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Paul J. Parks Second World War correspondence, photographs and memorabilia

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 2019-046-w-r

Scope and Contents

This collection contains approximately 170 letters from Cpl. Paul J. Parks, USAAC to his wife Sylvia during the Second World War. Also included are several pieces of memorabilia and some photographs sent home by Cpl. Parks. Biographical notes have also been provided by the donor, and these include notes taken by the archivist.

The correspondence begins in March 1944 as Cpl. Parks is headed to training in Alabama by train. Upon arriving in Camp Sibert, he served with Company D, 1st Regiment, RTC where the Special Services men endured military training, including marksmanship for which Parks received the highest score, but the training was condensed compared to regular military personnel. He wrote his wife Sylvia almost everyday and described his daily activities, including his music, the trips he would take off base, and the men with whom he served and played music. They include a Major Schindler and Lieutenant Moyer, and he played with Ed Flemming, Charlie Fiorini, Private Higgenbottom, Guy Kingsford (was in the movie Sahara, 1943, with Humphrey Bogart), Vernon, Bruce, and Don the bass player.

After a short reassignment in Camp Luna, New Mexico and a longer assignment in New York, during which he played at CBS studios and saw the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, the unit deployed to North Africa. They were stationed in a "home" base with Headquarters, North African Division-Air Transport Command (Hq, NAFD-ATC), 1250th Army Air Force Base Unit. However, they spent several days in a row traveling away from their base to other parts of the region, including east in places such as India and modern day Pakistan, playing for troops and honing their show. They played on British Royal Air Force (RAF) bases and mentions new men with him, including Bob Olson, Harold Gross, and Brooks Durham. Charlie Fiorini was injured and missed many shows.

Parks letters contained the mundanity of daily life in the desert, but he was verbose in his excitement at the sights and people he met. “I could write a book on what I’ve seen already and I haven’t started yet,” he told Sylvia in one of his first letters home from Africa. He described the landscape and the voluminous stars in the night sky. He described his trips to the Arab markets that looked “like a circus parade” filled with camels, cows and donkeys carrying goods and wares. He talked about the superior pianos he played on that were left by the Germans and how their show just was not the same while Charlie was out with an illness. He seemed relieved to hear that they were losing a guitar player who was “found to be nuts.” Parks was also very interested in telling Sylvia about the "natives" wherever they go and the "wild" Arabs of Algeria that showed great fondness for the Americans, while he showed some disdain for the more acculturated French Arabs. He refers to many of the native peoples as "the help," and even praises the black African "help" over the Arabs in the north, though he could not divulge specific locations for many of their bases due to the ongoing military censorship of correspondence (he mentioned having been in Senegal, French North Africa). He even mentions on February 7, 1945 sending music to Sylvia and taking it to the censor personally because they did not like music; most of them could not read it and it could potentially contain code. The landscape and people were foreign, but his fascination kept the homesickness at bay regularly. “It sure gives you a funny feeling to sit and watch our modern movies while a few feet from you is a road people are travelling on exactly the same way they did thousands of years ago,” ending his anecdote with a common phrase of his, “What a life. Ha Ha.”

The “newness” of places wore off at times and Parks enjoyed the mobile nature of their work; moving to different bases and cities. Plane rides and nights in the barracks gave the men plenty of time to perfect the show and write new material. In October 1944, less than a month overseas, Parks wrote a new song called “I Got What I Got in Rabat.” Occasionally, the men were confronted with the war, but in a more hopeful and jovial manner than a reminder of its terrors. They went through Egypt and saw where a lot of big battles took place, likely referring to El Alamein, and occasional letters hint at rumors of the war nearing its end, though this frustrated him later when the seemingly inevitable German surrender had not arrived.

Parks later showed his frustration more often. By December he exclaimed to Sylvia that the entire war must not be over because of a “big business deal,” and that he would gladly pick up a rifle if it brought him home any sooner. Two days before Christmas, he wrote to Sylvia, "The Only thing I hope or wish for now is for some true word of what’s gone wrong in the German front. At this rate I can look forward to spending another year in Africa at least. Great! God bless the British. I just get pretty fed up when I think of me being away from you like this for political reasons. If its for the defeat of an enemy of the U.S. I’m ready. But if is [sic] so Britain can jockey herself in to being able to bluff a big extra hunk of the world it burns me up."

A couple letters later, however, he tells of his excitement flying over “the real garden of Eden” in Iraq. The adventure travel aspect of his journey continued to keep his mind off the negative. Another thing to keep his mind occupied was discussing and adding up the points he thought he had. The points system was designed to allow soldiers to return to the States once a certain amount of points had been earned at the end of the war, and he begins discussing his possibilities as early as November 1944. Most of the correspondence, however, continues discussion of daily routines until the correspondence in this collection ceases in November 1945.

Memorabilia collected by Cpl. Parks includes the following:
  • 1 bar set, metal, with heads wearing fez hats on the handles (corkscrew, bottle opener, ice pick)
  • 1 standing plaque, elephant god, discussed in letter February 12, 1945 (described as a pure silver rendering of a Chinese god of health, wealth and power, and if gazed upon a person is blessed by the god of good luck and fortune. The elephant is backed by an ebony board and there were originally two, the other gifted to another friend)
  • 2 knives, wood, dark brown, with African heads on handles
  • 1 knife, metal, reddish sheath with frills, discussed in a letter October 19, 1944 and sent home approximately October 30 to his son, Gary
  • 2 stones, one brown, one white, in envelope
  • 1 set of dominos, black
  • 1 set of Dragon Checkers, missing one black checker
  • 2 garrison caps, green 1 wallet/pouch, green, with strap
  • 1 wallet, brown, with Egyptian decorations (contains one photograph)
  • 1 wallet, brown 1 wallet, brown, large, with triangle decorations
  • 1 ticket, stamped with “Health Officer Karachi Airport, 5 Dec 1944…Yellow Fever Control”
  • 13 luggage tags, with name and locations (Casablanca, Tripoli, Tunis, Bizerte, Cairo, Karachi, Benghazi, Algiers, Dakar, Habb [Habbaniyah, Iraq], Atar, Jiwiani [Jiwani, Pakistan])
  • 1 US postage stamp, 3 cents, 150th anniversary of Tennessee statehood
  • 16 coins, various locations (Persian coins discussed in letter December 17, 1944, described as pure silver and sent home with the same letter)
  • 10 bank notes, various locations (Italy, French Algeria, Military Authority of Tripolitania, French West Africa, Brasil)


Included in the documents and pamphlets are the following:
  • 1 pamphlet, “This is Algiers” local information packet
  • 1 document, Personal Affairs Check List for Military Personnel, August 14, 1943
  • 1 document, Special Orders, September 1, 1944
  • 1 slip, 48-hour Medical Clearance, September 9, 1944
  • 1 certificate, ATC Process Clearance Certificate, September 22, 1944
  • 1 document, Letter Orders, October 13, 1944
  • 1 slip, Permission of Absence, December 6, 1944
  • 1 document, Special Orders, April 17, 1945 6 clippings 5 clippings, photocopies
  • 1 photograph, copy, b/w, "The About Faces", five of the original eight musicians (includes another photocopy of the back of the photograph, dated May 18, 1945)
  • 1 election card

Dates

  • 1942 November 28 - 1945 November 9

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this material except where previously copyrighted material is concerned. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all permissions.

Biographical / Historical

Corporal Paul James Parks, United States Army Air Corps (4/29/1908 - 10/6/1984) was born in Coffeyville, Kansas and attended high school in Centralia, Washington. He met Sylvia Noreen Robbins and dated for three years before marrying in 1929. They then moved to California and had a child, Gary Leigh Parks, in 1934.

Cpl. Parks enlisted in the military on February 14, 1944 and served in the Special Services of the Army Air Corps, first training at Camp Sibert in Alabama, relocating a few times before deploying to North Africa. As a musician he and a select few men in his unit, collectively in a musical group called "The About Faces," travelled from their "home base" in North Africa all over the region, including India and modern day Pakistan, playing for troops in the rear after the war effort had left the African theater. His son, Gary and mother, to whom he refers as "Baba", are also mentioned in his correspondence, as well as a cousin, Harold Leo Boggs, who was killed in a downed glider over France on Christmas day, December 25, 1944.

On February 1, 1945 he was finally promoted to private first class and remained in Africa until he was discharged on February 27, 1946 and he continued to play music while he and his family remained in California for the rest of their lives. Cpl. Parks passed away on October 6, 1984 and is interred at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, CA.

A more thorough biography and ancestry.com printout is provided by the donor.

Extent

3 Linear Feet (2 document boxes, 1 carton)

Overview

This collection contains approximately 170 letters from Cpl. Paul J. Parks, USAAC to his wife Sylvia during the Second World War. Also included are several pieces of memorabilia and some photographs sent home by Cpl. Parks.

Arrangement

The correspondence is arranged chronologically and the collection is arranged by material type.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Susan C. Parks in honor and memory of Cpl. Paul J. Parks.
Title
Finding Aid for the Paul J. Parks Second World War correspondence, photographs and memorabilia
Status
Completed
Author
Andrew Harman
Date
7/15/2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Center for American War Letters Archives Repository

Contact:
Leatherby Libraries
Chapman University
Orange CA 92866 United States