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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