Army Sgt. Li Parshall has been busy since he returned home to the Key Peninsula from Iraq in mid-February. He’s been processing out of active duty with the 671st Engineer Company MRB. He went on a couple of hikes with his son, Seth, and the Boy Scouts. He’s ridden in the Tualatin (Ore.) VFW 671st parade, and participated in the Armed Forces Day parade in Bremerton. His unit has been downloading and inventorying equipment at Fort Lewis since the end of April. He’s had an offer to join the VFW, and is seriously thinking of accepting.
Since his return, a lot of people have stopped him to say thank you. One woman at a local store, seeing him in uniform, said in tears, “I’m so proud of you guys and the work you’re doing over there.” But this humble man says, “I feel a little embarrassed being called a hero. I’m not Sergeant York, no Audie Murphy type. I was only doing my job.”
“I didn’t feel scared, but the anticipation of danger gives a real adrenaline high. We were in a hyper state, driving long hours. Most of the soldiers there knew of the dangers, but morale was high, and we did our jobs and soldiered on.” Their major objective was to build a bridge over the Euphrates River. “The threat of ambushes with IED (improvised explosive devices) was nervewracking. I became more wary and suspicious.”
Last year on his April 11 birthday, after two months without a bath, he decided that he owed himself a dip in the Euphrates. So he and a friend “took off all our gear and just as we got ‘into the bare’ we heard the sounds of tracers over our heads.” “Oh, no,” he remembered thinking, “this is our worst nightmare.” After a few uncertain moments, they decided the rounds weren’t being aimed at them, so they went ahead and took a birthday bath.
One of his unit members received a shipment of balsa airplane kits, so they pitched in to put the kits together and gave them to the local children. “That was a fun day,” Parshall says. They usually weren’t allowed to mingle with the local people, but had occasion to interact with them while on bridge duty. He traveled to the Biblical site of Abraham’s house in Ur and visited some other sites that Westerners have not been allowed to visit for a decade.
Now that he’s home, he says, “I’m trying to fit back into my life. While I was gone, some things went on that my family didn’t want me to be concerned about.”
He added, “I appreciate more the things that are here. When you see the way people live over there, it makes me realize how much we have. Iraqis are very accepting of their lot. Now, they are a lot happier and able to do things without fear of being taken to prison or executed.
“The best part of being home is being with my family, my wife and kids, and the people I served with—they are my family, too… There is the dichotomy between civilian and military. They are opposites, so this has been a slow adjustment back to a civilian mode of thinking.
“Most vets can’t stand large crowds and tend to want to move away. I noticed that change in me, to be more aware of my surroundings. I’m back in my civilian job — driving a bus — and I find myself watching traffic more closely… especially any vehicles with orange and white. The Iraqi taxicabs are orange and white, and the insurgents used to arm them and use them to attack. I avoid any items alongside the road. I check above overpasses as I pass under them.”
His unit is under a “stop loss,” and is still considered on active duty until July. They participate in active duty training one week at a time. There is a one-year stabilization period before he could be reactivated. “I think I’ll be all right, thanks to all the people who are supporting the troops, and especially the VA. They’re going all out for us.
“My greatest reward has been from the people back home, the ones who have sons and daughters, husbands and wives in the service,” Parshall says. “There is nothing more precious than the life of a child, your flesh and blood. They are the real heroes.”