Veteran honors soldiers by raising flag every day

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Robert Parker wears a red shirt every Friday.
It’s not necessarily his favorite color, but it means something.
“It’s a color that stands out,” he said. “It’s blood, people are dying.”
The people Parker’s referring to are American soldiers.
“We don’t have any draftees anymore so these people are volunteers,” he said. “They wrote a blank check to this country, so I think they deserve a little bit of honor.”
Parker knows what it’s like to risk your life on the battlefield, he served two tours of duty in Korea and one in Vietnam during his nearly 45 year career in the military.
“They tried to kill me everywhere I went so I walk like a 100-year-old man, but deep inside I’m a young man,” he said.
Parker, a Concord native, was awarded the Vietnamese Medal of Honor Second Class, a declaration given to foreign soliders. When he returned to the states he received the Bronze Medal, which is awarded for bravery.
Although Parker, a legislative officer of the Disabled American Veterans Rowan Chapter No. 96, walks with a slight limp, that doesn’t keep him down.
He puts an American flag up at his Garner Drive home when he wakes up every morning and removes it at dusk, making sure to take proper care in storing it.
“The flag has always flown in my front year everywhere I’ve lived,” he said.
Parker said when he moved to The Gables, a retirement community off Faith Road, he was surprised by the lack of flags flying in the neighborhood.
“When I got here there wasn’t a flag flying anywhere except one house,” he said.
So, he immediately went to work to change that, donating a flagpole for the neighborhood clubhouse and vowing to keep a fresh flag flying.
It didn’t take long for other residents to follow his lead, placing flags outside their homes. And they joined Parker by wearing red on Fridays.
“They don’t have to, they want to because they believe this is the best country in the world,” he said. “These are very patriotic people.”
Parker said his love for the flag began early in his military career when he worked on a funeral detail.
“Tears were rolling down my face, I was crying like a baby,” he said. “The flag means a lot to mean because people give their lives protecting it.
“I’ve seen bodies that were torn up and wrapped in the flag.”
Whenever a resident of The Gables dies, Parker heads up to the clubhouse to bring the flag down to half mast.
“I want to make sure the flag flies in their honor,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they are a veteran or not.”
When the flags start to get tattered and worn, Parker donates them to a funeral home in Rockwell as a final salute to deceased veterans.
And when he finds out a veteran has little or no family to attend their funeral, he takes it upon himself to go.
“I really believe veterans should have somebody at their funeral,” he said. “Sometimes nobody knows or cares about them and that’s just not right.”
But Parker doesn’t just pay tribute to the dead, he also works to honor the living.
He typically visits disabled veterans at the Hefner VA Medical Center at least once a week.
“I talk to them and give them some encouragement,” he said.
Parker makes special trips to see shut-ins who have severe burns or missing limbs, those who rarely receive visitors.
“Some people don’t have a right hand so I shake their left hand and I just listen to what they have to say,” he said. “These people don’t deserve to be forgotten.”
Parker said after traveling to 37 countries, he still believes the United States is No. 1.
“We have freedom and most people don’t even understand what freedom is,” he said. “I wear many hats, but I only salute one flag.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.