Get Home Delivery of The Observer for only $8.50 per month, $9.50 for motor routes. Just click here and after filling out one simple and secure online form you could be on your way to learning more information about local, state and world news.
Fred Parish, 92, took part in the Oregon Maneuver in Central Oregon in 1943. (Chris Baxter/The Observer
La Grande man recalls participating in generation defining event — the Oregon Maneuver of 1943 near Bend
It’s hard enough for some twenty-somethings to remember what they ate for breakfast. Many people are familiar with the “I’m-running-late” sensation that comes with lost keys in the morning.
One La Grande man, though, recalls one event from 70 years ago that he’ll never forget.
Fred Parish, 92, says it’s hard to forget something as big as the Oregon Maneuver, a large scale military training exercise in Central Oregon.
Parish was stationed in Salinas, Calif., with the Army Air Corps when his group was sent to Redmond in 1943. It joined a group totaling more than 100,000 troops in the area from Aug. 1 to Dec. 1.
“You remember things like that,” Parish said.
The men were sprawled across a 10,000 square mile area for exercises to prepare them for entering World War II. As a medic, Parish had another task.
“It was our job to support the ground troops,” he said. “Our job was to take care of the men.”
In assisting a flight surgeon, Parish was responsible for coordinating all the squadrons’ medical needs.
In hindsight, he’s amazed it’s not more obvious that thousands took over the remote area of the state.
“Putting it bluntly, we kind of tore things up in three months. Today you’d be lucky to find any evidence that 100,000 men were there,” Parish said. “Every place you looked there were GIs.”
Parish went into the Oregon Maneuver with Boy Scout experience, which he says made the maneuver “kind of fun” for him. The work wasn’t too tough, and the weather wasn’t too bad, either, until October when nightly lows dropped to freezing and below.
“Some of those guys were sleeping with only one blanket,” Parish recalled.
About 500 men perished during the Oregon Maneuver, from the cold, from drownings in the Deschutes River, from falls and other accidents.
“It’s hard to realize,” Parish said.
Still, Parish says the training exercises probably saved 500 lives or more once the troops were dispersed around the world for war.
Troops from the Oregon Maneuver were spread across the globe when training was finished. Some were sent to Germany, while others went to the Philippines, China or India.
One-hundred seventeen of those men, Parish included, were members of the original 123rd Observational Squadron of the Oregon National Guard. Those 117 men would go on to serve “in every combat theater of war all over the world, including the U.S., North Africa, Europe, South Pacific, Greenland, Iceland, South America, India, Burma, China, etc.,” Parish said.
Only five of those founding members are alive today. Two live in La Grande — Parish and Fred Hill.
Parish says he would have never imagined that he’d be one of five remaining members of that squadron. He participates in as much as he can as often as he can to keep his mind sharp.
“I always try to be active,” he says. “My current hobby is reloading rifle and pistol shells.”
Parish said he has dabbled in photography and enjoys fishing, hunting and other outdoor sports.
But he recognizes the restriction that comes with age.
“It’s hard to hunt with one of these things,” he says pointing to his walker.
Through the years, Parish has made countless friends in the Oregon National Guard. He was dismissed from Officer Candidate School due to quotas being filled, he finished out his duties and resumed a civilian life. Since then, he’s been involved in Oregon Maneuver anniversary celebrations, and plans to continue for the foreseeable future.
“Right now, we’re starting to plan for the 75th anniversary, if I live that long. I’ll be 96 then,” Parish said.
Looking up at the panoramic photo over his desk of his 117 comrades from the 123rd Observational Squadron, a smile comes over the veteran.
“I never dreamed that I would last this long,” Parish said. “I didn’t even think I’d pass a physical to get into the outfit.”