Clyde Parsons didn’t win any medals during his year in Vietnam — which makes him perfect to be grand marshal of Clark County’s annual Memorial Day parade set for 9 a.m. May 27.
The Springfield resident represents the majority of men and women who’ve served their country in time of war.
“I did my job and was very happy to come home in one piece,” Parsons said recently.
Had Parsons, 65, not been picked by the Clark County Veterans Council to also speak that day in Ferncliff Cemetery during the ceremony at noon, his story might never been told.
“There are a lot of veterans like me who served quietly,” he said.
Arriving in Vietnam in 1967, Parsons spent a year repairing ground communications with the Marines’ 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. He was fortunate, he said, never to have been involved in any “hardcore firefights.”
And, yet, like anyone who was there, Parsons has friends whose names are etched forever into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Of the nation’s 7.5 million living Vietnam-era veterans — now the largest group of veterans in the U.S. today, according to the Census Bureau — only 54 of them were awarded the Medal of Honor.
“For every one of those guys,” Parsons explained, “there’s probably 50,000 who didn’t, but who supported the guy who did.”
That’s not to say Parsons wasn’t prepared to do something extraordinary if fate, or just bad luck, called for it. He volunteered for the Marine Corps in April 1965 while still a senior at South High School.
“The country was calling,” he said, “and we were expected to answer.”
Clark County’s Memorial Day parade has, for decades, honored those veterans who answered the same call but never came home. In Vietnam alone, 62 Clark County men died.
It’s long been believed that the local parade — which begins at High Street and Fountain Avenue in Springfield, then heads north on Fountain to McCreight Avenue, where it takes a left toward Ferncliff — is one of the largest of its kind in the nation.
“I’ve got nobody to dispute that. It gets bigger every year,” said Al Haley, commander of the Clark County Veterans Council, which organizes the day’s events.
This year’s parade theme is “The American Flag: A Symbol of Freedom.” Haley is encouraging people to wave flags throughout the parade route.
“To be quite honest, if it wasn’t for our World War II veterans, we’d be speaking another language,” said Haley, a retired Marine.
Haley has American flags — along with the flags of each service branch — available for purchase for $3 apiece at Country Custom Designs, 1161 N. Bechtle Ave.
Proceeds will benefit the Clark County Veterans Council.
The flags, which measure 12 by 18 inches, could then be displayed on gravesites after the parade and ceremony, Haley said.
He’s quick to note that, “The American flags were made in the U.S.A.”
Parsons, nearing retirement as production supervisor at Moyno, said he was surprised when Haley asked him to serve as this year’s parade marshal and guest speaker.
When Parsons questioned it, Haley asked whether he was a veteran or not.
“Guilty as charged,” Parsons said.
Vietnam veterans, he said, are more respected now than ever. But, he said, he’s never forgotten how it felt to be welcomed home by protesters.
“If we learned anything from Vietnam, we’ve learned how to treat our soldiers better,” Parsons said. “Soldiers go where they’re told to go. If you want to get upset, get upset with the guy who told them to go there.”
You told us that news about veterans is important to you, so we have a reporter in Springfield dedicated to veterans’ issues. Springfield News-Sun military reporter Andrew McGinn covers the lives of local veterans and their extraordinary experiences.