Second Lieutenant Floyd Elwood Parks

Floyd Parks at Oregon State College, 1941.
Floyd Parks at Oregon State College, 1941.

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NAME:
Floyd Elwood Parks
NICKNAME: SERVICE NUMBER:
O-008466
HOME OF RECORD:
Elgin, OR
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Florence Parks
DATE OF BIRTH:
July 16, 1918
ENLISTED:
May 15, 1941
DATE OF DEATH:
October 9, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal B/1/2 CO, Second Platoon 2Lt. KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Drowning
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Second Lieutenant
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Lost at sea, Sealark Channel
MEMORIAL:
Elgin Cemetery
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial


Service Number: O-008466

Birth and Early Life:
Floyd Parks was born on July 16, 1918. He was raised on the family farm in Elgin, Oregon, by Thomas and Florence Parks; Floyd spent much of his youth working the farm, which doubtless influenced his decision to pursue a major in agriculture at Oregon State College. However, immediately after graduating in 1941, Parks elected to join the Marines.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
After enlisting on May 15, 1941, Parks was designated an officer candidate. He received a promotion to Private First Class, and traveled across the country to Marine Corps OCS at Quantico, Virginia. Learning to become a leader took months of study and practice, and Parks was still at Quantico when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Wartime Service:
Parks received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in January, 1942. He was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, Second Marines; upon arrival, Parks assumed command of the company’s second rifle platoon. He did double duty as the battalion’s athletic officer, and quickly became popular with officers and men alike.

On June 9, Parks’ battalion boarded the USS President Jackson. For the next two months they sailed across the Pacific, setting foot on land only once before making a mock landing on the island of Koro. The operation, codenamed Dovetail, was a disaster that gave the officers of the Second Marines plenty to think about en route to their real objective – the island of Guadalcanal.

At dawn on August 7, 1942, the Second Marines got their first glimpse of Japanese controlled territory. Following “the standard Navy breakfast for Friday: Navy beans, a square of cornbread, and an apple,” Company B climbed down the nets into their landing craft. They led the attack on Florida Island, twenty miles north of Guadalcanal, and landed near the village of Haleta. It was an anticlimax: the few Japanese stationed on the island had retreated to the jungle, and Company B secured their left flank objective without incident.

On the neighboring island of Gavutu, the Paramarines were finding the going much more difficult. Stiff Japanese resistance was causing heavy casualties, and completely denied access to the causeway leading to Tanambogo. With Florida under control, it was decided to re-load Captain Edgar Crane’s Company B for an attack on the rear of the Japanese positions. The Marines hoped to use darkness as cover, but the scant five minutes of naval gunfire support they received did more harm than help. “As we were coming in, the last shell hit a fuel dump on the beach, lighting up the beach like day, and the Japs opened fire from their dugout on Tanambogo Hill,” recalled Flight Officer Cecil Spencer, RAAF, accompanying the assault. “Only two boat loads of our men got ashore. The coxswain of the third boat had been hit in the head by a bullet and killed, and there had been some confusion as to who was to take over the wheel. In the confusion the boat got turned around. We on shore were jammed between two piers. The only cover we could get was afforded by the side of the pier. As soon as we opened fire the Japs spotted our tracers, and in addition we were silhouetted against the flaming oil of the fuel dump.” The assault withered in the face of Japanese fire.

Despite the disastrous landing, Baker Company managed a hard fight; this was thanks in the main to the exceptional leadership of the company’s officers. After being pinned in the water for four hours, Captain Crane and Second Lieutenant John J. Smith (First Platoon) managed to organize enough men for an attack; they had to “obtain arms from friendly troops” in order to fight. All told, the action lasted five hours before Crane and his survivors withdrew. “We found only six men in the boat which had been left at Tanambogo,” continued Spencer. “They said that the Japs had raided our positions along the piers, and that they believed Capt. Crane and the other Marines had been wiped out. But Capt. Crane arrived with 6 of his men. They had escaped from the Japs by hiding in the bushes. By 9 or 10 o’clock two more Marines returned, swimming naked toward our boats. Our people fired. But the Marines in the water yelled and were saved.”[1] Lieutenant Smith, meanwhile, managed to bring his group back across the causeway to Gavutu, where they reported to the astonished Paramarines, “exhausted and bloodied but unbowed” at midnight. (Crane and Smith would become the first men of the Second Marine Division to win the Navy Cross during the war.) [2] It is not known what part Lieutenant Parks’ platoon played in this attack; however, with only two boats managing to land, it is possible that they did not make it to shore.

divcmdrsreport tanambogo
The failed attack on Tanambogo, as described in the division commander’s final report on the Guadalcanal operation.

Meanwhile, the rest of 1/2nd Marines was detailed to support the attack on Tulagi. Following in the wake of the 1st Raider Battalion and the 5th Marines, they found little to occupy themselves save a sniper or two. Company B rejoined them within a few days, and for the next two months the battalion garrisoned Tulagi. There were no Japanese to fight and little else to do; the men occupied themselves by building shelters, constructing fortifications they would never use (at least one company built a double line of barricades from sharpened eight foot logs, simply to stay busy), standing guard duty, and battling boredom. The first cases of malaria and dysentery were reported, and the worst cases evacuated. Although the great battle of Guadalcanal was happening just across Sealark Channel, the battalion received no news about the fighting. It was a lonely, damp, and miserable way to fight a war.[3]

Date Of Loss:
October 9 dawned like any other day on Tulagi. Marines shook off the damp, lit cigarettes as soon as light permitted, scrounged up coffee and breakfast; the malarial shook with chills, the dysenteric visited the company sinks. However, unusual stirring at headquarters made it plain that something was afoot.

Later that day, Lieutenant Parks gathered his platoon to pass on the word. First – and most welcome – was the news that they would be leaving Tulagi behind for good, an announcement met with great enthusiasm. Few in Second Platoon were fond of their current bivouac. Also, they would not be joining the main Marine force at the Lunga perimeter, but instead would make their own combat landing at the village of Aola, about thirty miles from Henderson Field. There, they would “attack and reduce” a Japanese force of unknown size. While some in Company B may have reflected darkly on their last attempt at a combat landing on Tanambogo, the rest of the battalion was enthusiastic about the idea; it was their chance to hit back at the Japanese and start catching up to the other battalions of their regiment, already fighting on Guadalcanal.

The plan of attack seemed simple. Two YP boats would tow four Higgins boats apiece; the battalion would have to cram aboard as best they could. They would cross Sealark Channel under cover of darkness, the better to evade detection, and strike Aola at first light on October 10. For the rest of the day, Company B made up their packs, cleaned and re-cleaned their weapons, and prepared for the voyage.

The Yippies arrived shortly before dusk, with their small Higgins boats in tow.

Some seagoing Marines may have noticed a detail that had escaped the sailors – as Corporal William Rogal of Company A explained:

Four Higgins boats were towed behind each YP, but instead of securing each boat to the YP by a separate towline, the boats were tied one to the other in a column. Thus the lead boat, the only one tied directly to the YP, had to bear the strain of the three loaded boats tied to its stern. (1)

Parks had attended motor boat school in San Diego earlier that year, and may have had some misgivings himself. However, he had no time to register any concerns – Second Platoon was assigned to one of the lead boats. It was cramped and uncomfortable with the men fully equipped for battle, but there was still a feeling of adventure and excitement as the YPs puttered out into the channel at about four knots.

After an hour or two, Marines and sailors alike were startled by distant gunfire. Aboard one of the YPs, Corporal Rogal saw

…the sky to our rear lit up with flashes of light and the booming of heavy guns reached our ears. We didn’t learn what was going on but sharing that confined waterway with enemy warships was discomforting. In fact, it scared the hell out of me. My discomfort was not helped by the highly visible sparks that spewed from my YP’s stack. (2)

The skippers of the YPs were terrified of being caught in the open by the powerful Japanese fleet – they knew what the Imperial Navy had done to American and Australian warships in battle after battle; the unarmored YPs and Higgins boats and their human cargo would be turned to mincemeat. Engines roaring, the two YPs began to pick up speed.

Parks’ boat couldn’t handle the strain. Pulled from the bow by the YP, trailing three heavily loaded boats behind it, the fragile plywood craft shook and then, with a terrible cracking sound, split in half. Second Platoon suddenly found themselves underwater, fighting for their lives in the cold water. Loaded as they were with combat packs and equipment, many never had a chance.

Lieutenant Floyd Parks was probably in the bow of the Higgins boat when it was wrenched in half; he was never seen again. In all, fourteen men of Second Platoon lost their lives in Sealark Channel on October 9, 1942.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Florence Parks

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
Elgin Cemetery, Elgin, Oregon.
_
____
NOTES:
(1) Account of Cecil Spencer, United States Navy Combat Narrative: The Landing In The Solomons: August 7-8, 1942 (Washington: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, 1994) 66-67.
(2) Mark Flowers, “The Second Marine Division in World War II,” accessed October 8, 2014.
(3) William W. Rogal (A/1/2nd Marines) has an excellent account of garrison duty on Tulagi in his memoir Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Beyond: A Mud Marine’s Memoir of the Pacific Island War.
(5) Rogal, 62.

(2) Ibid.

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