Fort Rucker and Department of Defense Education Activity officials announced July 30 the dedication of Fort Rucker’s new on post elementary school in honor of retired Lt. Gen. Ellis D. Parker, celebrating the man known to many as the godfather of Army Aviation.
Given that the post is the home of Army Aviation and much of the new school’s design inspires thoughts of aviation, officials could think of no finer person as a namesake for the school that will educate the youth of Fort Rucker, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, garrison commander and an Army Aviator for 25 years.
“There really is no one who comes to mind that has had more of an impact on the development, growth and health of the Army Aviation Branch,” Gardner said of Parker, who passed away March 26. “Then, on top of that, he retired here and then committed over 20 years of his life to Fort Rucker, Enterprise and the Wiregrass community. Naming the school after him is an amazing opportunity to honor him and his family for all they’ve given to our communities.
“It makes sense, too, because when you look at that school, so much of it inspires thoughts of Aviation – the design, the artwork, certain architectural features. So, to have someone who embodies aviation as the namesake of the school is the perfect combination.
“I think it’s wonderful that the children who grow up here at the Home of Army Aviation will be able to look back on their elementary school days and have that connection to a man who meant so much to the branch,” the colonel said. “Hopefully, this school and its namesake may even inspire some of our Fort Rucker youth to come back home, pursue careers in Army Aviation and give back to our exceptional local communities.”
School officials are excited about the dedication, as well, including Principal Dr. Vicki Gilmer.
"We are proud to be located at the Army's home for aviation as our elementary school becomes known as LTG(R) Ellis D. Parker Elementary School,” she said. “We are thrilled to be called Parker Patriots in honor of this local legend. Go Patriots!"
Gardner added that a grand opening for the school is planned for Sept. 29. Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, will host the ceremony. The event is scheduled to include a parachute jump exhibition by the Army Golden Knights, an aircraft flyover, a ribbon cutting and special guest DODEA Director Thomas M. Brady.
Parker was a true Army Aviation pioneer who provided the vision, the masterful leadership, and the commitment necessary to consolidate and modernize Army Aviation during its formative years.
Born Nov. 1, 1932, in Sadlersville, Tenn., he dreamed of flying since his early childhood. He graduated from Field Artillery Officer Candidate School as a distinguished honor graduate and was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant in 1957.
Parker graduated from Army Primary Flight Training in 1958. After earning his wings, Parker flew his first nine years in various fixed-wing aircraft including the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, an aircraft that had a special place in Parker's heart, and one in which he would attain 2,000 hours. His fixed-wing assignments included duty in the United States, Korea and Vietnam, commanding at the company and platoon level. In September 1969, he attended rotary wing qualification training, after which he returned to Vietnam as a company commander, flying the Bell UH-1B and H Iroquois gunship and airlift helicopters.
In March 1981, Parker was selected as deputy director of Requirements and Army Aviation Officer, Headquarters Department of the Army. It was under his watch that Army Aviation officially became a branch on April 12, 1983. When Army Aviation became a branch, he was the obvious choice to give it life, direction and vitality as the commanding general of the Aviation Center.
Parker retired from the Army in 1992 with over 5,000 flying hours. He was inducted into the Army Field Artillery Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995. Parker was temporarily brought back onto active duty to chair the Army Retiree Council and the Department of Defense Retiree Council.
Parker retired in Enterprise where he continued to serve as a leader in the Fort Rucker and the Wiregrass community for 28 years.