Hero on the high seas
After graduating from high school, Parker enlisted in the Coast Guard and in 2000 entered their elite Helicopter Rescue Swimmer Program, becoming one of only four members to graduate in his class. During the nine years he served as a rescue swimmer, Parker performed heroically in numerous search and rescues at sea. In 2005, he participated in hundreds of rescues as one of a dozen rescue swimmers assigned to Air Station New Orleans, the point of origination for all Hurricane Katrina air rescue efforts.
For his service as a helicopter rescue swimmer, Parker was awarded two air medals, a commendation medal and three achievement medals, and received two Commandant’s Letters of Commendation from the Coast Guard as well.
It was no coincidence that Parker’s first novel is set on the high seas or, for that matter, that its main character is a dog.
A dog’s tale
The Anne Marie is a tale about Atticus Stockton, a 160-pound black Newfoundland who loses his owner, Capt. John Stockton, while both are at sea. Atticus survives the boating accident, but finds himself homeless and relinquished to a shelter after his owner’s death. To survive and move on with the business of living, Atticus must overcome this tragic loss. Suspense, mystery and adventure follow the noble and heroic dog as he finds his way to a new home.
“As a rescue swimmer, you see a lot of either really amazing or really horrible things on the job. Writing became a good way for me to vent the emotional baggage I carried around from my experiences.”
Parts of The Anne Marie story are drawn directly from Parker’s on-the-job experiences. He penned the book’s first chapter in 2008, immediately following his rescue of 34 people from a sinking vessel.
While Parker was on board, the vessel caught fire and two men were critically injured. After evacuating the other 32 crew members to a Good Samaritan ship, Parker airlifted the two injured men back on the helicopter with him.
“I remember telling them during the rescue, ‘hey, you’re going to be okay.’ When I found out the next day that both men had died, it was devastating.”
Art imitates life
The first few chapters of the book, during which the main character’s owner and a co-worker die at sea, is based upon this real-life accident. The book chapters during which the main character, Atticus, is impounded in a county shelter are also based on Parker’s personal experiences in the Coast Guard.
During Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard rescued people and animals alike. Parker remembers airlifting a golden retriever and his owner. “The owner didn’t want to be rescued from his home without his dog, so we picked him up and his dog too.”
Parker’s base, Air Station New Orleans, soon became a makeshift shelter, hosting more than 30 kennels and plenty of dogs, all of whom were eventually reclaimed by their owners or adopted out to new homes. His book is also autobiographical in the sense that many of the main character’s emotions reflect his own.
“All of Atticus’ fears, his sense of loss, his looking back and forward in time – that’s all out of my own bag of experiences and emotions from Hurricane Katrina. I hadn’t planned to write a story about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but a friend who had read the book pointed out to me, ‘Atticus – he’s you, and he shows all the signs of PTSD.’”
Parker hopes The Anne Marie will appeal to a multi-generational audience. He purposely refrained from placing the story in a specific historical time frame so it would not become dated.
“My goal was to put out a timeless piece of literature, a story anyone of any age could enjoy at any time. My hope is that in 10 or 20 years, readers will still pick up a copy of my book and find it’s good stuff.”
For now, Parker plans to keep his day job, pursuing more adventures in the Coast Guard. In 2008, Parker was selected to receive a commission from the Coast Guard. He graduated Officer Candidate School in 2009, and has since been promoted from the brotherhood of rescue swimmers to the field of nautical investigations. Parker currently resides in Mobile, Alabama, with his wife, Melanie; their daughter, Marleigh. Two dogs round out the family: Atticus, a Newfoundland, and Roxanne, a basset hound.
In writing The Anne Marie, Parker did more than pen a great tale. Ten percent of the book’s proceeds are being donated to Pets for Patriots to help last-chance shelter pets find their forever homes with America’s veterans and service members.
~ Marianne Woo, Pets for Patriots volunteer