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78 years later, D-Day veteran, 97, returns to the scene

By Tim Stanley

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    TULSA, Oklahoma (Tulsa World) — The sand on that beach is not red anymore. Far from it.

It’s had almost 80 years of wind, rain and surf — the latter coming in and going out endlessly — to wash it clean.

But this Monday, when Bill Parker again walks across it, his memory will fill in the red as warranted.

He will be thinking of every drop of blood that sand once soaked up.

For the first time since D-Day, June 6, 1944, when at 19 he became possibly the first Allied invader to set foot on France’s Omaha Beach, the Tulsan is returning to the scene.

Parker, 97, who flew out of Tulsa last week, will be in Normandy, France, on Monday to take part in the 78th anniversary commemoration of D-Day.

I had the joy of meeting Parker a few years ago, when he told his story to the Tulsa World as part of our WWII Veterans Remember series.

He had no idea then that his WWII experience was not quite over — that, courtesy of a trip back, a fitting final chapter remained to be written.

You can check out updates from the trip on Facebook, where one of the planners is posting daily at facebook.com/peter.plank.75.

A soft-spoken cowboy of Choctaw heritage, Parker has become emblematic to me of every “reluctant hero” type, and especially those who following WWII came home to lead quiet, unassuming lives.

It would be hard to find one more unassuming than Parker’s.

More comfortable in boots and jeans, the only thing about him that might qualify as flashy is his big cowboy-style belt buckle.

When I first met Parker, he was not anxious for publicity. But he felt called to — what else — “cowboy up.” His fellow D-Day veterans deserved someone to represent them, he felt.

And if not him, then who?

Since we first shared his story, Parker has become one of the most visible figures among local veterans, helping his fellow Tulsans feel a personal connection to Omaha Beach that previously many knew only through “Saving Private Ryan.”

Parker is making the trip to France courtesy of Liberty Jump Team, a Texas-based nonprofit commemorative group.

Liberty, which stages World War II-era parachute jumps like those that were vital to the success of D-Day, has a program that escorts veterans to revisit overseas battlefields.

Parker’s trip will include several sites related to the invasion and his combat experience.

I hope to catch up with him when he returns to talk about what it all was like. I can only imagine the emotions it will stir for him, what images will come rushing back.

The first time Parker was at Omaha Beach — scrambling, ducking and somehow surviving amid a hail of shells and bullets — it wasn’t his choice.

This time, almost 80 years later, it will be.

I hope that fact is empowering to Parker, and that in experiencing the gratitude of the French in person the weight of the memories he carries will be made at least a little lighter.

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