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Calendar >  Old Soldiers Do Die – A Memorial Day Special by Pat Murphy

Old Soldiers Do Die – A Memorial Day Special by Pat Murphy

By   /  May 27, 2019  /  1 Comment


Pat Murphy — I’m writing this at 6:40 pm on Friday May 24th. It’s with a heavy heart that I press down on the keyboard but I feel a need to tell this story.

A few minutes ago I received a phone call I was expecting and at the same time dreading. I recognized the caller immediately even though her voice was breaking up. Through her tears she gave me the news and then we were both crying. The call was from the care provider that had been giving loving attention to Sgt. Major Joseph J. Parker for a number of months. This hero of a man was only 22 days past his 101st birthday when he grudgingly died. He didn’t want to go and he fought it like the warrior he had always been.

I sat next to Jay a week ago after the hospital had sent him home to die after an overnight stay because he started having difficulty breathing. He shook his head side to side and confided to me, ”I’m really in a pickle this time and I don’t know what to do about it”. It was a rare and astounding admission from a man who had charged through life oblivious to fear.

I first met the Sergeant Major over 5 years ago when I was sent by our Editor, Eleanor Hutchins, out to the Parker home for the purpose of writing a Veterans Day article. Eleanor warned me that it might be a difficult to get interview from Mr. Parker. She had heard from someone that the Sergeant Major had suffered a severe stroke that left him unable to talk or walk. When I arrived and rang the doorbell with the patriotic tone, the Sergeant Major walked slowly to the door. He opened the door, shook my hand with a bone crushing grip and gave me a warm welcome.

Sgt Major Parer Jay and Wife Ann

I introduced myself and he immediately asked me to call him “Jay”. With a big smile he told me everyone just called him Jay. Then he led me into the living room and introduced me to his wife Ann. She was charming and immediately offered me coffee. We sat and I attempted to interview him. I soon realized that the usual interview was out the window. For the next 5 ½ hours we just talked and talked. I knew right away that I really liked the Sergeant Major and his wife. As the hours went by, I slowly slipped into a friendship that would be deeply memorable and last a lifetime. The time had passed quickly and I remembered telling my wife that I would only be gone an hour or two. As I excused myself, Jay told me to come back and bring my wife with me next time. Ann echoed the invitation and I felt the sincerity of it in her voice.

Ever since then I have been in awe of Jay and his family. My wife and I have double dated with Jay and Ann for dozens of meals and entertainment venues. We have attended the Parker family gatherings where we were treated like family. I drove him to numerous doctor appointments in La Jolla and enjoyed his conversation and company. When it was just the two of us he talked about his 35 years in the Marine Corp and some of his overseas experiences. He was proud of his service and never regretted it.

Sgt Maj Parker and Granddaughters

Jay was strong, patriotic, caring, opinionated, rigid, humorous, and friendly. He wore many hats during his 101 years. He was a farm boy, a logger, an itinerate farm worker, a rail rider, a sailor, a soldier, a furniture salesman, a furniture store manager, a leather worker, a machine gunner, a combat veteran, a combat instructor, a top notch recruiter, a cattle ranch wrangler, a code enforcement officer, a volunteer Senior Sheriff, a husband (two long term marriages) a father, a stepfather, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a great-great-grandfather, and a good friend to many.

I will miss his determination and his humor. I still laugh when I remember checking him in at the Scripps Hospital. He was preparing for a new heart valve at the age of 98 and most people would have been apprehensive or maybe a slight bit scared at the prospect. When the young woman receptionist said, “And what brings you here today, Mr. Parker?” His immediate and deadpan reply was, “I need to get my Viagra refill”. Her laughter was infectious and the three of us were laughing so hard that people began to stare at us.

Even while undergoing many medical tests and procedures I always found him to be calm and polite. He always expressed appreciation to anyone helping him. He was a true gentleman but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t come down hard on someone who deserved a good tongue lashing. After all, he was also the consummate Sergeant Major. Those close to him always knew that his bark was worse than his bite. However, the young soldiers he trained would never believe that to be the case.
Unlike thousands of soldiers that perished or were maimed for life on foreign shores,

Jay fortunately returned with a few “scratches”, some jungle rot, loose teeth, and a couple of purple hearts. He took seriously his role as a combat instructor at Camp Pendleton because he knew only too well the hardships that his young students would face in the battlefield. He had endured and survived some of the fiercest battles in the South Pacific. He made sure that the men training under him were prepared. Despite being at least twice their age he would lead them up and down the hills and ravines at Camp Pendleton.

When Jay was assigned to take over the recruiting for the State of Arkansas he did so with the same vigor he did every task in front of him. At that time, Arkansas had the poorest recruiting record but it became the top recruiting state within 6 months. He innovatively convinced the owners of large bill boards to donate the empty bill boards for large recruiting posters. He obtained and repaired printers that turned out hundreds of fliers. He attacked the problem with the same ferociousness that he had employed in battle.

As the Sergeant Major passed his mid ninety’s his body couldn’t keep pace with his quick mind. Nobody will ever know how many times he took a tumble to the ground because if he could help it, he wouldn’t say a thing about it. A little over getting a new heart valve, at the age of 98, I arrived at his home to find him on a ladder trimming trees. It wasn’t until he reached the age of 99 that he reluctantly surrendered the job of putting up the Christmas lights on his two-story home.

In 2018, on his 100th birthday, the City of Vista proclaimed May 2nd to be Sergeant Major Joseph J. Parker in Vista. A banner went across East Vista Way with the announcement. On July 4th 2018 the City of Vista again paid tribute to this patriot during the Holiday celebration at the Moonlight Amphitheater. And just little over a month ago the Sergeant Major was honored by the Chamber of Commerce at the annual “Heroes of Vista” dinner gala. These accolades were well deserved for a man who had given so much to his country and his community.

Luckily, Jay was able to go on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. where he and other WWII veterans were able to see the monuments erected there that honor them for their sacrifices. Many WWII Veterans have not been so lucky. He told me that it was an experience of a lifetime. He described to me how he and the other veterans broke out into singing songs from back in the era while waiting to board the plane back to San Diego.

Now my buddy is gone. I will miss our conversations. He showed me how to live a life to the fullest. The fighting in the South Pacific and Korea didn’t kill him. The hard life as a wrangler on a cattle ranch didn’t kill him. Volunteering as a code enforcement officer and a volunteer Sheriff sometimes put him in dangerous situations but it didn’t kill him. Nothing could kill this soldier. He just wore out his body. So you see… old soldiers do die.

R.I.P. Sergeant Major Joseph J. Parker. May 2nd 1918 – May 24th 2019


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  • Published: 5 years ago on May 27, 2019
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  • Last Modified: May 27, 2019 @ 11:52 pm
  • Filed Under: Local

1 Comment

  1. Vic Moraga says:

    Thank you Pat Murphy; an eloquent message of love and respect for a gentleman whom overcame the hurdles of life and then shone the beauty and warmth of the human spirit over his brethren.

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