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'I want him back from the unknown' | The push to honor those who fought in WWII before US was ready

Michael Parkyn, from Stafford, Virginia, has made it his mission to honor his long-lost relative, who entered World War II, even as the U.S. remained neutral.

STAFFORD, Va. — Retired Marine Corps Officer Michael Parkyn was roughly 25,000 feet in the air, flying for the U.S. military, when he found himself thinking about his long-lost relative, Alfred J. Parkyn.

"When I was flying over Afghanistan, you can say I connected with the fate of my dad’s cousin," he said. "And I realized just how much of his story had been washed away by time. And how little remained.”

The elder Parkyn was flying a bomber in World War II when the plane went down off the coast of the Netherlands. His disappearance into the depths of the ocean struck Michael all those decades later.

“The idea that doing something that matters and then disappearing when the worst comes to worst, and being forgotten -- is just like a child’s nightmare. Being lost in the dark.” 

Alfred's plane has not been recovered, and Parkyn said that's in part because his ancestor did not serve in the U.S. military. The 26-year-old from the Bronx was one of thousands of Americans that crossed the border into Canada, to fight in the war, since the U.S. was still neutral.

Credit: Michel Myers
Alfred J. Parkyn served in World War II before the U.S. joined the war effort.

"There’s somebody doing something horrible in Europe," Parkyn reflected. "And he’s threatening everything. All at once a young man has a chance to fly, has a chance to make a difference, and he has the chance do to something that might be right. So he does it.”

Soon enough, Parkyn was flying missions in Europe for the Royal Air Force. On November 25, 1942, he got into his bomber for the last time. 

"He was piloting a lone bomber that was picked off by Germany’s highest-scoring ace in the Netherlands," said Parkyn. "He fought back - he and his crew - for upwards of 20 to 30 minutes before being downed where nobody could see him. And the squadron didn’t know what happened to him. They just knew he didn’t come back.”

Parkyn said that the best estimates show about 1,000 Americans died or went missing while serving another nation's army in World War II. He's now made it his mission to share their story and get them recognition. 

"This is the case of someone whose story deserves to be told," he said. "And it’s not being told. And the longer we go without telling it, the harder it gets. And something tells me it needs to be told.” 

Credit: Michael Parkyn
Michael Parkyn followed in his ancestor's foot-steps, serving as a Marine Corp Officer

Parkyn's effort has even reached the halls of Congress. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia) heard Parkyn's story at an event in Fredericksburg and co-sponsored a bill that would give these veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. 

"By Awarding the Congressional Gold medal to these selfless Americans," Spanberger said. "We’re making sure that future generations can be inspired by their heroism.”

Parkyn said that this would just be the start. He said that using German records, researchers have a relatively good idea of where Alfred's plane might be, in the ocean off the coast of the Netherlands. 

Credit: Michael Parkyn
Using German records, Parkyn was able to estimate where his ancestor's plane may be

Parkyn remains hopeful that one day the U.S. government will allocate the resources to help bring Parkyn home. 

“Although the location of this crash site is approximately known," he said.
They’re not going to be searched for. Because they weren’t in American uniforms.” 

He said it would mean 'everything' to bring his loved one home. 

"I want him back from the unknown," he said. 

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