Samuel Iredell Parker – An Amercan Hero | Local News | independenttribune.com – Independent Tribune

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Samuel Iredell Parker - An Amercan Hero









Samuel Iredell Parker

Sam Parker became the most highly decorated American soldier in World War I.



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We Americans tend to admire our heroes. Movies, comic books and television are replete with examples. How about the real deal? Allow me to introduce you to a man who was born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina, who became known for his business acumen, as a civic leader in Cabarrus County, a Christian gentleman and family man who dropped everything on short notice to join the United States Army to fight in World War I. Sam Parker became the most highly decorated American soldier in World War I. This story is now past the century mark yet remains relevant to this day.

Parker's formative years were spent in Monroe, where his father owned and operated a dry goods store which consisted of three adjoining buildings. One was used for the grocery store, another was a meat market, and the third was a café.

Back in those days, their home had no running water and the Saturday night bath involved a large metal tub, which during the week was used to wash clothes. Water was carried into the home and heated on the kitchen stove for a bath. Their transportation was with a horse and buggy. At that time, freight trains were passing through Monroe on a regular basis, and over the course of time, young Sam learned to imitate the sounds the steam trains would make as they slowed down and picked up speed leaving the station. He had a knack for it and used it to entertain his parents. Later, he taught his technique to his grandsons, Ed and Sam Moss. Credit for this is due to the construction of the Georgia, Carolina and Northern Railroad in 1887-92, between Atlanta and Monroe, which further strengthened the city's status as a railroad center. Monroe was a bustling city when young Sam came along.

As a teenager, Sam would take the train to Kansas, where he worked during his summer vacation. When he wasn’t working in the fields, he spent time familiarizing himself with a Colt M1911 .45-semi-automatic handgun. It is unclear if he owned the gun that summer or perhaps the Army Regimental Quartermaster issued him the gun and Sam brought it home with him. He spent hours perfecting the quick draw, as many cowboys were seen in the movies standing in the street with an opponent in a face-off a few yards away. “Pappy,” as he was called by his grandsons, perfected the quick draw that summer, and this fact would prove crucial when he came face to face with German soldiers. The Army at that time taught their soldiers to raise a handgun to head level then sight and fire as the gun was brought down. By practicing in Kansas to shoot the gun on the rise from the hip, he fired much more quickly than the accepted military method.

Once Sam had completed his schooling in Monroe, he applied to and became a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the age of 20, between his sophomore and junior year, he accepted a position as principal at the Stonewall Jackson Training School in Concord, a position he held for the next three years. It was while employed at the Stonewall Jackson Training School that he attended a church social at the Jackson Training School chapel and met Ms. Mary Lou Morris, whom he would marry on Nov. 9, 1920.

Sam resigned his position at the Stonewall Jackson Training School and returned to Chapel Hill to complete his studies for his BA degree with the Class of 1917. On Friday, April 6, 1917, life got in the way when war was declared on Germany by the United States. He would eventually receive his degree consideration to the circumstances imposed by Sam’s call to duty during World War I. Sam packed his bag and left Chapel Hill on Tuesday, May 15, bound for Camp Oglethorpe in northern Georgia to receive officer training. His tour of duty was to last a total of 24 years, 11 months and four days.

On Aug. 15, 1917, Sam became a commissioned officer with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, U.S. Army. Within a short span, Sam was crossing the Atlantic by troop ship bound for the war in France. Upon arrival, he was initially assigned to the Fifth British Army. After a brief stint with the British, he received orders to the U.S. 28th Infantry, First Division, and a big step closer to combat.

On May 28, 1918, the 28th Infantry regiment had closed the distance with the Germans with artillery support from both armies near the town of Cantigny, where the battle was joined. Sam was in Company “K” of the 28th Infantry. This was to be the first American offensive of World War I.

Sam is quoted as saying, “As a point of personal pride, I want it remembered that I was in the first wave of the first attack that the United States Army made against Germany, and the operation was entirely successful. I started the scrap with 35 men, and I estimate that my platoon can easily account for 350 of the enemy. I hope to cause them much more grief when I have another opportunity.”

Leading a section of 12 men, Parker and his sergeant charged a trench with fixed bayonets. A burly German soldier threw a grenade at them, which failed to explode. As the Americans rushed past, that German jumped up and yelled, “Comrade!” The sergeant replied, “Yes, a hell of a comrade,” he then lunged toward the German and drove his bayonet deeply into his chest.

After Cantigny was captured, Sam’s platoon held an outpost north of town while his battalion dug in. Over the course of the next three days, the Germans tried unsuccessfully to retake the town with counter attacks. Six weeks later, Sam Parker had his opportunity to cause “more grief.” The “front” drifted toward the southeast, deeper into German-occupied French soil. The Battle of Soissons, part of the Aisne-Marne campaign, started on July 18, 1918.

As several hours of intensive fighting, eventually a frontline position was established. In doing so, however, a gap had opened between the French 153rd Division and Sam’s 28th regiment. That meant the 28th was exposed to German machine gun enfilade fire from multiple locations. The machine gun nests were securely placed within a rock quarry on high ground, an awful tactical disadvantage. Ahead of the platoon was the “Missy Ravine,” a deep gap fraught with German firepower to include the German 77mm guns and little in the way of cover for the advancing troops. The French 153rd on the left flank had attacked but failed to breach the distance.

The attack could not progress unless someone took the German strong points in the rock quarry. This is when Sam Parker went into action and into harm’s way. Sam led his platoon through heavy fire to close the gap. It was during this transition that a group of French Colonial soldiers who had become separated from their unit, leaderless and disorganized, were convinced with rudimentary French to join his depleted force in pursuit of the German gunners. As they crested the hill, they gathered for an assault. The Germans were surprised and unprepared for the storm of men and bullets. Within what seemed like seconds the allied force had captured six enemy machine guns and approximately 40 soldiers. Sam had dispatched several with his quick draw and his powerful .45 Colt. Sam received a flesh wound to the leg during the attack.

The next day, the platoon was relieved by a French regiment. On the morning of July 19, 1918, the First Division continued the attack. Company “M” on the left was virtually annihilated, with losses so great that the 2nd and 3rd battalions were reorganized into a rifle company. (Did you know that a battalion is comprised of 1,000 men?) That may serve to offer a sense of scale at the losses.

Stragglers and lightly wounded men were gathered into an ad hoc machine gun platoon utilizing captured German machine guns. The order came to attack, but to do so they had to cross over the German-defended French Nationale Route 2, just west of a small village named Ploisy. In the ensuing attack, Sam’s senior officer was wounded with shrapnel and could not lead. Major Huebner transferred command to Sam Parker with the words, “Take my maps and carry on.” As the soldiers began their attack, a German high explosive shell struck near Sam. He was thrown into the air and, as he landed, he felt pain in his right foot. He took off his boot and bound his own wound, refusing evacuation despite the pain. Their advance across and beyond the road had been a failure. But this is total war and advance they must! Orders were received to attack across the road toward the Ploisy Ravine. There was a 1,000-meter gap (3,281 feet) between his troops and the French to the north. Sam had only 120 riflemen and had to crawl because of his painful foot wound. The platoon was inspired by his gallantry and determination, and this time the attack was successful. Sam chose not to leave his command until a composite command had been drawn up later that evening when other officers reached his position. On the morning of July 20, 1918, Sam made his painful way to an aid station near the Ploisy Ravine.

His war was not yet over. On Oct. 5, in the Argonne Forest, Sam Parker rushed a German machine gun that was firing at him. Singlehandedly, he managed to kill the gunner with his trusty Colt .45.

Later, further east at the village of Exermont, he was nearly surrounded by the enemy, but with another officer and two squads of riflemen they inflicted heavy losses on the Germans. Sam received the Distinguished Service Cross for this battle. Sam was quoted as saying, “I want it clearly understood that I have never killed a man except in defense of my own life.”

His comrade in arms in Company “K” 28th Infantry Regiment, and classmate at UNC-Chapel Hill, Samuel J. Ervin Jr., former U.S. Senator from North Carolina, had been with Sam at the rock quarry that day and he, too, had been wounded. Sam Parker said that his lifelong friend had saved his life when he had charged a machine gun, killing the gun crew. Sam Ervin was seen walking away using his rifle as a crutch. Both men had somehow survived the fear, the sweat, the grime and painful loss of blood together. Both men were recognized with the Purple Heart medal, Sam Parker’s second.

Samuel Iredell Parker would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor on May 7, 1936, at the White House from President Franklin D. Roosevelt; additionally he received separately the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, along with his Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. There is also the Legion of Merit, WWI Victory Medal with five bars, and the French Fourragere and Croix de Guerre w/Bronze Palm. This is considered to be a truly remarkable feat by a truly remarkable man.

Sam became the most highly decorated American soldier of World War I. He remained in the active reserve rather than leave the Army. His country again called upon him during World War II, and he was promoted to major and assigned to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he taught a course in military leadership and wrote his own textbook on the subject. In March 1943, he was again promoted this time to lieutenant colonel.

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