Remembering WW II hero Leon Parish
I first met Leon Parish in 1950. He and Walter Eubanks were in the accounting business together upstairs in a building that joined Orange Bank on Fifth Street. About four years earlier, Leon had come home from World War II as a war hero. Publications at the time had raved about his bravery and military service. He was one of Orange County’s most decorated soldiers.
My father Clay was a WWI veteran and had marched the length of France doing infantry, hand-to-hand combat. He told of the battles and how influenza had killed many of the soldiers on board the ship going across. “We ran out of flags to wrap the bodies in, we just started throwing dead overboard. Many mornings, I would wake up and the men on each side of me would be dead.” He and Leon exchanged war stories. As a youngster I marveled at all the bravery, hardship and what a soldier had to withstand in those two great wars.
Leon, who was in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army, told of the Battle of Bastogne where hundreds of soldiers were killed. Many officers were killed. Leon was one of the few to survive despite being wounded and receiving two Purple Hearts, one with an oak leaf cluster. Leon was one of our most decorated soldiers. He was awarded a presidential citation, the Silver Star and five Bronze Stars, and personally complimented by Gen. Patton himself.
Leon became my dad’s accountant right after opening his first office and served as mine over all the years. Clay was bad about details, a trait I inherited. Leon gave dad a box and told him to just put every receipt he paid in the box; gas tickets etc. and Leon would separate them. He and I often laughed about that. If dad was billed several times before he paid the bill, he would mark paid on all of the statements. Clay thought until he died, that he was getting away with something. Leon just threw them out but the one he accounted for.
Clay died Feb. 19, 1959. A few years earlier, in 1950, Leon had helped Clay out with some IRS problems. A year after dad died, in 1960, I had a bad IRS audit that lasted four weeks. Leon traveled to Bryan on Sunday evenings, stayed in a motel until Friday evening and worked on my stuff with the agent. Every night we had dinner together at my restaurant. I got to know him quite well. By the way, after a month, the IRS found that I had overpaid them. I saved enough to pay Leon’s $250 a week but not enough to pay the $22 a night motel fee.
Leon was an outdoorsman, a big game hunter who told great stories about his hunting trips to Wyoming, Colorado and the western states. He had many of his hunting and fishing trophies mounted. He was a longtime member of the NRA and a pioneer member of Ducks Unlimited. Leon was a proud lifetime member of the Orange Lion’s Club.
He was a big man, not fat, but for years he smoked fat cigars. I once gave him a box of Cuban cigars that had been a gift to me. He cut them in half and smoked one half a day, “As his treat,” he said. He had a cot in the back room of his office on Park Ave. He took a short nap after lunch each day. He was proud when he was able to purchase that historical house in the town he was born and raised in.
Nearly two years ago, at age 88, Leon retired from the accounting business. Through the years he had made many friends in the IRS. He belonged to several tax associations including being an enrolled agent with the IRS.
Over the past two decades, he shared life with his companion LaVerne Hubbard. Her husband had died many years ago. She and her husband had operated the ABC Grocery and Markets in Orange and West Orange. LaVerne and Leon shared many of the same interests, and both loved plants and the beauty of nature. They were a compatible couple who cared for each other. Many years ago LaVerne and I had stayed near our friend Lannie Claybar’s bedside prior to his death in a Houston hospital. I know she will miss Leon a lot.
Jessie Leon Parish, born Jan. 1, 1919, died at age 90 on March 14. Services were at Claybar Funeral Home March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. His path down life’s highway is an impressive one. I’m blessed to have traveled some of those miles with him. We have lost one of our true heroes from the Greatest Generation. He served mankind and his country well. May he rest in peace.