Hyderabad: Air Vice-Marshal C.V. Parker, MVC, VM, is the only living recipient of the Maha Vir Chakra, India's second-highest gallantry decoration, from the Telugu states. He was among those honoured on 13 February and handed one of the Vijay Mashaal torches which are being carried around the country to the homes and villages of India's gallantry award recipients from the 1971 war.
Air Vice-Marshal Parker was commissioned in the IAF in 1952, a few months short of his 20th birthday. He had a narrow escape soon after, having to bail out from an exploding aircraft during a period when there were no ejection seats. Nevertheless, he went on to have a career with plenty of operational flying. He missed the 1965 war as he was overseas doing a course when the war broke out (he sought permission to return early which was refused).
When the 1971 war broke out, he was a wing commander commanding Squadron no. 20 of the IAF, flying the classic Hawker Hunter fighter. During the two weeks of the war, he personally flew some of the deepest raids into enemy territory in a single-engined single-seater aircraft and led a spectacularly successful strike on an oil refinery. His squadron carried out some of the most effective missions of the war, including one whose effectiveness came to light decades later when a Pakistan Air Force officer wrote about the damage inflicted.
At the end of the war, he was personally awarded the Maha Vir Chakra and his squadron became one of the most highly-decorated units in the Air Force, garnering two Maha Vir Chakras and five Vir Chakras, including one to a young naval officer who was on an exchange programme and who later went on to become the Navy Chief.
Air Vice-Marshal Parker went on to become a Group Captain to command the IAF's Fighter Training Wing at Hakimpet, where he himself had trained operationally. Later, he became the Air Commodore of the Air Force Station at Adampur.
In the rank of Air Vice-Marshal, he also held tenure as the Air Officer Commanding in Jammu and Kashmir where he had the opportunity to watch the squadron he had commanded in war, by that time better-known as the IAF's aerobatic team the Thunderbolts, carry out formation aerobatics over Leh. There had been doubts about conducting them at those altitudes but his old squadron did not disappoint.
He was also the commandant of the Air Force Academy at Dundigal and after retirement remains a frequent guest at their functions. Air Vice-Marshal Parker and his wife Shirley Parker chose to make their home in a leafy neighborhood in Hyderabad. He continues to write frequently about his experiences.
K.S Nair is the author of two books and close to a hundred articles on Indian aviation and military history. His third book, due at the end of this year, will be a recollection of the 1971 war.