Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Richard Parker remembered

PHILLIPS -- Sgt. Richard K. Parker came home from Iraq only to discover his heart and mind were still in the desert, still fighting with his buddies.

Parker chose to return to the battle field little more than a year ago, but soon he will return home, this time in a flag-draped coffin, to a family and community who still recall the polite, energetic kid who longed to wear his nation's uniform.

"He went back to be with his buddies," said Parker's uncle, Duane Pinkham, after resting a pair of his nephew's army boots outside the Phillips' Veterans Memorial. "He wanted to be with his buddies. He loved the army, he loved his unit and he wanted to be with his friends. He could relate to them."

Parker, 26, was killed in action on Wednesday while serving in Iraq, according to a statement released by Gov. John Baldacci. Parker was a member of the Maine Army National Guard's Battery A, 1st Battalion, 152nd Field Artillery Regiment out of Waterville. He was serving with the Security Force II element in Iraq.

He is the 34th Maine soldier to be killed while fighting the war on terror.

Parker's mother, Dixie Flagg; stepfather, Jerry Flagg of Avon; father, Scott Hood; stepmother Flora Hood of Strong; and other family members were officially notified of Parker's death on Thursday.

Parker was looking forward to returning home later this year to see his girlfriend, Ashley Smith, with whom Parker had a son in January, said Dot Savage, Parker's step-grandmother.

"He was supposed to come home on leave in August to see the baby," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "He has a son he has never seen."

Major Michael Backus of the Maine National Guard, citing Department of Defense policy that prohibits providing information to the public until 24 hours after the family has been notified, declined to comment on how Parker was killed.

"Until they release it we're not allowed to release any information on the soldier or the incident," Backus said.

Memories of the polite, caring young man rushed to the surface on Friday. Gary Perlson recalled driving his daughter and Parker to school for kindergarten. With a home at the end of a long dirt road, Perlson's family got few unexpected visitors.

"Richard was the only person who ever came trick-or-treating to my house," Perlson recalled with a chuckle.

The career coordinator at Mount Abram High school in Salem Township where Parker received his diploma, Perlson saw Parker a lot over the years.

"He was an exemplary young man, serving his country, who was cut down in his prime," Perlson said. "It's a real loss."

Savage described her grandson as "happy-go-lucky," easy to get along with and close to his family.

"He loved to get together with the family over the holidays," she said.

Michael Ellis, guidance counselor at Mount Abram High School, recalled a youngster who as early as junior high was anxious to extend his family's tradition of military service.

"I had him as a middle school student," Ellis said. "He even talked then about wanting to do something in the military. It was the thing he liked to do."

Parker and his brother, Bill Pinkham, joined the National Guard and went to basic training together after completing high school, Duane Pinkham said. Several of Parker's uncles and cousins, including Duane Pinkham and his son, Phil Smith, served in the military.

"He role modeled himself after his uncles and cousins, I'm sure," Smith said. "We have a strong military tradition. Richard was a patriotic person. There's no doubt about that."

"Sgt. Parker was well-loved and greatly respected by his unit and the Maine Army National Guard," Baldacci said in a statement. "We're very lucky as a state and as a country to have people of the quality of Sgt. Parker who are willing to serve and put themselves on the front lines."

Funeral plans have not yet been announced.

"He thought very highly of the service and intended the military to be his career," Savage said. "We are all so very proud of him."

From the Morning Sentinel

Related Link:
Richard K. Parker 'died June 14 in Scania, Iraq, from wounds suffered on June 13 when IEDs detonated near his vehicle during combat operations'