By: John Cuddy – Nov. 2021
WESTPORT, MA -I met Pam Melanson and her father Rene “Cap” Parent at the Wheelhouse Diner in Quincy, Massachusetts on a beautiful Saturday morning. Pam, who hails from Westport, MA, served our Nation in the US Navy Reserves for over fifteen years.
She was called up on active duty during Desert Storm and backed filled a physical therapy position at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Naval leadership cut the Navy Reserve Medical staff loose after serving one hundred and seventy days on active duty, just ten days shy of the one hundred and eighty days required to meet the guidelines for Federal Veteran status. To non-Veterans, this may seem trivial or meaningless, but a “Veteran” designation affects access to Veteran’s benefits (including educational and medical support) post military service.
While in high school, Pam Parent (her maiden name) worked as a Candy Striper at St Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts. This led to an interest in health care, and Pam received a scholarship from the US Navy to attend college for Physical Therapy Assistant training for two years under a program named RAMP (Reserve Allied Medical Program).
This program sends men and women to civilian schools to learn the skills needed to fulfill critical military health care NECs (Naval Enlisted Classification Code). Pam served as an enlisted Naval Hospital Corpsman, rising to the rank of Petty Officer Second Class or the rating of Hospital Corpsman Second Class. The NEC is a four-digit code in her personnel file that designates her as a Physical Therapy Assistant or PTA. When Pam enlisted, this field had a critical manpower shortage, opening an opportunity for her.
While attending Recruit Training at Recruit Training Command in Orlando, Florida, Pam failed the sit-up portion of her physical readiness test and was set back ten days in the training cycle. Upset over the failure, she shared her story with me; “when I failed my PT test, I couldn’t call my parents, I lost that privilege. I requested to see a Navy Career Counselor to contact Newbury College, to inform them that I may be late for the fall semester.
While in the Chief Navy Career Counselor’s office, his phone rang, it was my dad! Concerned about not hearing from me, he flipped through the phone listings for Recruit Training Command Orlando and randomly picked an office to call…it happened to be the one I was in at that exact time! So cool! Dad was the Command Senior Chief of Construction Battalion Hospital Unit -7 at that time”.
The Chief and her dad informally talked, because in the Navy and the Coast Guard, Chiefs, tend to “run things” and solve all kinds of problems. Pam was set back a few days in her training cycle to catch up and be better prepared for passing the physical requirements. Pam overcame this challenge, and successfully completed recruit training. Years later, Pam is still fit, active, and is an avid skier; she would sail through any Navy PT test today.
Pam spent most of her military career assigned to the Naval Air Station in South Weymouth, MA, while also serving the public as a PTA at St Anne’s Hospital, the same facility she served at as a volunteer Candy Striper while still in high school. A working mom, her daughter was inducted into the National Honor Society this month at her high school, making Pam very proud.
Her dad, Rene “Cap” Parent began his Naval service after dropping out of high school. Like many of his generation, he was bored and unchallenged, sitting in a classroom for five to six hours a day. He started his career serving on the USS Purdy, DD 734. A ship with a storied career, the vessel served in World War II, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Mercury Space Program, earning four battle stars and surviving a Japanese kamikaze attack.
While onboard, Rene told his Division Chief on the Purdy, that he wanted to work with metal, weld, and work with pipes. Rene recalls that his Chief, was really a great guy. The Navy (and his Chief), wanted Fireman Rene Parent to train as a Boiler Technician, but Rene really wanted to be a Shipfitter (a rating later changed by the Navy, becoming the rating(s) of Hull Technician and Damage Controlman). Rene left the surface fleet Navy after his Chief suggested he become a Navy Steelworker, a Construction Force, or Seabee rating.
After completing training as a Steelworker, Rene served with Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 10, 12, and 27. His first battalion was Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 10, with whom he served in combat in Vietnam during 1969. While there, he and his fellow sailors constructed one of the largest bridges built in Vietnam by US Military forces, a 900-foot-long bridge over a river in the Quảng Tri Province. Upon the 1954 division of Vietnam into North and South, Quảng Trị became the northernmost province of the Republic of South Vietnam. Rene and the Seabees were working very close to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), the strip of land dividing North and South Vietnam.
His battalion served alongside the US Army’s 101st Airborne at Camp Wilkerson near Phu Bai and Hue, and was involved with some of the heaviest fighting in Vietnam. The Seabees also constructed a railroad during the spring of 1968; the men building and finishing the railroad line stretching from Da Nang to Hue, completed a critical project that had been halted for three years due to relentless enemy fire.
Transferring from active-duty Seabees to the reserve Construction Force after serving in Vietnam, Rene also transitioned to the civilian workforce. He worked as a metal worker, as a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, which is a building trades union. Local 17 represents the more than 2,700 skilled and licensed workers throughout Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
Rene tells an interesting story about his involvement with the British Navy, repairing damage to the HMS Walrus. Rene’s work repairing the submarine at the State Pier in New Bedford, MA, earned him recognition from the Queen of England for his metal working ability. Accolades were taken from the actual entry in US Naval service record; “on his own time, using his own welding equipment, he repaired a welded joint on an exhaust snorkel on the HMS Walrus, working without guidance or supervision, the weld passed a critical x-ray inspection”. He retired from Naval Service as the Command Master Chief of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 27, after serving our nation for thirty years.
Rene and his wife, Claire, were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on the day we met. The couple has two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren. Ending this article in Rene’s own words, “I’m a Vietnam Veteran, who served with NMCB-10 at Quảng Tri in Northern I Corps. We built a 900 ft bridge over the Quảng Tri River, an experience worth a million dollars, that you couldn’t sell for a dollar anywhere. Proud of serving as combat Vietnam Veteran (Rene has a Combat Action Ribbon) I was offered an early release from active duty after Vietnam, and I took it. The Navy’s stipulation was I had to finish my time in the US Navy Reserves with the Seabees; that turned into 30 years of total service. Please be advised we, (Rene and his daughter Pam) are not heroes, we just served proudly and distinctively.”
With a combined military service of nearly fifty years, Rene Parent and Pam (Parent) Melanson are truly, heroes in our midst!
The Dracut American Legion asks all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington, DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go the American Legion’s Web site, www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations.
John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus.
He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 25 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@yahoo.com