The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Families gather to honor memory of war buddies
By RUSTY DENNEN
It was a Memorial Day that John Harris, his mother Barbara, and sister Marjorie won’t soon forget.
The trio—John and Barbara live in Stafford County and Marjorie in Colonial Beach—traveled to Lynchburg, Tenn., over the holiday weekend for a long-overdue ceremony on Monday in memory of Frank Wilburn Parks.
Parks, a wartime buddy of Lawrence Harris of Stafford, who passed away two years ago, was killed in the waning days of World War II in the Philippines.
The men’s wartime friendship, and how Parks had never been honored for his sacrifice, was featured in a story in Sunday’s Free Lance–Star. Lawrence Harris—Barbara’s husband and John and Marjorie’s father—had kept a diary of his and Parks’ experiences during four years of duty in the Pacific.
Parks’ family first found out about the diary—which has numerous references to the Tennessee private who was killed—last fall after Lawrence Harris died. The two clans agreed to gather in Lynchburg to honor Parks, whose family never received the wartime Gold Star pins commemorating his death.
“It was a beautiful day and a beautiful ceremony,” John Harris, a Pentagon employee who helped secure the lapel pins for Parks’ surviving brother and four sisters, said Wednesday.
“It was incredible: the whole town turned out” to pay their respects near the monument to fallen troops in the town square, Harris said. Frank Parks was among 15 Moore County servicemen killed during World War II. Lynchburg, in Moore County, is home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery.
Harris said he spoke for a few minutes, thanking the Parks family for the invitation, and talked about his father and the friendship the two soldiers shared. Parks was killed in March 1945 in Luzon in the Philippines—shot by a sniper. He was 23 years old. It took three years before Parks’ remains finally made it home for burial after the war.
Maj. Gen. Robert A. Harris (no relation to the Harrises here) spoke at the ceremony. John Harris said the general drew parallels of the men’s story to the bonds of men in war depicted in “Saving Private Ryan,” Steven Spielberg’s iconic film. The assistant adjutant general for the Tennessee Army National Guard then spoke about duty and supporting troops engaged in current conflicts.
“It was very moving,” Harris said. Parks’ family then received his Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals and various campaign ribbons, along with the Gold Star pins.
“There was not a lot of extraneous speaking going on,” Harris said, “and when it was over, the crowd descended on the [Parks] folks there. There was a lot of hugging.”
Marjorie Day said that as her brother spoke of the men’s wartime bond, church bells rang.
It was very nice,” she said. “The Parks family really appreciated it.”
The two families spent some time together before and after the 11 a.m. ceremony, which lasted about an hour. They had lunch on the house at the Barrel House BBQ in town, and the Harrises toured Jack Daniel’s distillery.
Alberta Parks, the wife of Frank Parks’ brother Claude, said, “When it was over, I felt like I had been through church. It was so reserved and quiet. We appreciated it so much.”
The couple live in Michigan, and Alberta drove her ailing husband down to the ceremony.
“I’m so thankful that I got him to Tennessee,” she said in a telephone interview on the return trip. Claude Parks suffered a stroke and is in a wheelchair.
“But we made it, and they reserved places for us right up front. It was the perfect closure for the Parks family losing a son in 1945.”
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431