The day following Sunday, December 7, 1941, Fran, along with several of his friends in Geneva, Illinois, where we lived then, went down to the draft board and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a night-fighter pilot, and in 1943 was sent to the South Pacific. Fortunately, he later came back safely from that seemingly endless war.
In the years after the war, he and his wife, Barb, had several children—six, and he was just as wonderful a father to them as he was a brother to us. He had a light touch, and knew how to get across principles of behavior to his kids without anger or cruel words. He loved each of his children for their own individuality, and encouraged them to be who they wanted to be. I admired him for being able to do, so wisely, what I didn’t naturally know how to do. I learned from him, as I always had, by watching how he handled situations and people.
In time, he became an engineering test pilot, and was stationed at Alamogordo, New Mexico. One day, he was flying an F-106 jet plane, testing a device intended to hold a sophisticated new missile—the Cruise Missile, I believe. Unfortunately, the device holding the missile was not sufficiently strong, and broke apart from the plane. Part of it cut through the fuselage, severing the hydraulic systems that enabled the pilot to control the plane.
Now, there was no way to change the plane’s speed or direction. He tried to use the ejection seat, but it jammed. (Later, there was an investigation which found that all the F-106s at Alamagordo at that time had their ejection seats improperly installed. Any pilot who tried to eject would have had the same experience Fran had.)
Somehow Fran got the canopy open and used his chute to lift himself out of the cockpit, but the F-106 had an unusually high tail. His head struck it, and he was killed instantly.
It was an especially terrible experience for Barb and the six children, and changed their lives irrevocably from then on.
It was also a devastating blow to all the rest of the family. How could I even begin to describe such a loss! All of us knew he was, in some unusual way, different from the rest of us—better, bigger, kinder, fairer than any of us were able to be. There was never any indication that he knew this. I don’t believe he ever thought of such a thing. He didn’t know it. We knew it.
Many years later, I fell into conversation with a business acquaintance in Tucson, Arizona, and found that he was part of the ground crew at Alamogordo the day Fran was killed. As he recalled that day, his face was sad. “He was the greatest guy—just the greatest guy—the best of all the pilots there.” He paused for a moment, his eyes moist. “Everybody loved Fran Parker,” he said, “everybody.” He told me how that day everyone on the ground was shocked when the accident happened, and how bad they all felt because it happened to Fran.
I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to hear about that fateful day from a person who was actually there, and who knew my brother. I was not surprised to hear of the love and respect the people on the ground at Alamogordo had for him--my kind, funny, loving brother, Fran.