Colonel (Ret.) John B. Parker began his career in February 1942. Two years later he was navigating B-17s in Europe. He flew 30 combat missions over the next eight months, taking battle damage on every one.
Parker described a mission on Christmas Eve in 1944 as his most memorable. It was the first day 8th Air Force was able to fly after the Battle of the Bulge began. His aircraft was one of more than 2,000 B-17s/24 that made up the largest bomber formation in history. Parker recalled both awe and fear on the mission, explaining that the sight of all of those bombers was the most impressive thing he had ever seen.
While Parker was flying over Europe, his father was an Army chaplain in Italy and his three brothers were in the Army and Army Air Corps. His entire family and crew returned safely from the war.
Parker served more than 32 years, earning the Legion of Merit, the French Legion of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross among other decorations. He flew 30 missions in the Berlin Airlift, multiple C-47 missions in Vietnam, and was a Basic Military Training Squadron commander. At 91, he still lives on his own and walks to the Hickory, North Carolina, YMCA every day to stay in shape.