Vietnam Vet Comes To Oklahoma To Visit Dead Soldier's Family

Thursday, October 12th 2006, 4:37 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ For 37 years, Johnny Ray Parker's family was curious about the details surrounding his death in Vietnam.

Joe Cason in Douglas, Ga., had the answers.

Cason, who served with Parker in the Army in Vietnam, traveled to Idabel in far southeastern Oklahoma on Wednesday to meet with two of Parker's brothers and talk to them about their younger sibling.

``Johnny had always been on my mind,'' Cason said. ``We were very close, and it's really hard to explain it. He just meant a lot to me, and I wanted to do this for a long time.

``I just regret that I didn't do it earlier in life, when his parents were still alive.''

Cason, then 22, and Parker, 20, who were in the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, were conducting a sweep in dense jungle near Binh Long in South Vietnam on the afternoon of March 24, 1969, when Parker was killed.

Their unit was based at LZ Jane, a secure base camp located on a hilltop at the edge of a jungle. The men would spend one week at base camp and then be transported by helicopter into the jungle to conduct patrols or search for enemy fighters.

Skirmishes with the enemy were sporadic, Cason recalled, but the unit had suffered casualties before and were battle tested.

On the day Parker died, the men received reports that enemy combatants were operating in the area.

``We had information that the enemy was in that area, and we were trying to scout them out and locate them when we came under fire,'' Cason said.

The firefight lasted about 10 or 15 minutes before there was a minute-long lull in the shooting and Parker rose to his knees.

``Johnny was approximately 20 feet to my right when he was shot with an AK-47,'' Cason said. ``Some shots rang out and he fell.''

Cason remembers calling for a medic, but it was too late.

``He was probably killed instantly,'' Cason said.

Parker, who grew up in Idabel, was one of six brothers. Larry Parker, 61, and Steve Parker, 65, met with Cason and his wife, Margie, on Wednesday. A third brother, James, died in 1995, and two others live out of state.

Cason brought a decorative wreath with him from Georgia and placed it at Johnny Parker's grave site in Idabel.

``The very fact that somebody that close to Johnny cared enough about him to come here has touched me,'' said Steve Parker, now an attorney in Shawnee.

Both Larry and Steve Parker described their brother as laid-back with a happy-go-lucky attitude. A photograph of Johnny Parker, Joe Cason and several other members of their unit taken in Vietnam captured his demeanor, Steve Parker said.

``It was the half smile and the laid-back expression that characterized Johnny,'' he said.

Larry Parker recalled that before his brother left for Vietnam, he sold a friend his 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 for $20.

``I remember Daddy was so mad,'' Larry Parker said. ``But he had no use for it, so he basically just gave it to him. He didn't care about material things.''

Larry Parker said his brother also never told his parents he was going to Vietnam, telling them instead that he was being assigned to Korea.

``He made us swear not to tell them, because he didn't want to worry them,'' Larry Parker said.

Larry Parker said Cason's visit put to rest some concerns he had that his brother had grown cynical from serving in a war zone.

``The biggest thing that I've picked up out of visiting with Joe that has been encouraging to me is that even though he was in a hell hole of a world at the time, Johnny didn't change the outlook on life that I feared he might have,'' Larry Parker said. ``He just rolled with the flow.''

And for Cason, the visit gave him the opportunity to visit with the family of his friend who he never forgot after nearly 40 years.

``I think that this has sort of brought some closure, but memories never die,'' Cason said. ``It's just good to know that he had a loving and caring family. Although he may have been killed in action, he was never forgotten and he's not forgotten today.''