James K. Parsons

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James K. Parsons
File:James Kelly Parsons, U.S. Army Major General.jpg
Parsons as a Naval War College student in 1925.
Born (1877-02-11)February 11, 1877
Rockford, Alabama
Died November 8, 1960(1960-11-08) (aged 83)
Venice, Italy
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United StatesUnited States of America
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1898–1941
Rank US-O8 insignia.svg Major General
Commands held Company F, 20th U.S. Infantry
39th Infantry Regiment
Embarkation Center, Saint-Nazaire, France
United States Army Armor School
9th Coast Artillery District
23rd Infantry Brigade
5th Infantry Brigade
2nd Infantry Division
III Corps Area
First United States Army
Battles/wars Spanish–American War
Philippine Insurrection
World War I
World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Purple Heart
Spouse(s) Volinda Lucy Henderson (m. 1904–1957, her death)
Relations Lewis E. Parsons (Grandfather)

James K. Parsons (February 11, 1877 – November 8, 1960) was a career officer in the United States Army. He attained the rank of major general, and was notable for his command of the 39th Infantry Regiment in France during World War I, and his post-war command of the Army's tank school, 23rd Infantry Brigade, 5th Infantry Brigade, and 2nd Infantry Division. He closed his career as commander of III Corps Area and interim commander of the First United States Army, positions in which he supervised training exercises designed to prepare units for overseas service as the Army began to expand at the start of World War II.

Early life

James Kelly Parsons was born in Rockford, Alabama on February 11, 1877.[1] He was the son of Catherine "Kate" (Kelly) Parsons and Lewis E. Parsons (1846–1916), a lawyer who served as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.[2][3]

The grandfather of James K. Parsons, also named Lewis E. Parsons (1817–1895), was provincial Governor of Alabama after the American Civil War, and was elected to the U.S. Senate during the Reconstruction Era, but was not allowed to take his seat because Alabama had not yet attained full readmission to the Union.[4]

James K. Parsons attended the schools of Birmingham, Alabama. In 1898 he was commissioned for the Spanish–American War as a first lieutenant in the 3rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry, a unit of African American soldiers and white officers.[5] His regimental commander was Robert Lee Bullard, and Parsons' connection to Bullard helped Parsons receive a commission in the regular Army and continue his military career.[6]

Early career

Parsons remained in the Army after the war with Spain, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in the 20th U.S. Infantry in 1899.[7] He served in the Philippine Insurrection until 1901,[8] when he was promoted to first lieutenant in the 28th U.S. Infantry, and later that year transferred back to the 20th Infantry.[9] He graduated from the Infantry and Cavalry School in 1904.[10] In 1908 he received promotion to captain, and his assignments at this rank included command of Company F, 20th Infantry Regiment in Hawaii.[11][12] He was promoted to major in 1917.[13]

In the years before World War I Parsons served as mustering officer at Camp Glenn near Morehead City, North Carolina, and then as an observer and advisor with the New York National Guard.[14]

World War I

At the start of World War I Parsons was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel and then temporary colonel, and assigned to the staff of the American Expeditionary Forces in France.[15] He later served as commander of 39th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.[16] He was gassed during a German attack on October 11, 1918, and was relieved by Troy H. Middleton.[17] In 1919 Parsons received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism as commander of the 39th Infantry.[18] In addition, he received the Distinguished Service Medal for his post-war command of the Embarkation Center at Saint-Nazaire, which processed American service members for their post-war return trips to the United States.[19]

Post-World War I

After the war Parsons returned to his permanent rank of major.[20] He was promoted to permanent lieutenant colonel in 1920 and permanent colonel in 1923.[21][22] His assignments included again serving as inspector and advisor for the New York National Guard,[23] and serving on a board to recommend armory locations, training sites, and unit types and sizes for the Indiana National Guard.[24] Parsons graduated from the United States Army Command and General Staff College in 1923,[25] the United States Army War College in 1924,[26] and the Naval War College in 1925.[27] He received promotion to brigadier general in 1930 and major general in 1936.[28][29]

Advocate of integration

In the 1920s Parsons was recognized as a proponent of racial integration, in contrast to most of his professional colleagues. In 1924 the Army War College surveyed commissioned officers about whether and how to integrate Army units. At the time, African Americans served in segregated units, usually under white officers. Based on his experience in the Spanish-American War and his observations of African American soldiers during World War I, Parsons argued for desegregating Army units and having each one incorporate a set percentage of black soldiers. In his view, black soldiers could be expected to perform capably if given the same training as whites, and incorporating them into units with whites would prevent them from being singled out for inferior duties like kitchen patrol and the loading and unloading of cargo. Parsons was convinced that African Americans could also serve as officers, although his point of view was that they would not be able to lead white soldiers effectively due to the prejudice of the times, but could instead aspire to command positions in the transportation and supply units that often contained large numbers of black soldiers in wartime. The Army did not agree with Parsons' recommendations, and continued to allow African Americans to serve only in segregated units, and with few opportunities for assignment to leadership positions.[30]

Advocate of mechanization

Parsons commanded the Army’s tank school at Fort Meade, Maryland in 1925, and then again from 1929 to 1930. While at the tank school he developed plans for a mechanized army which were not adopted at the time, but which were similar to the designs for the armor and infantry divisions the U.S. Army fielded in World War II.[31]

Brigade commands

In 1930 and 1931 Parsons commanded the 9th Coast Artillery District in San Francisco.[32] He was commander of the 23rd Infantry Brigade at Fort William McKinley, Philippines from 1931 to 1933, and the 5th Infantry Brigade (Vancouver Barracks, Washington) from 1933 to 1936.[33]

World War II

Parsons commanded the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Sam Houston, Texas from 1936 to 1938, and from 1938 until 1940 he commanded the III Corps Area with headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.[34][35] In 1938 he also served as interim commander of First United States Army.[36] As corps commander, Parsons oversaw the planning, execution and evaluation of exercises designed to assess the fitness of units, staffs and commanders as the army expanded and increased readiness at the start World War II.[37]

Development of new field jacket

While in command of III Corps, Parsons oversaw development and fielding of a new field jacket, the M-1941, which was used by the Army throughout World War II. Parsons had launched the project after identifying a need to replace the wool coat then in use with an outer garment that was lightweight, water repellent, and windproof, and could incorporate a liner for warmth during the winter.[38]


In February 1941 Parsons reached the mandatory retirement age of 64 and concluded his military service.[39]

Death and burial

Parsons died aboard the ship RMS Caronia on November 8, 1960 while in port at Venice, Italy.[40] He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 1, Site 325-B.[41]


In 1904 Parsons married Volinda Lucy Henderson (1880–1957) in Columbus, Ohio. Mrs. Parsons was the daughter of Charles G. Henderson and Ellen Beatty, the granddaughter of Union Army General John Beatty, and a 1904 graduate of Vassar College.[42][43] James and Volinda Parsons had no children.[44][45][46][47]


In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal, Parsons also received the Purple Heart for wounds received while in command of the 39th Regiment during World War I.[48]

Distinguished Service Cross Citation:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Colonel (Infantry) James Kelly Parsons, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 39th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, A.E.F., near Cuisy, France, 27 September 1918, to 11 October 1918. Having volunteered to take command of a battalion, whose commander had been wounded, Colonel Parsons was knocked down by hostile shell fire, but he succeeded in rallying his men and kept them well organized, so as to withstand the heavy fire of the enemy. On the following day he assumed command of the regiment and commanded it in successful attacks, refusing to be evacuated after being so severely gassed that he was unable to see.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders 98 (1919)[49]


  1. "U.S. Passport Applications, 1795–1925: James Kelly Parsons". Ancestry.com. U.S. Department of State. June 4, 1925. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "United States Federal Census: Lewis E. Parsons Family". Ancestry.com. U.S. Census Bureau. 1880. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "He Won't Give Way". New Berne Weekly Journal. New Berne, NC. June 15, 1893. p. 1. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Owen, Thomas McAdory (1921). History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. 4. Chicago, IL: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. pp. 1323–1324.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Army and Navy Journal. 74. Washington, DC: Army and Navy Journal, Incorporated. 1936. p. 63.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Nalty, Bernard C. (1986). Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military. New York, NY: The Free Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-02-922411-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Made Second Lieutenants: Long List of Candidates Selected for Regular Army Positions". Washington Evening Times. Washington, DC. March 13, 1899. p. 1. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Menoher, Charles T. (December 1, 1900). General Orders, Circulars, and Special Orders, Headquarters Provost Marshal General, Philippines. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of War. p. Special Orders 224.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Parsons, James K. (September 22, 1921). "Biographical Memoranda" (PDF). World War I Gold Star Database. Alabama Department of Archives and History.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Bell, J. Franklin (1904). Annual Report, General Service and Staff College (PDF). Fort Leavenworth, KS: Staff College Press. p. 10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. United States Senate (1908). Journal of the Senate, Including the Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate. 60. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 268.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  14. "The Army: Unassigned Infantry". Army and Navy Register. Washington, DC. August 5, 1914. p. 181.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  16. Cole, Robert B.; Eberlin, Barnard (1919). The History of the 39th U. S. Infantry During the World War. New York, NY: Joseph D. McGuire. p. 66.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Bach, Christian A.; Hall, Henry Noble (1920). The Fourth Division: Its Services and Achievements in the World War. Garden City, NY: Country Life Press. p. 193.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  23. "Proved Worth as Combat Organizer: Made Notable Record with Army in France; Col. J. K. Parsons Returns" (PDF). Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, NY. August 28, 1919. p. 35.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Kettleborough, Charles (1922). Yearbook of the State of Indiana for the Year 1921. Indianapolis, IN: Wm. P. Burford. p. 1050.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Ely, Hanson E. (1923). Annual Report, Commandant, General Service Schools (PDF). Fort Leavenworth, KS: General Service Schools Press. p. 31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  29. United States Senate (1936). Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States. 78. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 644, 666.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Nalty, Bernard C. (1986). Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military. New York, NY: The Free Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-02-922411-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  33. Chicago Tribune Press Service (August 6, 1940). "Gen. Parsons Among Most Distinguished of U.S. Commanders". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL. p. 2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Vandal, Thomas S. (January 12, 2015). 2nd Infantry Division Pamphlet 600–5, Warrior Standards (PDF). Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu, South Korea.: 2nd Infantry Division. p. 40.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  38. McLendon, Charles, editor (April 1, 1942). "Army Gets New Field Jacket That Stays Clean And Dry". Popular Science. New York, NY: Popular Science Publishing Company, Inc.: 120. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "Gen. Parsons to Retire in 3 Weeks". Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. Wilkes-Barre, PA. February 6, 1941. p. 16. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974: James Kelly Parsons". Ancestry.com. U.S. Department of State. February 20, 1961. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. James K. Parsons at Find a Grave
  42. Vassar College (1910). The Fourth General Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Vassar College. Poughkeepsie, NY: A. V. Haight Company. p. 230.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. Parsons, James K. (September 22, 1921). "Biographical Memoranda" (PDF). World War I Gold Star Database. Alabama Department of Archives and History.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. "United States Federal Census: James K. Parsons Family". Ancestry.com. U.S. Census Bureau. 1910. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. "James K Parsons in the Rhode Island, State Census". Ancestry.com. State of Rhode Island. 1925. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. "United States Federal Census: James K. Parsons Family". Ancestry.com. U.S. Census Bureau. 1930. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  47. "United States Federal Census: James K. Parsons Family". Ancestry.com. U.S. Census Bureau. 1940. (Subscription required (help)).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  48. U.S. Army Adjutant General (1934). Official U.S. Army Register for 1934. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 531.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  49. U.S. Army Adjutant General (1920). Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal Issued by the War Department Since April 6, 1917. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 44.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
George S. Simonds
Commandant of the United States Army Armor School
Succeeded by
Claude H. Miller
Preceded by
Oliver S. Eskridge
Commandant of the United States Army Armor School
Succeeded by
Henry L. Cooper
Preceded by
Herbert J. Brees
Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division
Succeeded by
Frank W. Rowell
Preceded by
John W. Gulick
Commander of the III Corps Area
Succeeded by
Walter V. Grant
Preceded by
Frank Ross McCoy
Commander of the First United States Army (Acting)
Succeeded by
Hugh Aloysius Drum