70 years of flying come to a close

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Benjamin Wiseman
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
More than 70 years of flying experience took to the skies in a Piper Saratoga aircraft one final time, before calling it quits at the Valdosta Regional Airport May 20.

Retired Col. Clarence Parker has been a pilot for the majority of his life. With 70 years of flying experience under his belt, the now 90-year-old, has decided to hang up his wings and start a new chapter in his life.

"I have decided that seven decades of flying was a great run," said Colonel Parker. "I wanted to stop on my own terms, not when the doctors or my health dictated it."

Colonel Parker started his aviation career when he was just 20 years old. In 1940, he wanted to join the U.S. Army Air Corps but his application was put on hold. Then he decided to earn his private pilot's license as a civilian instead.

A year later, Colonel Parker was called to action.

"I had just landed from a flight when someone ran up and told me the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor," he recalled. "Within 48 hours of the attack, I was contacted by the U.S. Army Air Corps and instructed to go to San Antonio."

From that day forward, Colonel Parker's career took many twists and turns. He served his country from 1942 until 1971, ending his career as the wing commander at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

Dorothy Lee Parker, the colonel's wife, remembers many of the bases they both visited during their 69 years of marriage.

"We have been all over the world," she said. "When you're married to a pilot, you always seem to come second because the aircraft and the mission are always first. Despite that, I always enjoy traveling with him and he's going to miss flying like hell."

During Colonel Parker's career, he flew more than 35 different aircrafts ranging from the P-40 Warhawk aircraft to the B-52 Stratofortress bomber. He has flown in three different wars and several combat missions: World War II, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Even after the colonel retired, he continued to fly as a civilian for 30 more years.

"He has been flying the entire time we have been married," Dorothy said with laughter. "After nearly 70 years of marriage, I finally get to be his main focus."

Colonel Parker, who has spent the majority of the last century flying, has a few words of advice before handing the reins over to the next generation of pilots.

"Aviation is not only a challenge but an opportunity for young people," he said. "I encourage all pilots to approach flying with vigor and determination and enjoy the rewards of your hard work."

Once Colonel Parker parts ways with flying, he and his wife plan to continue visiting family as well as traveling around the U.S. and Europe.