By LEON ALLIGOOD
Dan Parker planned a career in the Army
His name was Daniel Parker, but most everybody knew him as Dan.
Smiling Dan, 18, who a year ago raised his hand to solemnly swear that he would ''support and defend the Constitution of
the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.''
This third-generation Army man from Lake Elsinore, Calif., became a soldier to see the world.
On Tuesday, about a year after he finished boot camp, Pfc. Daniel R. Parker became the youngest soldier from the 101st
Airborne Division from Fort Campbell to lose his life in the conflict in Iraq.
Parker, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, was in the gunner's turret atop a Humvee
when the Army vehicle overturned after swerving to avoid a collision with a civilian vehicle. The soldier, a 2002 graduate
of Elsinore High School, was thrown from the vehicle, suffering a fatal head injury.
''It seemed so perfect. He was happy doing what he was doing and happy to be with the guys he was with. He was proud of
them,'' said his father, Billy Parker, speaking by phone from the family's California home.
''Then we get this news,'' he said.
But the father, his voice often broken by sobs, said he wanted to tell the world about the oldest of his five children.
How he was the protector, always looking out for his three younger brothers and sister.
How when the family played Trivial Pursuit, father and son would take on Sherri, his wife, and the other kids. ''We'd always
win. No one could beat us,'' Billy Parker said.
How Dan was patriotic from an early age, organizing an annual Fourth of July parade at the family's condominium complex
when he was 8. Dad played Sousa marches from a boombox while the kids rode their bikes decorated with red and white streamers.
''It got bigger every year,'' the father said.
How Dan once gave a paycheck from his part-time job to a buddy whose family could not afford to buy senior pictures or
How he borrowed a reporter's satellite phone July 23 to call home from Mosul. Daniel was part of the team sent to a villa
on Shalalat Street where Odai and Qusai Hussein, the sons of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, were hiding.
''He said he was on a .50-caliber machine gun that day. He told us the Los Angeles Times had taken his picture and
wanted us to get a copy. Of course, we bought all we could the next day. He was on the front page, standing in front of the
building, holding his gun,'' Billy Parker said.
He recalled two other phone calls from Iraq last weekend.
''You know, it's kind of iffy when you get to talk to them over there, but on Saturday he got to call and on Sunday he
got to call. Both calls were crystal clear. Usually on a satellite phone you're lucky to hear every fifth word. We had relatives
in, and they got to talk to him. It was special,'' Billy Parker said.
The private was a Reserve Officers Training Corps member all through high school and carried through with his desire to
begin an Army career right after graduation. His father said his son eventually wanted to go to Ranger School and join the
Rangers, one of the Army's elite Special Operations units.
''He was committed to his career. The thing about Dan is that he understood responsibility from an early age,'' Billy Parker
The elder Parker, who was in the 82nd Airborne during his Army days, said he and his son razzed each other about which
of the two Army divisions was better.
''I asked, 'Couldn't you have just gone into the 82nd?' '' Billy Parker remembered, laughing.
''He loved the 101st, that he did.''
The father, a medic during his time in the service, said he tried to prepare his son for what he might see during war.
Just before the private deployed, Billy Parker flew to Nashville and spent time with Dan.
''We drove around Nashville, went out to Opryland, drove down Music Row. I told him no one has a guarantee on the number
of years you got. We don't know what the number is, but the important thing is every day you do what you're supposed to do,''
said the elder man, choking back tears.
''Not one time, ever, did I think that he wasn't going to walk through that door back home, but that's OK. I'm not disappointed
in the 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years that he didn't have. I'm excited about the 18 he did have. He was able to touch so many
people's lives,'' Billy Parker said.
The unit's chaplain called the Parkers on Wednesday and offered condolences. He told Billy and Sherri that a memorial service
will be held today in Iraq for the soldier.
''The chaplain said he knew Dan personally, said he had a smile on his face all the time,'' the father said. ''That was
my boy. Honestly, I'm just proud to have known him.''
Leon Alligood covers Tennessee for The Tennessean. Contact him at 615-259-8279
or by e-mail at email@example.com.