VALPARAISO | Stories of combat and death, of survival and camaraderie have been sealed in the mind of William Parks for more than 60 years.
Some he plans to take to the grave.
The 81-year-old served in the Army during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He agreed to be interviewed by The Times as part of the media company's participation in the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress.
"I've told you people more than I've ever told anybody," he said. "I just don't talk about it. I've lost some really close friends. Still makes me feel bad, after all these years."
Parks settled in to his brown recliner. A host of medals he received – including a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart – lay on a piece of felt on a table at his side. At his feet sat a cardboard box loaded with documents and photos.
One of his daughters, Sheila Chelf, and granddaughter Missy Carmichael gathered close to hear the stories.
He started at the beginning.
Parks was born in Gary. His family moved to California, then back to Indiana.
"At 16 years old, I joined the Army," he said.
He had to wait until he was older to serve. His service took him to basic training in Kentucky, then to Germany and Panama. He served in Korea and Vietnam.
"During the Korean War, I was a radio operator for a forward observer," he said. "The commander of the small unit that we went into the war (with) got himself killed. I went out and recovered his body. Then I got wounded and they wanted to evacuate me and I said, 'No. I'll stay right there.'"
The next day, the forward observer got killed, leaving Parks with the responsibility of the artillery.
"So I directed fire on the North Koreans, and there was only one reinforced rifle company, and we were up against three armored divisions," Parks said. "So we held 'em there for three days. They couldn't get through us. Killed a lot of them."
The enemy finally broke through.
"We were in hand-to-hand combat," Parks said.
Eventually, the enemy overran them.
"That's when I called for fire on my position and killed about 400 North Koreans," he said. "Then we escaped out of there and we were behind enemy lines for a while."
He was eventually evacuated.
Parks wouldn't delve into many of the details of his service, saying he worked in Special Forces and took an oath to never divulge his missions.
"I was a good soldier," he said. "I enjoyed it."
Parks has shared some stories with his family over the years, but not all of them.
They have seen the documentation that tells how, at 18, he suffered from dysentery after living on nothing but rice paddy water for two days. They read about his heroics in earning his medals. They heard of his paratrooper days.
But the details are up to Parks to tell.
After leaving the military, he settled in Portage with his wife, Wilma, and raised their four children. Parks took a job installing sewer lines and eventually became a boilermaker.
His children – Sheila Chelf, Teri McCormick, Linda Watson and Dan Parks – take care of him.
Parks lives with Chelf's family on the edge of Valparaiso, within sight of the 49er Drive-In Movie Theatre.
From his recliner, he can see out the picture window into woods dense with white oaks, and a lake.
"Everything I did was for love of my country," he said.