Ralph Sherman Parr is a jet fighter ace whose unique combination of flying ability, significant achievement, and heroic service span three wars and five combat tours. Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on 1 July 1924, the son of a Navy pilot, he received his wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Forces on 8 February 1944. Parr was assigned to the 7th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group in the Philippines and later Okinawa, flying the P-38 Lightning during the last eight weeks of World War II. He returned to combat during the Korean War in 1950, flying 165 air-to-ground combat missions in the F-80 Shooting Star with the 7th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 49th Fighter-Bomber Group.
In 1953, he returned to the Korean War for his second tour, flying the F-86 Sabrejet with the 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing. On 7 June 1953, Parr separated from his wingman to attack a group of 16 MiG-15s. Facing overwhelming odds and an inoperative gunsight, he maneuvered his F-86 to destroy two MiGs and severely damage a third. Three days later, he added two more MiGs to his list. On 30 June, he once again found himself up against 16 MiGs and after downing two and lining up for a third, Parr received a distress call from his wing commander. He immediately responded, escorting his commander to safety. For his actions, the Air Force awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross. Parr is also credited with downing the last enemy aircraft of the Korean War. During the Vietnam War, Parr deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam, as the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing’s deputy commander for operations, flying 226 combat missions in the F-4 Phantom II.
On 16 March 1968, during the Battle of Khe Sanh, he received a plea for help from a Marine Forward Air Controller, telling him the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was overrunning the American position. Parr rolled over his F-4 and immediately engaged. Despite “unbelievably intense enemy fire,” he made 10 passes, destroying two NVA mortar positions and six quad 14.5 mm antiaircraft guns, clearing a path for a C-130 Hercules to deliver vital supplies to the besieged units and blunting the NVA assault. For his extraordinary valor, Parr received the Air Force Cross. He returned to Vietnam in 1970 as commander, 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, Phu Cat Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, and flew 201 more combat missions.
Following Vietnam, he was assigned to HQ USAFE before being sent to Teheran, Iran in 1972 as Chief of Staff in the Military Assistance Advisory Group. His next duty assignment was at Eglin AFB, Florida, as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the Tactical Air Warfare Center and then Chief of Staff of the Armament and Development Test Center. Parr retired in 1976.
In all, Parr flew 641 combat missions, totaling 1,169 combat flying hours. When he retired in 1976, Colonel Parr had flown over 6,000 hours in fighter aircraft and earned more than 60 decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 41 Air Medals. He is the only American aviator to receive both the Distinguished Service Cross and Air Force Cross.