Both came from families with deep traditions in serving in the military.
Both followed that tradition following high school.
And, in the process of serving their country, Paul and Lesia Park of near East Enterprise found each other – and love – in the military.
He asked, and she told him yes.
The couple are both veterans of the service, with Paul Park serving in the U.S. Air Force; while Lesia Park first served in the Army Reserves before transferring to the Air Force.
Paul Park grew up all over the world, the son of a 24-year Marine Corps veteran, Don Park, who had grown up here in Switzerland County.
“We moved about every three years,” Paul Park says. “I was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and then, from there to Mississippi to the Philippines to the Sudan and then to South Carolina. Dad retired out of the military out of South Carolina, and that’s where I graduated from high school.”
After graduating in Greenville, South Carolina, Paul Park took a year out of school before opting to go into the Air Force in May of 1985. He completed his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and immediately after completing basic training, he went straight to tech school in Wichita Falls, Texas for aircraft maintenance for six months.
After completing his training, he was assigned to the Air Force base in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
It was there that he befriended a fellow soldier in his same squadron named Robin Hall.
“Se was an engine mechanic and I was an aircraft mechanic,” Paul Park remembered. “I came bee-bopping into work one day, and she said she had somebody she wanted me to meet, so I walked back there, and there sat Lesia.”
The couple went out on a couple of dates, and after Lesia Hall returned to her hometown of Elmira, New York after a month of visiting her sister, she asked Paul to come along and meet her family.
“She had already gone through Army basic training, and was assigned to a reserve unit in Elmira,” Paul Park said. “So I went up to meet her family, and while we were up in New York, I guess she fell in love with me because she went down to the recruiter to see if she could transfer from the Army Reserves into the active duty Air Force.”
Lesia Hall is an Elmira girl.
Nearly all of her family lives in the same neighborhood as her parents, so growing up there was a very stable situation. Her father was a veteran of the Army, and had returned home to Elmira after leaving the service.
“I grew up in one town, grandparents lived two houses down, an uncle lived next door to them,” Lesia Park said. “Three blocks away was another aunt. We were a very close, Irish, Polish, Italian family.”
After graduating from high school in 1985, she entered the Army reserves as a way of saving money for college.
“My sister, Robin, was in the Air Force in Myrtle Beach, and I went down to visit her and I went into work with her one day and I was sitting in her office,” Lesia Park recalled. “She said ‘I want to introduce you to somebody’, and pretty soon Paul came walking in.”
When the new couple went to Elmira to visit her family, Lesia Park had an idea.
“I got this bright idea to go to the recruiter and see if I could go in the Air Force,” she said. “So I went to the recruiter, and what they have to do, is that the commander can sign a release. I thought I can just go and keep doing my job.”
What she didn’t know was that she was going to have to go through basic training again in Texas, but that was reduced by some weeks because of her prior training.
From there, the plan was for Lesia Park to be assigned to Myrtle Beach, where her sister and Paul were waiting, but again there was a glitch in the plan.
“After I went to schooling in Biloxi, Mississippi to continue my training, I got my orders to go to Bitburg, Germany,” Lesia Park said. “And because my sister knew somebody who knew somebody, they had my orders diverted and I got to go to Myrtle Beach.”
Now together in the Air Force on the same base, the couple continued to date, and in 1988 they were married in the chapel on the Air Force Base.
So how hard is it for a married couple to serve in the military at the same time?
“Paul, with his job working on airplanes, they deployed him quite often,” Lesia Park said. “Back when we were in, they did not want to keep the spouses together. They cared more about what your job was, so they were more concerned about where you were needed.”
“We were in the Air Force together on active duty for about a year,” Paul Park said. “I was up to do a tour of duty in Korea, and I just decided that it was probably time to get out, because they didn’t allow spouses to go.”
With the prospect of Paul being in Korea and Lesia being in Myrtle Beach, both decided to get out of the service, but again, there was a slight change in plans.
Because Lesia was getting out about 18 months before her tour was officially over, she was allowed to go off of active duty after agreeing that she would do three years of reserve duty in the Air Force – twice the amount of time that she had left.
The couple settled into life in Greenville, South Carolina, with Lesia doing her reserve time at the base in Charleston, South Carolina.
“It was at that time that the whole Desert Storm scenario started, and I’m the one who got called back to active duty,” Lesia Park said. “They used lab technicians like medics. They sat up Charleston Air Force Base like a medivac unit, and we would fly and pick up the wounded in Saudi Arabia, and bring them back.”
Lesia Park remained on active duty, taking turns flying the medical missions between Charleston and Saudi Arabia for over a year. Paul had taken a job with U.S. Air and was living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It was a family reunion that brought the Parks to Switzerland County. Paul said that when his father, Don, became ill with cancer, the family decided to hold a reunion here. After arriving, cousin Marty Park took Paul and Lesia on a tour of the county, and they were hooked.
The couple has lived here ever since, raising daughter Karoline, now a junior at Franklin College, and son Zachary, a junior at Switzerland County High School.
“We love it here,” Paul Park said. “It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.”