Interview With Joseph “Joe” Clayton Parish
Joe Parish was born June 28, 1925 in Hundred, West Virginia. He was the youngest of five children born to Elizabeth Sims Parish and William Richard Parish. Joe attended Hundred Grade School and Hundred High and graduated from Hundred High School in 1943. During High School, he worked at the Hundred IGA for Tim Ashcraft from March 1942 to June 1943. Joe’s birthdate places him squarely in the Greatest Generation and the path he took in adulthood represented the ideals of that generation.
After graduation, he went to Michigan to work that summer for the Ford Motor Company at Willow Run Bomber Plant. He was drafted for World War II one month later, which precipitated a return home to get a physical and put his affairs in order before leaving for basic training. In the interim, he worked at Carnegie Natural Gas Company.
His military career began when he reported to Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio where he was inducted into the United States Army. His first choice was to be a fighter pilot and tests were taken to determine his eligibility, including an interview with a psychiatrist. The doctor asked him why he wanted to be a pilot. He gave an airtight answer, “I can do more damage with 8 fifty caliber machine guns than with a single-shot rifle in the infantry”.
Six weeks of basic training in Amarillo, Texas was followed by mechanics school and an assignment to the 901st Squadron. His training continued with the 904th for mechanics and engines school followed by gunnery school in Las Vegas, Nevada. His next stops were Alexandria, Louisiana for overseas training and then Lincoln, Nebraska where he and his flight crew practiced shakedown missions on a brand new B-17. Upon completing training, his crew was shipped overseas with no idea where they would be based. When their pilot opened their assignment letter, Joe was surprised to learn that Polebrook, England was the destination. Because of letters back home, the family knew that Bill Parish, Joe’s older brother by 7 years, was already at Polebrook serving in the 351st Bomb Group. Brother Bill had no idea his kid brother would be joining him. The reunion buoyed both their spirits. Throughout Joe’s B-17 missions, Bill would be a nervous wreck until his brother and crew returned safely. Joe served for 30 months.
After discharge from the Army, he returned to Hundred on March 9, 1946 where he helped build Dr. Ralph H. Zinn’s office building. Dr. Zinn was from Morgantown and settled in Hundred where he practiced medicine until he retired. Dr. Zinn was married to Grace Spitznogle whose brother was married to Joe’s paternal aunt, Inez Parish Spitznogle. Inez’s husband was a legendary Hundred character, “Bus” Spitznogle. Bus’s legend included playing 80 holes of golf on his 80th birthday!
Later that year Joe went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering on the G.I. Bill. He left after 3 semesters and went to work for a telephone company,Western Electric, in Milwaukee installing a cross-bar dial telephone system. He attended classes to learn color-coded wiring and how to set up frames. It was the first dial system in Milwaukee and eliminated the jobs of 16 operators per shift.
He returned home for Christmas, 1947 and met his future wife, Helen Cain. After Christmas, he was off to Miami, Florida to work for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company until May 1, 1948. He broadened his resume further when Falcon Seaboard Drilling Company at Natrium hired him to work on brine wells for PPG. Helen and Joe were married on July 7, 1948 and he was laid off one week later. The newly married couple took the opportunity to go on a honeymoon to Tygart Lake, Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley. On their return, he was called back to work and then got a job at PPG where he worked for 37 years.
The Parish’s lived in “Thomas apartment” until soon after their daughter, Linda, was born. They welcomed their son, Doug, into the world while living in a garage apartment on Virginia Street.
A move to Albert Street saw the birth of their son, Brian. In 1961, their house was built by John Witschey at Fairview Drive in Northgate.
In 1975, Joe suffered a heart attack at age 50. He was told by doctors at WVU that without bypass surgery he would probably live for about 5 more years and even with surgery, he could only expect another 5 years. He implemented lifestyle changes that included quitting smoking, walking 4 miles a day and giving up many of the high fat, high cholesterol foods he loved. This discipline allowed him to forestall by-pass surgery until 1992. Today, vibrant and full of life, he has outlived some, if not all, of the doctors who gave him five years to live.
When were you drafted? September 30, 1943
What do you remember about the day you enlisted? I was sworn in at Waldo Hotel in Clarksburg, WV and given 30 days to report for duty. Along with 15-20 Wetzel Countians, I boarded the train in New Martinsville for Benwood. From there, we took westbound train to Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio.
How did you tell your family and friends find about you joining the service? Everybody in the area knew about it. As soon as you turned 18 years old, you were called up. You reported for your physical- if you could see lightning and smell farts, you passed.
How did you choose your branch of service? I took several tests and qualified for the Air Force Cadet Program.
How did you imagine military life before you joined? I was looking forward to becoming a fighter pilot.
What was Basic Training like? It was Hell. Hurry up and wait. They would wake us up with a bugle at 5:30 A.M. We had to hurry out onto the boardwalk and stand at attention for Roll Call, then off to breakfast where we stood in line for half an hour to get into the mess hall. It was the same for every meal.
Can you describe a funny moment from Boot Camp? That’s where I first met Snafu* and Kilroy**(*military acronym that describes a bad situation that is the normal state of affairs. **Graffiti character who turned up wherever GI’s served).
What are some of the things you remember about adapting to military life? Bitching. If a soldier wasn’t bitching, he wasn’t happy.
Where did you serve during the War? Flying combat missions out of Polebrook, England with the 351st Bomb Group.
How did you stay in touch with family and friends? Letters and V-Mail.
Are there people you remember fondly during that time? My brother Bill, my pilot and fellow crew members. My pilot and some crew members exchanged Christmas cards for years.
Did any of your military friends play pranks? Can you describe one? One guy from Cleveland would catch someone asleep, get a half cup of warm water and submerge their fingers in it which caused some guys to wet themselves. Then he would have a good laugh and run away.
When did you leave the military? What was the process like? At Fort McPherson in GA. We were called out to the Parade Grounds and a high-ranking officer made a speech. He thanked us for our dedicated
service, passed out our discharge papers and wished us well.
What were your first few weeks out of the service like? Terrific! Several of my friends were being discharged and we had a happy homecoming!
Who was the biggest influence in your life? My dad, William Richard Parish. He passed away when I was 16. I could have learned so much more from him.
What was your childhood like? Playing, scouting, fishing and hunting. Following my dad and learning to work, gardening, washing cars.
What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned in your life? Be humble, try to help anyone who needs it. Try to stay on a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.
Interview by John Yevuta