Sergeant First Class
U. S. Army
June 13, 1927 - January 1, 1967
Body Not Recovered
St. Mark's Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery
Bell Bottom Community, Matagorda County, Texas
Gold Star Mother Myrtle Clay Parks
St. Marks Church Cemetery
FM 457 Matagorda County, Texas
According to Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2ab, and 8 there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace. So whether one loves, hates, engages in war, or settles in a reign of peace; death is inevitable. All men must come to that end.
So it was with SSgt. Parks during the Vietnam Conflict.
SSgt. Parks represented a legacy of military men before him -- his uncle Timothy Parks who was a victim of WW I; and many cousins and friends since him. It was in his nature to service his country. He served with all the dignity and perseverance that was a part of his training from his family, friends, teachers and commanding officers.
Life was not always a bed of roses for him, but he accepted the hardships and disasters without relinquishing.
His mother, Myrtle Clay married Joe Parks, Sr. Myrtle's parents were Jess Clay and Merla Amy Clay. Joe Sr.'s parents were the Rev. Lee Parks (a pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in the Cedar Lane area) and Patsy Boone Clay.
Rev. Parks was a West Indies native, brought from South Carolina to the Bell Bottom Plantation in Matagorda County, Texas. Lee Parks and Patsy had six boys: Isaiah, Elijah, Clarence, James, Timothy and Joe; and five girls: Ruth, Anna Lee, Callie, Amanda and Altonia.
Joe was the father of SSgt. Joe Parks.
After Patsy's death, Lee Parks married Lillian Deadrick from the Wilson Creek Community. Lillian helped in the rearing of SSgt. Parks.
SSgt. Parks was born June 13, 1927 in Bay City, Matagorda County, Texas and was the second child born to Joe and Myrtle. He had an older brother, Jesse, who was two years his senior. Later a sister, Amy Mae Young, was born after his father died.
SSgt. Parks did not know his father. He died in the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston before Joe was born. After the death of his father, his mother continued to live on the Ira Anderson Farm, southwest of where the present McAllister Junior High School is located in Bay City.
On the March 10, 1934 school census taken by A. G. Hilliard, Joe Jr. was six years old. He began school at the age of six, at Booker Washington-Hilliard High School. Grace Noreen Williams Young was his first teacher.
Through the age of nine or ten, Joe lived on the Anderson's farm with his mother and his grandparents, Jess and Merla Clay. He moved with his grandparents after his mother died and continued to go to school in Bay City. He was known to his schoolmates as Little Joe Parks.
Shortly after his mother's death, the children began to be separated. Joe and Jesse moved to Live Oak to live with an uncle, Isaiah and Amy Mae went elsewhere. Joe and Jesse attended school at the Rosenwald School in the Live Oak Community. Their uncle lived on the Hawkins Plantation in the Live Oak area.
At the age of 13, Joe again moved to live with his grandparents, Jess Clay and Merla Clay. They became his guardians while he attended school district No. 17.
Joe and his brother Jesse were separated again. Jesse went to live with relatives in Houston and Joe went to Cedar Lane (Bell Bottom) to live with his grandparents, the Rev. Lee and Lillian Parks. They then became his guardians.
On June 22, 1947, Joe enlisted in the United States Army. While on furlough, he married a former schoolmate, Maresa Tone, on June 21, 1948. Joe and Maresa had one daughter, Lillian who is a classroom teacher in the Missouri City ISD in Houston, Texas. Lillian has two children, Eric and Tamara White.
SSgt. Parks' Army record indicates that he served as a soldier of the US Army some 20 or more years from 1947 until December 8, 1969.
He had stated to some friends that after the tour to Vietnam, he would consider retiring from the service. His service included:
The Monday, Nov. 27, 1967 issue of The Daily Tribune stated that SSgt. Parks died Jan. 1, 1967, but his widow, Mrs. Parks learned of his death on Nov. 27, 1967.
A telegram from the US Army signed by Major General Kenneth G. Wickham told Mrs. Parks about her husband's death.
The telegram said that the Army learned of his death from two men who had been released by the Viet Cong who were in prison with a Matagorda County man.
Mrs. Parks still lives in the Bell Bottom Community where her daughter and grandchildren visit with her frequently. The grandchildren never knew their grandfather, but have a great admiration for his gallant bravery in serving his country. His name also reminds us of the lives of great men, may his memory live on in the hearts of his family and country.
The Daily Tribune, February 13,
The Daily Tribune
Eight years of hope ended this week for a Van Vleck teacher and her mother with the terse North Vietnamese announcement: "Parks, Sgt. 1. C. Joe, Army."
The name was included on the list of U.S. servicemen who died while held captive during the Vietnam war.
Although one of the three prisoners released by the Viet Cong in 1967 reported talking to Sgt. Parks the night before he died on January 1, 1967, Mrs. Lillian Brown and her mother, Mrs. Maresa Parks of Cedar Lane, still hoped in their hearts that there was a mistake. These hopes rose with the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and the announcement of the return of prisoners of war.
Yesterday, January 30, the official telegram arrived:
"Dear Mrs. Parks: On behalf of the Army, it is my unpleasant duty to inform you that the name of your husband, Sergeant First Class Joe Parks, listed by the Department of the Army as deceased has appeared on a list of captured U. S. service men and civilians presented to the Paris negotiators, as having died while in captivity ... Verne L. Bowers Major General USA The Adjutant General Department of the Army Washington DC"
Sgt. Parks' wife and daughter were first informed in early January of 1965 that he was missing in action. Sgt. Parks began his tour of duty in Vietnam on December 4, 1964. He was accompanying the 1st Battalion, 13th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, Army of the Republic of Vietnam when they made contact with a hostile force at approximately 12:30 p.m. on December 22, 1964. In the ensuing heavy fire fight he lost contact with friendly forces. Due to the intense action, it was not possible to immediately enter the area in which he was last seen. When the area had been cleared, an extensive search operation was conducted but failed to locate him.
One of the prisoners released by the Viet Cong in 1967 reported that Sgt. Parks died as the result of dysentery, malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. He had been a prisoner two years and one week.
Mrs. Brown and her mother added the telegram to a sheaf of papers accumulated through the years: a certification that Sgt. Parks completed a training program in the 7th Infantry Division Guerilla Warfare School (July 7, 1962), a letter of commendation from his commanding officer for his outstanding performance of duty (May 18, 1964), a diploma from the Defense Language Institute for completion of a twelve weeks' course in the Vietnamese language (Dec. 3, 1964), a written notification that Sgt. Parks was missing in action in the Republic of Vietnam (Jan. 9, 1965), a notice from the Adjutant General that an escaped prisoner of the Viet Cong had no knowledge of Sgt. Parks' status or whereabouts (July 28, 1965), an acknowledgement that mail sent to him by the family had been sent to the International Committee of the Red Cross and that they would endeavor to arrange for its delivery to him (Sept. 1, 1965) and a letter of sympathy from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Nov. 29, 1967).
The letter, telegrams, and clippings are kept in a black leather folder in which his family received the notification that he had been awarded the Purple Heart
The Daily Tribune,
January 31, 1973
CEDAR LANE - A dedication ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of FM 457 and FM 521 to rename a highway in memory or a Vietnam-era soldier from Cedar Lane.
FM 457 will be renamed the "Sgt. Joe Parks Memorial Highway."
Parks was a U.S. Army soldier captured by the North Vietnamese in 1964.
He died in a prison camp in 1967.
Several county and state officials are expected to be on hand for the ceremony, including State Representative Tom Uher of Bay City, and County Commissioner Mike Pruett.
Members of the soldier's family also are expected to attend.
The alternate site in case of rain is the Fellowship hall at nearby Cedar Lane Baptist Church.
The Daily Tribune, September 19,
CEDAR LANE - From now on, drivers traveling on FM 457 will be on Sgt. Joe Parks Jr. Memorial Highway, following a dedication ceremony Sunday afternoon.
Sgt. Parks was a career U.S. Army soldier who was captured by the Viet Cong in Vietnam in 1964.
He died three years later in captivity.
His remains were never recovered.
Sunday afternoon, Matagorda County Veteran's Service Officer Verme DiPasca brought a group of county, state, and federal officials together to officially dedicate the highway to Parks.
Also present were Parks' widow, Maresa, his daughter, Lillian White, and Thelma Smith of the Matagorda County African-American Historical Society.
Bruce Bayless represented the Texas Department of Transportation at the event.
DiPasca singled out Smith for special praise.
"Without her efforts, this would never have taken place. She has earned my undying gratitude," said DiPasca.
State Representative Tom Uher and U.S. Congressman Ron Paul's aide Diana Gilbert also were credited for the memorial.
"It took the efforts of a lot of people to get this done," said DiPasca. "I am grateful beyond words for their help."
The ceremony was in the shade of a large oak tree in the parking lot of an abandoned store at the corner of FM 521 and FM 457.
Signs designating the road's new name are in place on the southbound side of FM 457, just past the Bay City city limits, and on the northbound side just north of FM 521.
Replicas of the signs were presented to Parks' family, along with a memorial U.S. flag.
"I am really appreciative of this honor," said Maresa Parks, who still lives in Cedar Lane. "I want to thank everyone involved."
"We are very elated," said Lillian White, who lives in Missouri City where she is a school teacher.
"I am going to tell my students all about this Monday morning
Tribune, September 21, 1999
For the past six years, Thelma Smith has presented a Black History Program to the Matagorda County Genealogical Society. Her theme for 1999 was centered around African-American servicemen who served their country from Matagorda County.
Smith called Verne DiPasca, Matagorda County Veteran's Service Officer for some information. DiPasca indicated that he was told to contact her about doing the research on SSgt. Joe Parks, Jr.
Smith said that she would and that she would use this as her Black History presentation to the MCGS for their February 1999 program.
The idea was to name Highway 457 in memory of SSgt. Parks since his remains were not returned to his home.
After the research was done, several people were contacted along with State Rep. Tom Uher. Rep. Uher's office contacted Smith for more information. A proclamation was written by Rep. Uher and presented to the Texas 76th Legislature in the form of House Bill No. 1005.
Seeing the impossibility of this bill passing, the proclamation was attached to another bill of the Texas Department of Transportation.
The total bill passed and on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999, a dedication
ceremony was held changing the name to Sergeant Joe Parks Memorial
Maresa Tone Parks, 69.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial rubbing courtesy of Anette Uher.
POW/MIA flag courtesy of Wilson's Gifs and Animations
Copyright 2006 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Feb. 5, 2006
Sep. 4, 2012