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Memories of long ago
5/25/2007 By: Melanie Brubaker Mazur
After storming Omaha Beach on D-Day and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Henry Parks came home from World War II with $300 and only one medal, a gunnery medal.
The Bayfield boy, who had left home when he was 19 to enroll in the U.S. Army, finally received six other medals for his service earlier this year.
After almost 70 years, he was glad to have received them. He’s now 85. But like many of his generation, he doesn’t dwell on the war or the part he played in it, even as Memorial Day approaches on Monday.
“I don’t think about it,” he said with shrug.
“I’d rather not bring it back.”
Instead of telling war stories, he proudly flies a U.S. flag outside his home, bringing it in every evening and putting it out every morning at 6 a.m.
“I’ve still got buddies over there,” he said of his service in Europe. “I’ll always have it flying.”
Growing up in Bayfield
Part of that patriotism might be traced to Parks’s roots.
His grandparents, Sam and Lydia Parks, came here from Oklahoma and homesteaded 640 acres in 1884, roughly where CR 240 meets CR 501 today. He was born and raised there, attending the old Columbus School, now a house in the area.
His father, Calvin, was the second of their four sons. Calvin Parks and his wife, Pearl, joined the family in raising cattle around the Pine River Valley, and their son was expected to help, as well.
Off to war
When he left Bayfield in November of 1941, he remembers being with 27 men on the train to Alamosa. Nine of them were from Bayfield, Oxford and other little towns around here. He then took a bus to Fort Logan in Denver, had 13 weeks of basic training at Camp Roberts in California, followed by a train to Fort Ord in New Jersey, then a trip on an “Italian tub” to Southhampton, England.
He received training in riflery, machine guns and mortars. At D-Day, on June 6, 1944, he went across the English channel with the 83rd division from Ohio. He then moved through France, Luxembourg and Germany. Once, he suffered from frostbite, and spent three weeks in a group of tents that served as a mobile hospital. Unable to walk, he spent his time sitting on a cot in a tent braiding horse bridles from parachute rope. The rope holds 420 pounds per strand, and there are three ropes in each braid, “so it’s really strong,” he said.
He made seven of the bridles and gave most of them away, but brought one home. Many of the other soldiers did leatherwork. He has a lovely old wallet he still carries made by a fellow soldier.
Parks speaks matter-of-factly of his service.
“Luxembourg - we cleaned that out.”
During the Battle of the Bulge “we cut off Hitler’s last stand. We had the 1st and 3rd Battalions come in to cut them off.”
He remembered that winter battle, where the snow was waist deep, and lunches, which were Army rations, were brought in on a tobaggan for soldiers to eat.
“That was the last fighting we did,” he said. “We had Patton with his tanks, and we had to keep up with him.”
Serving as a machine gunner, Parks often worked at night, setting up at road intersections to shoot at the enemy trying to move in the darkness.
“We kept the Germans on the run the whole time.”
After the Battle of the Bulge, he returned to England, then Ireland, sailing home on the Queen Mary. He visited the Queen Mary, now docked in California, and stayed the night on it after it had been transformed from a troop ship back into a luxury ocean liner. It was nothing like the ship he remembered crossing the Atlantic on, he said.
After his service, he was discharged in Denver.
“They kicked me out and told me to get home the best you can,” he said.
He went to the stockyard in Denver and happened to meet a man he knew from his days of hauling cattle. He was driving a cattle truck back to Cortez and gave Parks a lift home. His military records were lost in a fire in St. Louis, and the medals he was supposed to receive for his service never made it to Bayfield.
After returning home, he ranched with his family, delivered mail in the winter for the Ignacio Post Office, and worked for the La Plata County road department for 18 years. He and his wife, Marybell, will celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary on July 9. They had seven children, four girls and three boys. He used the halter he braided on his Appaloosa when he rode with the D Troop of the Colorado Mounted Rangers.
And he’s glad to have finally received his medals. He now has them mounted in a nice case one of his daughters gave him, and he displays it in his living room in Bayfield, where he recently moved from Forest Lakes.
“I tried to put it out of my mind,” he said of the long-ago medals. “But there was always something there that irks you.”
With the help of the Veterans Affairs office in Durango, his wife and children, he finally received his medals.
And now, he’s at peace.