Leader Blues

Friday, July 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> War hero gets more recognition

By JULIA HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Parnell G. Fisher is humble about his accomplishments, but he concedes that “the Silver Star doesn’t come routinely.”

Fisher, a 32-year resident of Jacksonville, was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his gallantry in action during the Vietnam War.

The Silver Star is the third-highest military decoration that can be awarded to any member of the armed forces.

Notable recipients include former President Lyndon B. Johnson, 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Arkansas’ own former governor Sid McMath.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to those in the Air Force who distinguish themselves while in flight.

Fisher used a hand-drawn diagram to describe the events that earned him his medals.

On Dec. 18, 1966, Fisher and his team were dispatched to drop flares over Vung Tau to illuminate the sky “so the U.S. troops on the ground could see their targets.”

Fisher served as the load master on that C-130 flight and “would manually eject the flares instead of using those machine ejectors, which were really too slow.”

Then he says he heard one of the flares’ timers go off prematurely in the back of the plane. The timer flew off and hit the flight engineer in the head, knocking him out.

Fisher says he knew that he had “10 seconds to find and eject the flare from the plane before it would ignite into a 22,000-candle-power flame. That thing is hot! That thing will burn underwater. One will light up this whole neighborhood.”

“Ten seconds, if you count, is not a long time,” he continued, “especially when you’re working in the dark like we were… I had to find the flare, get it out and let it go. But it didn’t quite work that way.

“Right when I got it out the door, the chute deployed and the slip stream takes it back and it gets caught underneath the edge of the door. Now the flare itself is underneath the rear stabilizer and it’s ignited,” he said.

So Fisher leapt into action. “I went for my knife… and I’m hanging out of the plane, trying to cut the shroud lines attaching the chute to the flare,” he explained.

“I had to get past the big eight-foot canopy of the chute to get to the lines… it took a while to cut all of them, but I did,” Fisher said.

“I think anyone under those circumstances would have done the same thing. It needed to be done, and it needed to be done quickly,” Fisher said.

His wife, Vermond, said that until recently, “he never really talked about it.”

He met his wife in Hampton, Va. They married in 1959 and have lived in Jacksonville since he retired from the Air Force in 1977.

Fisher was born in Benton. He says he spent exactly “22 years, six months and 22 days in the military,” calling it “short compared to what most guys serve.”

Though he received his medals for his heroics more than 40 years ago, he says he has received much more attention in recent years.

Fisher is finally willing to share his accomplishments with others. He recently took out all of his medals and certificates from storage to have them framed and hung in Jacksonville’s Museum of Military History.

Fisher speaks more freely about his heroics now because he says he gets asked more questions.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to think about it, it’s just that, although I’m told it’s really a feat to be proud of, I just felt I’d be bragging if I talked about it,” he said.

Each year, the Los Angeles City Council honors one distinguished veteran on Memorial Day.

Fisher’s sister, Margaret, who works for the city council, nominated him to be this year’s honoree. He was selected even though he lives in Arkansas.

He was so private about his war record, in fact, that his own sister had never heard the specifics of his actions until she heard him speak this year at the Puente Hills Memorial Day ceremony in California.

When speaking of his sudden recognition across the country, Fisher remain modest about his accomplishments.

“It was nothing to write home about,” he insists.

The Fishers plan to devote a wall in their home to Parnell’s collection of wartime trophies.

Though Fisher is now retired from the military, he remains active at Little Rock Air Force Base, where he’s the shop supervisor and lead technician at the Automotive Skills Development Center, which repairs vehicles for airmen.