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Post Chick Parsons, "Our Man in Manila"
Created by John Eipper on 09/07/17 2:05 PM

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Chick Parsons, "Our Man in Manila" (Richard Hancock, USA, 09/07/17 2:05 pm)

Thanks for your service, John.  [Thank you, Richard!--JE.]

Having served in the Philippines in World War II, I am interested in the article by Peter Eisner on "Our Man in Manila," in the September issue of the Smithsonian. "This man's missions were vital to MacArthur's famed return to the Philippines, yet the full story of Chick Parson's feats has not been told-until, now."

"Charles Thomas Parsons Jr. was born in 1900 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. His family moved frequently to avoid creditors. When young Charles was 5, his mother sent him to Manila for a more stable life with her brother, a public health official in the American-run government." The boy received his elementary education in Spanish at a Catholic elementary school. He returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to go to high school, where he graduated. In the early 1920s, he returned the Philippines as a merchant marine seaman. He was soon hired as a stenographer for Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, a hero of the Spanish-American War.

Parsons traveled throughout the country with Wood, learning Tagalog and making friends with many Filipinos. In 1924, he worked for a California-based logging firm. While working in Zamboanga, Mindanao, he met Katrushka "Katsy" Jurika whose father, an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant, owned a coconut plantation.  Chick and Katsy married in 1928. After his company was closed because of the Wall Street crash of 1929, Chick moved to Manila to manage the Luzon Stevedoring Co., which exported a variety of products to several different countries. Chick and Katsy moved to Manila, where he joined the US Navy reserve in 1932. Because of this, he became acquainted with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Since he spoke Spanish and had enjoyed contacts with Panamanians, he was appointed the Honorary Panamanian Consul to the Philippines.

When the Japanese moved into Manila, Parsons destroyed all of his American documents and displayed his Panamanian diplomatic credentials, speaking Spanish in public. Since Panama was a neutral country, the Japanese left Parsons and his family alone. After Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo in April of 1942, the Japanese rounded up all non-Asian men, including Parsons, and imprisoned them in the stone dungeon at Fort Santiago. After undergoing interrogation, where Parsons admitted nothing, he was sent to the civilian detention center of the University of Santo Tomas. Other diplomats got him released and, believing that he was a Panamanian diplomat, the Japanese allowed him and his family to leave the Philippines in an exchange of diplomatic detainees.

When Parsons returned to New York on August 27, he was listed as missing in action, but he reported for duty. When MacArthur discovered that his old friend was back, he cabled Washington: "Send Parsons immediately." The two were reunited in mid-January, 1943, at MacArthur's headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, where MacArthur asked him if he would go back to the Philippines to establish contact with the guerrilla armies there. He did not want them to attack the Japanese until the Americans returned. Parsons agreed and spent months island-hopping and jungle-trekking. He established reliable communication with the guerrillas, putting them under the direct command of the US Army. The guerrillas were ordered not to attack the Japanese until the Americans launched their invasion of the Philippines.

When Parsons returned to Brisbane, he told MacArthur that he should continue the submarine resupply operation and the general agreed. The operation, known as Spyron (for "Spy Squadron"), carried out 41 more missions, landing in virtually every part of the Philippines and taking advantage of Parson's contacts to keep the guerrillas fed, armed and organized. It also ferried more than 400 American and foreign nationals to safety.

The US launched the invasion of Leyte on October 20, 1944. On October 23, 67 Japanese warships battled 300 US ships for four days. The US suffered some 2,000 casualties and lost six ships. The Japanese lost 26 ships and suffered 12,000 casualties. The defeat virtually wiped out the empire's capacity for both fighting and moving supplies at sea. MacArthur himself returned to the Philippines with the third wave of landings. This event is commemorated by larger-than-life statues of MacArthur and his staff walking on the Leyte shore.

After the war, Parsons brought his family back to Manila. For his wartime service, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, two Navy Crosses, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart from the US. Panama gave him the Order of Vasco Núñez. The Philippines awarded him not only its Medal of Valor, but also citizenship.  Chick Parsons died in Manila on May 12, 1988.

This is just a brief resumé of this article on this exemplary and enterprising man. I wish to thank the Smithsonian Magazine for having brought his astonishing career to my attention and I am happy to pass it on to WAIS.

JE comments:  A fascinating life, tailor-made for Hollywood.  Imagine the nerves it took for Parsons to pass himself off as Panamanian, and later to blend in with the guerrillas.  Also, think about the possible tension in the Parsons marriage, with Katsy Parsons's Austro-Hungarian background.

I hope Bienvenido Macario or Francisco Ramírez will comment:  is Parsons widely remembered in Manila?

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  • Chick Parsons, "Our Man in Manila" (Edward Jajko, USA 09/08/17 2:57 AM)
    Regarding Chick Parsons's marriage (Richard Hancock, 7 September), I think that there may have been minimal tension because of Mrs. Parsons's "Austro-Hungarian background." Her father, Stephen, originally Stefan, was Czech.

    But I would like to add to Richard's fascinating summation of the life of Chick Parsons the fact that his brother-in-law, Stephen Jurika (1910-1993), was a US naval intelligence officer who worked on the Doolittle 30 Seconds Over Tokyo Raid and was decorated for his actions later in the war. He afterwards became a professor at Stanford, Santa Clara University, and in Monterey, and was also a Hoover Institution Fellow. I don't think I ever met Mr. Jurika and regret not having done so. But I do remember his name.

    JE comments: My comment was rather silly, and should have taken into account the diverse identities and allegiances of the former Habsburg Empire. 

    It turns out that Francisco Ramírez (next) knew the Parsons son, Jo Jo.  Small (WAIS)world!

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  • Jo Jo Parsons (Francisco Ramirez, USA 09/08/17 3:13 AM)
    The story of Chick Parsons is fascinating for me since I am almost sure I knew his son, Jo Jo Parsons. I did not know the history, but the Parsons family was well integrated into the Mestizo community of Manila.

    Jo Jo and I played baseball for different teams back in the early 1960s. In 1967 when I first came to Stanford, I ran into him and we both recognised each other and our nicknames. We were both in a hurry at the time, and we never saw each other again. I do not know whether he was a Stanford student or visiting during the summer of 1967. Ships in the night!

    I must read the Smithsonian article.

    JE comments:   The link is below.  We've erred on Charles Thomas Parsons, Jr's nickname:  it was Chick, not Chuck.  I'll make the corrections on our earlier posts.

    Francisco Ramírez is known to family and friends as Chiqui.  The coincidences never stop!



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