Charles Parkhurst served his country
As the country celebrates Veterans Day on Friday, veterans reflect on their own experiences serving in the military.
Charles Parkhurst, vice chairman of the Shelby County Board of Supervisors, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force following high school graduation in 1963. From 1965-67 he served in Vietnam.
Like many returning veterans, he experienced a not-so-warm welcome.
“When I came home, I came through Chicago and people spit on me. Even some of the people here gave me a hard time,” he said. “We didn’t talk about it. Veterans Day means we are celebrating our veterans who fought for our freedom here and without our veterans we do not have freedom.”
Parkhurst asked that people be patriots and stand up for the flag.
“We marched around the square one year and some gentlemen wouldn’t take their hats off for the flag,” he said. “Respect is all we ask.”
Parkhurst said he always wanted to be a pilot and always wanted to join the military.
“When we were brought up it was our patriotic duty to serve our country,” he said.
“I always told my dad I wanted to be a pilot. My dad didn’t have money and I didn’t have money to go to college so I enlisted in the Air Force.”
Parkhurst said at first they were just going to put him in the motor pool but then gave him new orders to go to tech school as aircraft mechanic.
“I love flying and if it wasn’t for Vietnam I probably would have stayed the whole tour,” he said.
He went to San Antonio for basic training, then to Wichita Falls, Texas, for tech school for 16 weeks. Then he was sent to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and spent 18 months there. In 1965 Johnson announced there was going to be a build up in Vietnam.
“At 2 a.m. they came to our rooms and told us to get our bags packed because we were going. We didn’t know where we were going,” he said.
They flew to California, Hawaii, an island in the Pacific and then to Philippines.
“There were so many air craft there they didn’t have room for anyone,” he said. “We were out on the flight line doing maintenance on our aircraft. We flew combat missions in and out of the Philippines at that time.”
He then returned stateside at Langley. After a 30-day leave he went to war games in North Carolina before going back to Vietnam.
“We flew out of Saigon with combat missions all over Vietnam,” he said. “We flew ammunition to the Marines, the Army, and flew fuel into helicopter base. A lot of the times we flew into the bases, the bases were under attack. We’d drop off the fuel and ammunition and get out of there.”
Parkhurst did maintenance on C-130 aircraft. The only way out of an area for him was to fix the aircraft and fly out. He got one plane fixed and flew out while the plane was taking rounds into the tail.
“I was cool on the ground,” he said. “But I couldn’t even light a cigarette in the plane with my shaky hands.”
He saw many horrors while he was there, as one of the jobs was to fly the wounded out to hospitals. There were many mortar attacks.
“I didn’t think there was any way I was coming home,” Parkhurst said. “If anyone tells you they weren’t scared they are lying.”
Parkhurst learned many things along the way.
“I learned respect and found out there was courage there I didn’t know was there,” he said. “I learned pride in myself and pride in my country.”