Born in Wilmar, Arkansas, Fisher grew up in Bauxite and Benton. Today he calls Jacksonville home.
After his junior year at Dunbar High School in Little Rock in 1950, he enlisted in the Air Force, but nearly joined the Army after some shenanigans by an Army recruiter.
“We were in the Air Force recruiter’s office and he had to attend to some business down the hallway and this Army recruiter came in a said ‘ok guys follow me.’ We went about two doors down and he had to go someplace else. We heard this noise and a few four-letter words down the hallway and this Air Force recruiter came down and took us back to his room and told us not to move,” Fisher recalled.
He joined the Air Force two years after President Harry Truman abolished racial segregation in the Armed Forces. For Fisher, who was used to taking the school bus from his home to an African-American school in Little Rock, his entrance to a desegregated military was like “going into a new world.”
His trip from the Little Rock restaurant, where he was forced to eat his last meal as a civilian in the kitchen area, to the train he traveled on en route to basic training “was my first taste of total integration as far as the Air Force is concerned,” Fisher said.
He was initially assigned to an Air Police Squadron after completing basic training. He traveled around the world while taking on different assignments including learning aircraft and engine maintenance.
After fulfilling his commitment to the Air Force, he returned home to get his GED and used his GI Bill benefits to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree in education from Arkansas Baptist College.
He reenlisted in the Air Force and met his wife while stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
In 1966, Fisher was assigned to the Fourth Air Commando Squadron as a loadmaster stationed in Vietnam.
His heroics on a mission December 18, 1966 in Vung Tau, Vietnam, saved his life and those of his fellow Airmen aboard an AC-47.
“We had kind of caught Charlie this time and I was kind of surprised. We were lighting up a big area, putting flares out,” Fisher said. He recalled the odd sound he heard when one of the flares was accidentally released inside the aircraft. “I looked back and it’s a full parachute. Somewhere under that chute is a flare that’s going to go off.”
Fisher had only 10 seconds to react. He grabbed the parachute and threw out the flare only to have the chute get jammed beneath a door, forcing him to hang out of the plane, holding on with one hand and cutting the lines of the parachute with the other.
“We went back to home base and were folks talking to me. ‘When and how and what and what were you thinking. But we’re just so glad you got that thing out of the airplane because we may not be here talking about this right now.’ That didn’t register on me,” Fisher said.
His valorous actions earned him the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award.
He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1967 and again in 1968. He remains humble about his decorations.
After a 22-year career in the Air Force, Fisher retired in January 1977. Fisher was inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame in 2014.
“There are things you learn in the military like how to work as a team, consideration for your fellow man, love for your country, respect for your country, respect for each other. All these things come in a big package when you spend time in the military,” Fisher said.
“Parnell Fisher is a dedicated American hero whose selfless actions saved the lives of his fellow comrades and were critical to our war efforts. I am grateful for his dedication and service to our nation. Honoring Parnell by capturing his memories and experiences in uniform is a great way to show our appreciation for his service,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Fisher’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.