Ken Parham is an active member of his community. You may see him on the sidelines coaching the football team, on the stage of a local theatre or taking in a baseball game. He is outgoing, kind and friendly. Ken credits his wife Cheryl for a lot of that. She was there for him after a vehicle he was a gunner in, struck an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq.
Ken, you see, is also a veteran who received a Purple Heart for that incident and served this country in both Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. He was blown 70 feet in the air that day; the first thing he remembers is being loaded onto a helicopter and asking for morphine. Besides the physical wounds many veterans, including Ken, suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For a time, after his return to civilian life, Ken was not all that social; he spent a lot of time in the cave of his room, and stayed there even as his wife entertained company, “You can have your company,” he thought at the time. He would sit with his back to the wall in restaurants and had several incidents when he hit the ground, once grabbing his kid before doing so, after some fireworks went off around the 4th.
Ken grew up in Detroit, one of 12 kids. He has two brothers who are veterans, one of them who is dying of cancer, caused by agent orange. Ken wanted to enter the military after high school, but his mom begged him not to, the stress on her when the other two brothers were in service was a lot for her to handle.
A gifted athlete, Ken received a football scholarship to the University of Illinois, but spend a couple of years at a junior college in Los Angeles to get his grades up. His Detroit speaking style got him into trouble with some Crip gang members on the football team, who thought he was being offensive because Ken used the word blood to greet people. “What’s up blood?” He got attacked in practice with a long plastic cord. He dropped out of school after that.
There is some regret in Ken’s voice when he talks about football and what might have been. He has another brother, Gus, who played with the 49ers and believed Ken had the talent to make it at that level.
Ken entered the marines at age 25 and was stationed in Hawaii where he received some very good training. He was discharged after his term but later reenlisted with the first Marine Battalion at Camp Pendleton in California and found a different kind of moral. That unit ended up in Kuwait for Desert Storm, Ken was not enthused about going to war with a group of folks, many just in the Marines for a paycheck and who did not take their training seriously.
Ken is a great, animated story teller, and his war memories are vivid. But when he gets to an emotional moment, like seeing a friend get shot and killed as they were storming a building, he pauses and you can see the sadness rise along with the memory.
Ken had some close calls in Desert Storm, like the time three bombs struck a spot their vehicles had just been moved from. Ken has a big heart and the United States had an opportunity to wipe out Saddam’s entire army as they moved out of Kuwait and back into Iraq. He was glad they did not, but added it may have stopped the mess in that region now. But at the time it would have left Iraq completely defenseless in a hostile region.
After the war Ken started driving truck in California and thought his fighting days were over. He still thought they were over when he moved to Idaho to be closer to his wife’s family. This was after 911 and his wife warned him, not to join the National Guard as he may find himself fighting again.
But he was convinced the National Guard was designed to guard the home front. The Guard was lucky to have Ken as he was one of two members of his unit that had war experience; he got peppered with questions and passed on what wisdom he could. “Fear is your friend,” he said, “your body will tell you when the situation is dangerous.”
Iraqi culture is much different and patrolling, “Saddam’s mother’s village,” left an impression. IED’s were a constant threat for one thing, and as stated, it is a different culture. A kid threw a rock and hit a Guardsman in the head. The local officials tracked the kid down and whipped him with a horse whip in the public square. Every Friday the village would gather and thieves would have fingers cut off, people were publically whipped and stoned. Stoning consisted of a net of rocks being dropped on a person in a hole.
Ken was injured by an IED and had another close call before the one that sent him home. He has been through several surgeries since the war, but for the most part is healthy.
These days he is retired and pursuing his many interests, including camping, coaching, acting, playing the saxophone and trying to bring a little Detroit high style to the valley. That’s right; the veteran with the Purple Heart, and the kind heart, is a fashion guy.