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Chick Parsons – Our Man In Manila

Charles ‘Chick’ Parsons

Charles Thomas Parsons Jr. was born in 1900 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, but his family moved frequently to avoid creditors. When young Charles was 5, his mother sent him to Manila for a more stable life with her brother, a public health official in the American-run government. The boy received his elementary education speaking Spanish at the Santa Potenciana School, a Catholic school founded in the 16th century. 

He returned to Tennessee as a teenager and graduated from Chattanooga High School. He sailed back to the Philippines as a merchant marine seaman in the early 1920s and shortly got himself hired as a stenographer for Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, a hero of the Spanish-American War  On January 2, 1942, the Japanese Army marched into Manila unopposed.

Parsons retreated—only so far as his house on Dewey Boulevard, where he burned his uniforms and any other evidence that he was a United States Navy officer. But he held on to his Panamanian flag. Because of his experience in shipping and port operations, Panama’s foreign minister had named him the country’s honorary consul general to the Philippines. While the occupation authorities ordered that the 4,000 Americans in Manila be detained at the University of Santo Tomas, they left Parsons, his wife and their three children alone, believing he was a diplomat from Panama, a neutral country.

For the next four months, speaking only Spanish in public and flashing his diplomatic credentials whenever necessary, Parsons collected strategic information, including Japanese troop strengths and the names and locations of American prisoners of war

Visitors inside the dungeon used by Japanese forces for Allied prisoners

After the Jimmy Doolittle raid on Tokyo, the Japanese Army’s feared Kempeitai military police retaliated by rounding up all non-Asian men—including Parsons, diplomatic immunity be damned. They were thrown into a stone dungeon at Fort Santiago, the 350-year-old fortress within Intramuros, the colonial walled city where Chick had lived and played as a child.

After being tortured for 5 days, he was sent to the hospital with kidney problems.  Still believing that Parson’s was Panama’s consul, him and his family were allowed to leave.  By the time the Parsons family reached New York on August 27, the Navy had lost track of Chick—he was listed as missing in action.

The gate of Fort Santiago where Parsons played as a boy and held captive as an adult.

When MacArthur received word that his old friend was not MIA, he called Washington: “SEND PARSONS IMMEDIATELY.” Within a month, Chick was on a submarine headed for Mindanao.  He gauged the guerrillas’ strength, established ground rules and united the Christian and Muslim fighters for a common effort of defense.

11 November 1943, Parsons was aboard another sub, the USS Narwhal, and delivered more food, medicine, weaponry and additional radio transmitters to expand the network of coastal watch stations.

By February 1944, Parson infiltrated the Philippines for 3rd time to continue keeping the guerrillas supplied as well as ferrying more than 400 American and foreign nationals to safety.

12 October 1944, a Catalina ‘Black Cat’ delivered Parsons and Lt.Col. Frank Rawolle of the 6th Army Special Intelligence.  For 4 days they sent coded messages back to HQ and warned the guerrillas to pull back off the beaches.  The Navy launched the main invasion on 20 October and the guerrillas joined up with the invading US Army.

Post-war Parsons back in Manila.

Peter parsons, son, said his father took but a few seconds to return to his prewar life and get back in business.  He remembered his father smiling and waving as a ship brought the family back to Manila as though nothing had happened.  We called him “Iron Man.”

Chick Parsons died in Manila on the afternoon of May 12, 1988, during his siesta. He was 88. His sons—Peter, Michael, Patrick and Joe—gathered for a funeral service there, and they laid him to rest in a grave next to Katsy, who had died eight years before. “He was hardly ever sick in his whole life,” Peter Parsons said. “When he died he was asleep”

This story was condensed from an article by Peter Eisner for the Smithsonian Magazine.  To read the complete story…

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/without-chick-parsons-General-MacArthur-Never-Made-Return-Philippines-180964406/?q=

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Frank Amaral – Smithfield, RI; US Army, WWII

Haig Arakelian – Panama City, FL; US Army, WWII / US Air Force (Ret.)

Earl Baugh – Searcy, AR; US Navy, WWII, SeaBee

Tony Holbrook – Ontario, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

William Kunkel – NYC, NY; US Air Force, Korea

Catherine Murray (100) – Ft. Lauderdale, FL; USMC, WWII, MSgt. (ret.), 1st woman to retire from the Marine Corps

John Revill – Swanwick, ENG; British Army, WWII, ETO

Charles Saccamdo – Springfield, IL; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

Pearl Spurr – Bradford, CAN; CW Army Corps, WWII

Frank Wilkins Jr. – Georgetown, DE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Captain, 599/397/9th Air Force

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