Air Force veteran celebrates 100th birthday

Willie Parker, an Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, celebrates his 100th birthday July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park in Huber Heights. Parker retired from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1967. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH
Caption
Willie Parker, an Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, celebrates his 100th birthday July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park in Huber Heights. Parker retired from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1967. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Former WPAFB Airman served in Army Air Corps during WWII

A century ago, the “Roaring ‘20s” came in with a bang as Americans celebrated the return of the last American troops from Europe after World War I, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote and the first commercially licensed radio broadcast was heard from Pittsburgh.

And in a tiny town located near the coast of Virginia, Willie Stewart Parker was born on July 20, 1921, early in a decade that would end up being one of great change for the entire nation.

“My father grew up working on the family farm,” said Parker’s only child, Willis, who now lives in Springfield. “After attending boarding school because his parents wanted a good education for him, Dad joined the Army Air Corps during World War II.”

The elder Parker said he signed up for duty because “(President) Roosevelt said we had to join after the Japanese bombed us!”

That fateful bombing of Pearl Harbor – “a date which will live in infamy” – marked the end of U.S. neutrality as the nation officially entered the conflict in December 1941.

A group of men from the Protestant Chapel Community at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base presents Willie Parker (seated) with a gift during his 100th birthday celebration July 20 in Huber Heights. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH
Caption
A group of men from the Protestant Chapel Community at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base presents Willie Parker (seated) with a gift during his 100th birthday celebration July 20 in Huber Heights. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Parker headed off to training in Alabama with other African American Soldiers, eventually moving to South Carolina, where he met his soon-to-be wife, Garnell. The couple married in 1945, and their son, Willis, was born soon after near Hartsville, South Carolina.

Though the elder Parker hadn’t planned to serve in the Air Force, established out of the Army Air Corps in 1947 after the war was over, he decided the “regular paycheck” was best for his family, especially with the country’s economy still recovering from the Great Depression.

Though he never saw action during World War II, he was stationed in South Korea during the Korean conflict.

“Judging from what everyone was talking about on the outside, I decided to stay in,” Willie Parker said. “And I liked traveling all over the world and the country because each place was different from where I was born, and that was interesting.”

Among the most enjoyable places for the Parker family was the Philippines, with its year-round mild climate and friendly people. Then in 1962, the family moved to Dayton when Willis was 17.

“We lived in Page Manor,” Willis said. “And I graduated in 1963 from Stebbins High School.”

Though Dayton was completely unfamiliar, Willis said his parents were just “happy to be back in the United States.”

“The most pressing things for them was being closer to family and getting me ready to start college,” Willis said.

After serving in the Air Force for 24 years, Willie decided to retire in 1967, with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base being his final duty station.

Willis graduated from Ohio University that same year with a degree in radio and television and got a job in Columbus at WOSU. His parents moved to the same Huber Heights home where his father still lives today.

The family celebrated the elder Parker on his 100th birthday July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park in Huber Heights. Though he has outlived his wife, who passed away in 1999, as well as his sisters, there were many family members who came to celebrate with him, including many nieces, nephews, grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren, along with numerous friends.

With many COVID-19 restrictions lifted, what was planned as a “drive-thru” celebration was able to be held in person.

“My dad has slowed down only a little bit,” Willis said. “He still cooks his own breakfast every morning.”

Willie Parker, an Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, poses with family members during his 100th birthday celebration July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park in Huber Heights. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH
Caption
Willie Parker, an Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, poses with family members during his 100th birthday celebration July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park in Huber Heights. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Jessica Swaney, Willie’s great-granddaughter, has lived with him for the past few years, along with her 4-year-old daughter, Parker Johnson.

“Having Parker around keeps me on my toes,” Willie said. “She takes me by the hand, and we walk all over the place.”

Though his dad suffered a minor stroke last November, he remains fairly independent and “headstrong,” his son said.

“When the paramedics arrived and decided Dad needed to go to the hospital, he told them he wasn’t going to get on the gurney but instead walked out to the ambulance himself,” Willis added. “He cuts his own grass and still eats whatever he wants without gaining a single ounce.”

As for the elder Parker’s advice on how to live to age 100, he said there isn’t really a secret to it. He just always knew he needed to take care of himself.

“I always felt that to live as long as I can, I needed to enjoy life, get outside and walk and do a little exercise,” Willie said. “And I’m grateful to my son and my family for all they do for me.”

Willie Parker (left), an Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, reacts as Huber Heights Mayor Jeff Gore reads a proclamation during his 100th birthday celebration July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH
Caption
Willie Parker (left), an Air Force veteran who served during World War II and the Korean conflict, reacts as Huber Heights Mayor Jeff Gore reads a proclamation during his 100th birthday celebration July 20 at Thomas A. Cloud Park. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley