Services for Major Elton Parrish, Retired, were held at the Fort Richardson National Cemetery, Tuesday, June 3rd at 1:30 p.m. He passed away at age 81, December 6th 2013, while on vacation in Pahrump Nevada.
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The photo of Elton Parrish was taken May 15th 1959, while he was being interviewed on Anchorage televising station KTAV "Your Army Neighbor" series. At the time he was a corporal and was a member of the first military team to bring free fall parachuting to Alaska. The following day he demonstrated free fall parachuting during Armed Forces Day activities. He made $82 a month supporting his family in the Spenard trailer park.
Major Parrish began life as the youngest son of a nine child family with little means. He was born and worked hard on the family farm outside of Portland Oregon and though he had abusive parents, he never in his life touched a child in anger. At an early age he made the choice to move beyond what he was given and make something better of the world he lived in. He grew to be a man who was always good for his word, believed in what made this a great nation and became the best of what a husband, a father and a grandfather represents. He loved and never hated but was always a warrior.
He was state wrestling champion in Oregon, after high school Elton joined the military during a time of great change and new innovations. He was one of the few Army personnel to train and earn the Under Water Demolition (UDT) team insignia, the precursor to the Navy Seals. He participated with DUT-1 during the invasion of Inchon Harbor, during the Korean War. Of the 18 young men who went in from three different submarines, he and one other survived. At the end of the mission, Elton swam out to the pickup point towing the other survivor who was too wounded to swim. He was decorated by Douglas MacArthur on McArthur's flag ship. He came home to marry his high school sweetheart Donna Parrish, who he has now joined after losing her in September of 2010.
Elton participated in the refinement of the "Skyhook" extraction system, being one of the few people to take the ride more than once, and was a part of the early refinement of the HALO program with his highest freefall being from 32,000 feet. While stationed in Alaska during the 1950's, he participated in airdropping materials and supplies into the locations where the "Dew Line" sites were being constructed. It would at times include dropping a bulldozer from a C-124 and then parachuting in to clear a runway. He made his first tour in Vietnam in 1961 as a member of the Special Forces. This was in the capacity of "Advisor" after attending Army Medic training. He lived in the mountain villages of South Vietnam attending the sick, delivering babies, and learning what would be needed in that country should the U.S. commit to a greater involvement. He came back to help establish the "Jungle Training" school at Fort Bragg, and at West Point. He participated in the training and support of troops during the Bay of Pigs invasion between his missions to Vietnam. Subsequently he made two additional trips to Vietnam establishing Fire Bases and organizing the South Vietnamese forces to work as a resistance group. On more than one occasion he was stranded in other countries such as Cambodia and had to make his way home under hostile situations, or had to call in airstrikes on his own position when his compound was being overrun by the enemy. His final military tour was back in the Alaska he loved, based at Fort Wainwright.
Though being wounded at various times, his last tour in Vietnam was cut several months short due to the severity of his wounds from one of the airstrikes he had called in. He spent the remainder of his life dealing with physical pain from battle, but never complained nor considered his situation unjust. He recognized that he had made his choices and he deeply believed in the choices he made. He knew what he did was for a great country, even though there were those in that country who criticized what he represented. He did his part for them as well as the rest, because it was the right thing to do. He was never at peace with the many lives he took, but was never self-critical for doing so. He was a solder and a warrior accepting what that meant. He knew those around him, who had never been in harm's way, would never understand.
After his military career, Elton worked for a private air freight company training loading crews and traveling internationally to establish ground logistic locations. When finally retired, he traveled with his wife in their RV enjoying this great country they loved. His greatest joy was his son; daughter-in-law; and grandchildren of who he was so very proud and who he and his wife loved so unconditionally.
He is survived by his son, Dennis; his daughter-in-law, Andrea; grandson, Jacob and fiance Kacie; granddaughter, Nina; his sister, Kathy; and his oldest brother Henry, who landed on Normandy and Sicily beaches in WWII. Major Parrish received the DSC, two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, four Purple Hearts and twenty other medals for service and gallantry.
Here lies a soldier.
Published in Alaska Dispatch News from June 15 to June 16, 2014