­er pre­pares to take his final flight May 20, 2011, at the Val­dos­ta Region­al Air­port, in Val­dos­ta, Ga. Park­er has flown for more than 70 years as pilot in three wars and in the Berlin Air­lift, but has decid­ed to retire from fly­ing at the age of 90.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Air­man 1st Class Ben­jamin Wise­man
Click to enlarge

“I have decid­ed that sev­en decades of fly­ing was a great run,” Park­er said. “I want­ed to stop on my own terms, and not when the doc­tors or my health dic­tat­ed it.”

Park­er start­ed his avi­a­tion career when he was just 20 years old. In 1940, he want­ed to join the U.S. Army Air Corps, but his appli­ca­tion was put on hold. Then he decid­ed to earn his pri­vate pilot’s license as a civil­ian instead.

A year lat­er, Park­er was called to action.

“I had just land­ed from a flight when some­one ran up and told me the Japan­ese had bombed Pearl Har­bor,” he recalled. “With­in 48 hours of the attack, I was con­tact­ed by the U.S. Army Air Corps and instruct­ed to go to San Anto­nio.”

From that day for­ward, Colonel Parker’s career took many twists and turns. He flew more than 35 dif­fer­ent air­craft, rang­ing from the P-40 Warhawk to the B-52 Strato­fortress. He has flown in three dif­fer­ent wars and sev­er­al com­bat mis­sions: World War II, the Berlin Air­lift, the Kore­an War and the Viet­nam War.

Dorothy Lee Park­er, the colonel’s wife, remem­bers many of the bases they both vis­it­ed dur­ing their 69 years of mar­riage.

“We have been all over the world,” she said. “When you’re mar­ried to a pilot, you always seem to come sec­ond because the air­craft and the mis­sion are always first. Despite that, I always enjoy trav­el­ing with him, and he’s going to miss fly­ing like hell.”

He served his coun­try from 1942 until 1971, end­ing his career as the wing com­man­der at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Even after the colonel retired, he con­tin­ued to fly as a civil­ian for 30 more years.

“He has been fly­ing the entire time we have been mar­ried,” Dorothy said with laugh­ter. “After near­ly 70 years of mar­riage, I final­ly get to be his main focus.”

Park­er shared a few words of advice before leav­ing the fly­ing to the pilots of lat­er gen­er­a­tions.

“Avi­a­tion is not only a chal­lenge but an oppor­tu­ni­ty for young peo­ple,” he said. “I encour­age all pilots to approach fly­ing with vig­or and deter­mi­na­tion, and enjoy the rewards of your hard work.”

Once Park­er parts ways with fly­ing, he said he and and his wife plan to con­tin­ue vis­it­ing fam­i­ly as well as trav­el­ing around the U.S. and Europe.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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