Roy Parker Pays Visit to The Country Bookshop
"When the bullets were whizzing around and falling fast around me, I thought how I would love just to walk around Fayetteville again."
Any U.S. soldier, from any battlefield, in any part of the world during the last 225 years, could have written those words in a letter home.
In fact, they were written by Pvt. Kenneth McNeill to his father in November 1918, during the only war to be called "Great."
"Your letters are a constant strengthening of the tie across the water and I can't say how it would be without getting letters from you."
That was written by Pvt. W. M. "Billy" Shaw Jr. in June 1944, during the only war to be called "Good."
These are two of hundreds of letters from the field quoted by award-winning journalist and military historian Roy Parker Jr. in his weekly column, "Military History," in The Fayetteville Observer. Now 135 of the 700 columns he's written since 1993 have been compiled into a book, "The Best of Roy Parker Jr.: Reliving Fayetteville's Storied Military History."
On Thursday, May 8, at 4 p.m. at The Country Bookshop in downtown Southern Pines, Parker will discuss the role Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, the world's largest airborne facility and headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, have played in every major military action in our country's history.
Joseph Roy Parker Jr. was born in Ahoskie in 1930. His father, Roy Parker Sr., and his uncle, J. Mayon Parker, owned and ran local weekly newspapers in Hertford, Bertie, and Northampton counties, one of North Carolina's first newspaper chain operations. In 1941, Parker's family moved to Chapel Hill where his father was a professor of journalism at UNC, and his mother worked as a dorm hostess and later served on the Northampton County Board of Education.
Parker began his "back-shop" printing career in the early 1940s when his family moved back to Ahoskie for the summer. There he worked as a "'printer's devil,' the lowest sort, doing odd jobs for everybody," he recalls. During high school, he was "big in the circulation department when the Hertford County Herald came out," he says. "'Slip-sheeting' (inserting) was my bag."
For 15 hours of his summertime weeks, he was paid "three bucks. My Uncle Mayon felt that members of the family were entitled to work for less."
A few years later, Parker was a key "back-shop" person in the office of The News of Orange County, in Hillsborough, a county weekly his father had bought. The 15-year-old got to drive the family convertible back and forth, delivering mail bags full of newspapers from Hillsborough to the Chapel Hill post office.
After Parker earned his undergraduate degree in journalism from UNC in 1952, he worked as an editor for the family papers. In 1957 Sam Ragan asked him to join the staff of The News and Observer in Raleigh where he served as a government reporter from 1957 to 1963.
"It was heaven to me," Parker says.
Parker's challenge was always to be the first to provide the story to the paper, so when he was covering the General Assembly in the state Capitol building, he didn't hesitate to make a hole in a transom window in the men's restroom in order to hear the lawmakers discussing the state's budget in the next room. The next day, the legislators were baffled as to how he got this supposedly secret information.
In 1959, Parker went to Washington D.C. ("Even more heavenly") for nine months through an internship offered by the American Political Science Association, where he worked for Congressman Hale Boggs, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Senator Sam Ervin. He returned to Washington in 1963 as a correspondent for eight years, and then went back to Raleigh where he was chief Capitol correspondent from 1971 to 1972.
Parker founded The Fayetteville Times in 1973, served as its editor and wrote the newspaper's book column until 1990, when he became contributing editor for The Fayetteville Observer-Times until his retirement in 2001. In 1993 he began writing a weekly military history column for The Observer that concentrates on North Carolina and specifically on Fort Bragg.
He took up military history as an avocation over 25 years ago. He is on the board of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation, serves on the advisory committee of the NC Civil War Tourism Council, and has been president of the N.C. Literary and Historical Association. He is author of "Cumberland County: A Brief History," the story of the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg community from colonial days, and co-author of "Fayetteville and Fort Bragg in Vintage Postcards."
Parker has received numerous awards for his work, including N.C. Press Association awards for writing excellence in the editorial, criticism and column categories. The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism awarded him a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1986; he was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at Harvard University; and was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 1999 in recognition of his outstanding and career-long contributions in the field of Public Service. Two years ago, he received the North Carolina Award, sometimes referred to as the "Nobel Prize of North Carolina," the highest civilian award bestowed by the state.
For reservations to the Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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