Don Parker, a true Army Aviation pioneer, provided the vision, the masterful leadership, and the commitment necessary to consolidate and modernize Army Aviation during its formative years. Born in Sadlersville, Tenn., in 1932, Parker dreamed of flying since his early childhood. He graduated from Field Artillery Officer Candidate School as a distinguished graduate in 1957 and was commissioned in the Regular Army. He became an Army Aviator shortly thereafter, graduating from Army Primary Flight Training in 1958. After earning his wings, Parker flew his first nine years in various fixed wing aircraft including the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, an aircraft that has a special place in Parker’s heart and one in which he would attain 2000 hours. Parker’s fixed wing assignments included duty in the U.S., Korea and Vietnam, commanding at the company and platoon level. In September 1969, Parker attended Rotary Wing Qualification training, after which he returned to Vietnam as a company commander, flying the Bell UH-1B and H Iroquois gunship and airlift helicopters.
After staff assignments at Headquarters, USA, and XVIII Airborne Corps, Parker was chosen to command the 82d Aviation Battalion, 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in June 1975, flying the Bell UH-1 Iroquois and the Bell AH-1 Cobra. After Army War College, Parker returned to Korea in November 1979 to be dual-hatted as the U.S. Forces Korea/U.N. Command Aviation officer and commander, 17th Aviation Group, U.S. Army Korea, for the purpose of developing the Korean Army Aviation Modernization Plan. In March 1981, Parker was selected as Deputy Director of Requirements and Army Aviation Officer, Headquarters, Department of the Army.
It was under Parker’s watch that Army Aviation officially became a branch on April 12, 1983. Parker then spent a year as the assistant division commander of the world's only air assault division, the 101st at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, before becoming deputy and then later commanding general of the Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Parker's last assignment was director of the Army Staff, Headquarters, Department of the Army, during operations Just Cause and Desert Storm. Lt. Gen. Parker retired from the Army in 1992 with over 5,000 flying hours. Parker was inducted into the Army Field Artillery Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.
SETTING: Don Parker assumed command as Army Aviation Branch Chief shortly after its formation, carefully and skillfully leading the fledging Aviation Branch into its important and rightful place within the Army. The Army left Parker in this position for the exceptionally long period of five and one-half years, setting a tenure record. As commanding general, Parker consolidated and modernized Army Aviation hardware, doctrine, training and logistics, making possible the Army’s transition from the Cobra to the Apache.