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Henry Parham (1921–2021), soldier with only all-Black unit on D-Day

by Linnea Crowther

Henry Parham was at U.S. Army veteran of World War II who was the last known living member of the only all-Black unit to land on the beach at Normandy on D-Day.

Barrage balloons

Parham was drafted into the U.S. Army at age 21, joining the segregated 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion. His first combat experience was on D-Day. His unit was responsible for raising and maintaining barrage balloons. These helium-filled balloons were deployed above the beach to force German bombers to fly at higher altitudes, where it was harder for them to attack Allied troops below. The balloons also carried small explosives, and when German planes tried to fly lower, they could become ensnared in the cables while the explosives damaged their wings and propellers. Parham and his battalion remained on the beach for 68 days as the invasion continued.

After the war

In later years, Parham worked as a heavy equipment operator at the Buncher Co. in Pittsburgh for 34 years until his retirement. After his retirement, he volunteered at the local VA hospital. In 2013, Parham was honored by the French government with the Legion of Honor. He was recognized in 2019 by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle on the House floor.

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Notable quote

“Staying in your trench was the hardest thing. It was two months of ducking and dodging and hiding. I was fortunate that I didn’t get hit. I managed to survive with God’s strength and help.” —from a 2019 interview for the Tribune-Review

Tributes to Henry Parham

Full obituary: Trib Live

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