Giants walked among us

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By John Barnhart

The past two years have seen the funerals of two giants who walked among us. Neither of them were celebrities or had their faces on the cover of national magazines. Nevertheless, they did a great deal of good.

One of them was Roy Stevens, who died at the beginning of 2007. A combination of the facts that I minored in history in college and that the D-Day Memorial brought Roy into the spotlight meant that I saw him frequently. He was one of the Bedford Boys who lived to tell about it. After fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy, he came home and was active in his church and community working with kids in church and as a Boy Scout leader. In his last years, he was very involved with the National D-Day Memorial, giving tours and telling the stories of the men who answered duty's call that day. Many of them, like Roy's twin brother, Ray, did not live to tell about.

His funeral was huge ? a tribute to the life he led. Although I knew him as a veteran of D-Day and the subsequent fighting, I learned a lot of new facts concerning his community involvement. Roy Stevens didn't seem to be one to toot his own horn.

The most recent giant this community lost was Gene Parker.

My paths and Gene's paths didn't cross as often. I'm not an outdoorsman at all. I'm not fond of getting up in the wee hours of the morning or being cold and wet, so I need an awfully good reason to do these things. I'm not fond of blazing hot, humid weather, either, so my outdoors experience in the summer tends, for the most part, to be hurrying from one air conditioned space to another. Furthermore, outdoors news falls under the bailiwick of our sports writer, so I've seldom covered events that Gene was involved in.

I interviewed Gene about his father, Billy, after the elder Parker died on the last day of 2005. I had previously interviewed the elder Parker about his World War II experience, but learned from Gene about one of his father's bear hunting experiences. In his prime, Billy Parker was tough enough to go bear hunting with a stick, although that wasn't what he intended when he found himself having to fight off a black bear. Later, when I related that to friends at church, they commented, "No wonder we won the war!"

Gene Parker apparently was not one to toot his own horn and I found out, after his funeral, which was a huge event, that he was one of the foremost man-trackers in America. He taught his techniques to law enforcement agencies from all over the country. I wish I had known this earlier. I could have interviewed him for what would have been a fascinating story. But, like Roy Stevens, Gene Parker didn't seek the limelight.

I've also learned about his work to promote hunting and fishing. These are critical for conservation of woodlands and wildlife as these activities make both valuable to more people. People want to preserve what they value.

The evidence of the sort of lives Roy Stevens and Gene Parker lived goes beyond the number of people who showed up at their funerals. The stories people told about them make it clear that their lives were like incense that left behind a sweet fragrance when they left us.

We should honor men like these. I think a good way to honor Roy Stevens is to support the National D-Day Memorial in whatever way we can. The Memorial was near and dear to Roy and it serves to honor American heroes, both those who died like Ray Stevens, or those who, like Roy, came home and made their communities a better place.

A good way to honor Gene Parker is to do what we can to support the Blue Ridge Parkway. This was near and dear to his heart and something even indoorsmen like me can enjoy. I've frequently taken what I call the "scenic route" home and have spent a few hundred hours, over the last 12 years, at various overlooks there. My favorite is the Pine Tree Overlook, looking eastward toward Sharp Top in the late afternoon. Best of all, I don't have to get up in the wee hours of the morning, or be cold and wet, for the experience.