Col. Parr was one of the most highly decorated pilots in Air Force history. In the last seven weeks of the Korean War, he shot down 10 aircraft during 30 missions — earning him the designation of double ace. In Vietnam, he made eight low-level passes against heavy enemy firepower in poor weather during the battle of Khe Sanh.
The son of a Navy squadron commander, Col. Parr developed a consuming passion for aviation at age 5 when his father took him flying as a birthday present. “I was hooked,” he later said.
Entering the Army Air Forces, he became a P-38 pilot in the Pacific at the end of World War II. He made the transition to jet fighters during the Korean War, flying the agile F-86 Sabrejet in the final seven weeks of the war.
One of his most daunting missions began June 7, 1953, when he descended from 41,000 feet over the Yalu River that separated North Korea from China and saw four Soviet MiG-15s. He pursued them, firing his guns and then leveling off at 300 feet.
As he ascended to 4,000 feet, he realized he vastly underestimated the enemy strength. There were 16 MiGs. In the subsequent dogfight, he downed two and damaged another before withdrawing to safety.
He received the Distinguished Service Cross — the highest military award for valor after the Medal of Honor — for a mission on June 30 when he was attacked by 10 MiGs. He silenced two enemy planes and then, despite low fuel levels, helped drive off several other MiGs threatening his wing commander.
He accompanied the wing commander, whose plane was badly scarred, back to safety at an air base near Seoul.
Col. Parr’s 10th and final kill of the war came hours before the armistice on July 27, 1953. While flying over restricted airspace in North Korea, he downed a Soviet Ilyushin-12 cargo airplane that he said bore the same red star as a MiG.
Last month, he told the San Antonio Express-News that the downing almost provoked an international incident because the Soviets claimed it was a civilian aircraft carrying VIPs.
“They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing,” Col. Parr told the newspaper.
Air Force Capt. Joseph McConnell had the highest total of “kills” in Korea with 16, said air power historian Mark Clodfelter. Col. Parr tied for sixth place for total number of kills in Korea, along with five other pilots.
“You wind up either wanting to fight or not wanting to fight,” Col. Parr told an Air Force publication this year, reflecting on his Korean War record. “I made the decision I was going to fight to begin with. I didn’t think I could see anything up there that I thought would be able to take me.”
Ralph Sherman Parr Jr. was born in Portsmouth, Va., on July 1, 1924. He entered the military after graduating in 1942 from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.