Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wendell Parrish interviewed for Library of Congress Veterans Project

Wendell Parrish was an American armorer and waist gunner shot down over Germany in 1944. He spent time in Stalag Luft IV as a prisoner of war and participated in the long, forced march of American POWs near the end of WWII I used his experiences in Guests Behind the Barbed Wire to compare and contrast American and German POW treatment during the war.

Wendell is a native of Selma, Alabama, but now makes his home in Aliceville. (See the April 21, 2009 blog entry for additional information.) The two photos above, which were shared with me by Selma resident Bill Porter, through reader John Coon, show Wendell in the job he is best remembered for in Selma. He was the much loved and admired Director of the YMCA, and Bill Porter worked with him there for many years. I should add that my husband, Barney Cook, who is also from Selma, has many great memories of experiences at Camp Grist and at the YMCA under Wendell's guidance. In both photos above, which were taken at Camp Grist in the 1960s, Wendell Parrish is on the far right in the top row. In the photo on the right, Wendell's son, Wendell, Jr. is the first boy from the left in the first row. Bill Porter is third from the left.

During the Veterans Day observance at the Aliceville Museum this past November, Libby Shaw conducted an interview with Wendell that has been submitted to the Library of Congress Veterans Project Libby Shaw, sister of Aliceville Museum Director Mary Bess Paluzzi's, said all those in attendance had tears in their eyes when Wendell told how he learned of the birth of his first child while exchanging information over a fence with other POWs on Christmas Day in Stalag Luft IV. (For one version of that Christmas story, see Guests Behind the Barbed Wire, p. 439.)

With the people of Selma and of Aliceville, we continue to honor the accomplishments of "this great American patriot," as John Coon called him in a recent e-mail.


Bill Porter said...

Wendell Parrish was my hero while I was growing up in Selma and spending a lot of time at the Selma YMCA. He had a great influence on my life as well as many other boys and girls at that time and he will always hold a special place in my heart. I went on trips with Wendell, participated in Youth Basketball, Hi-Y and many other YMCA activities. I remember the trip to the Hi-Y Tri-Hi-Y Leaders Congress called Blue Ridge Assembly located in Black Mountain, North Carolina in 1958. This was where the YMCA's in the south had their youth assembly. I went to Camp Grist as a Junior Counselor in 1959 which was the first year Wendell became the Camp Director along with Paul Grist. I was on the staff with Wendell during his nine years as director serving as a Junior Counselor, Senior Counselor and during the summers of my college days at Auburn University I was the Camp Grist Waterfront Director. I would not take anything for growing up in Selma, Alabama and having known Wendell Parrish and being associated with the Selma YMCA. Wendell was the main reason after college that I went into YMCA work and was the Program Director at The Paul M. Grist YMCA and Camp Director at Camp Grist.

Many GREAT momories and I appreciate the opportunity to express my love and appreciation to Wendell.

Ruth Cook said...


Thank you so much for adding these comments about your experiences with Wendell Parrish and the YMCA in Selma. I am sending Wendell a print copy of the blog entry and your comments this morning. I know he will enjoy seeing them.