Back in 1949, a gentleman by the name of J.T. Pierce who was the Juvenile Probation Officer in the town of Sarasota, Fla., had heard about the relatively new “Little League Baseball” program that had begun a few years before. Mr. Pierce thought it could be a great youth program for the community that could give lots of the kids activity and direction. So, he started the league. Tryouts were held for several weeks at the local schools and parks. Each of the sponsored 12 teams were allowed to take turns picking 18 players for their team. I was chosen to be on the “Sports Committee” team.
On the first day of our official practice, I met our coach and his assistants. Our coach introduced himself and directed the young players to call him “Pappy.”
That year — and for the next two — we were one of the top teams, taking second place. Since we continued to be one of the top teams in the league, our coach, Pappy, was selected to be one of the All Star team coaches. I played on each of his three All Star teams, so, needless to say, I was one of his favorite players. We became lifelong friends until his death on May 2, 1968.
Edwin Charles Parsons (also know as “Ted” Parsons) had been a WWI flying Ace, a USN Rear Admiral, Hollywood technical advisor, FBI Special Agent, and the author of I Flew with the Lafayette Escadrille (originally published as, The Great Adventure).
At this point, allow me to tell you a bit more about Pappy.
A MAN SEEKING ADVENTURE
Born in Holyoke, Mass., Parsons graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1910. After attending the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to California where he learned to fly at Dominguez Field in 1912.
Seeking further adventures, he went to Mexico in 1913, where he joined the Mexican Army’s Aviation Corps. Pancho Villa wanted him to train airmen and brevetted him a captain with a salary of $200 a month, payable in gold. Parsons attempted to teach some of Villa’s troops to fly, but he was not successful. They lacked the mechanical ability necessary to become pilots. When the Mexican Revolutionary movement split between Villa and Venustiano Carranza in 1915, Parsons left Mexico.
After war broke out in Europe, he signed on as an assistant veterinarian on a boat load of horses being sent to France. Shortly after his arrival in France in late 1915, he joined the United States Ambulance service before enlisting in the French Foreign Legion. In 1916, he became a pilot in the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service). Beginning in January 1917, he flew with the famed Lafayette Escadrille. He was credited with one aerial victory on September 5, 1917, when he shot down a German Rumpler reconnaissance plane.
Parsons was on leave when the United States entered the conflict. When he returned to his squadron, he was advised to not join the US Aviation Service because they were short of planes and had much more restrictive flying rules. Because of his outstanding record, he was accepted into the famous French squadron Escadrille 3 Les Cigognes (“The Storks”) in 1918. By that time, Escadrille 3 had been equipped with Spad XIIIs and re-designated as Escadrille SPA3. Flying one of the best Allied planes, Parsons became an Ace, having scored seven more kills before the end of the war.
After the war, Parsons returned to the United States and joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a Special Agent. He served from 1920 until 1923 when he left to form his own unsuccessful private detective agency.
Parsons then went to Hollywood, where he roomed at the Hollywood Athletic Club along with the popular screen star, Gary Cooper. With the help the film director and former WWI aviator, William A. Wellman, Parsons landed a job with Paramount as a technical consultant He worked on the Oscar-winning “Wings” (1927) and on Howard Hughes’ epic, “Hell’s Angels” (1930), among others. He also worked as a screenwriter, occasional actor, and technical director.
During this time he developed his writing. He wrote magazine articles as well as a book. He also wrote and narrated a radio series about his experiences, called, “Heroes of the Lafayette Escadrille.”
In the mid 1930s, he became a member of the Hollywood Hussars militia cavalry unit. About the same time, Parsons joined the Naval Reserve and received the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
During WWII, Parsons served as an instructor at Pensacola Naval Air Station, then aboard an aircraft carrier, and a seaplane tender. He was in the Solomon Islands Campaign where he earned a Bronze Star among other decorations. He ended the war as a Rear Admiral.
HIS “WAR WOUND”
One of the stories that Pappy told me was about the top half of his middle finger on his right hand. It was missing. Most thought it had been shot off during WWI.
As a kid, Pappy told me that he and his friends would jump up and slap the awnings hanging from the businesses. On one such jump, his finger entered and stuck in the pipe at the end of the awning. When he fell back down, the pipe completely severed the top half of his finger. Those who didn’t know the story assumed it was his “war wound.”
AFTER LITTLE LEAGUE
After three years, Parsons left his coaching position at the end of the same year I became too old for Little League. In the years that followed, Parsons would drop into my family’s office supply business for a brief visit on his way to post office. This continued for several years.
Then the time came that I had not seen him for several months, and I got a call from his wife, Kitty. She told me that “Ted” was very ill and dying from lung cancer. He did not have long to live. She was trying to keep him happy in his last days, so she asked me if I would come and visit him as I was always his favorite, and he often spoke highly of me. I agreed. The next day, I drove to his home and spent the afternoon visiting and reminiscing. It became our last visit — he passed away a few days later.
About three months later, Kitty called again. She asked me to help her with Ted’s things that he had promised to donate to the Smithsonian Institution at their request.
It was my privilege to select all of the aviation-related items, including his complete Lafayette Escadrille uniform, headgear, medals, photos, and miscellaneous items. We carefully packed them to ship to the Museum where they are shown today.
It was also my privilege to have been a “favorite” of one of the “great Americans” who honored and served this country during his very active lifetime. Though I was involved for a very small — but important — part of his life, I remember it as my “Great Adventure.”
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