As Steve 'Painless' Parker stepped up to the microphone in Cook Memorial Park in Libertyville on a sunny Friday afternoon, he had a warning for his guests.
"There's going to be a lot of 'thank you's.' I'm going to do a lot of crying. So if you don't want to see crying, you're in the wrong place," said the Libertyville resident.
It was indeed an emotional day for Parker, as he said farewell to his 27-year military career. A special retirement ceremony was held for him Sept. 28, where family and friends—both military and civilian—gathered to say a collective "thank you" to Capt. Parker for his service.
"Make no mistake—there is some big timber falling in the Dental Corps forest today, and it is Capt. Steve 'Painless' Parker," said retired Capt. Timothy Fitzharris.
Parker, who received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1985 from Louisiana State University, initially planned to enlist in the United States Navy for just three years. He traveled around the world, to places like the Philippines and Thailand, serving as a dentist. His military career also included a stint as the head of the dental clinics at Camp Pendleton, the director of the Camp Courtney Branch Dental Clinic, the clinic director for the U.S. Naval Dental Center at Camp Foster and the commanding officer of the Navy Hospital Corps School at Great Lakes.
He now runs his own dental practice, the Vernon Hills Dental Center.
Parker's retirement ceremony was filled with tradition—the striking of four bells as Parker and other dignitaries arrived, and the Parading of the Colors, for example—and plenty of stories and laughs.
Retired Cmdr. Scott Jensen, who served as the master of ceremonies, spoke of Parker's leadership, calling him "a breath of fresh air" who "empowered people." He said Parker also displayed many other leadership qualities, including vigilance, fearlessness and a dash of luck.
Jensen and others also focused on Parker's friendly, positive nature.
Jensen recalled seeing Parker and thinking he must have been involved with the Louisiana State University football team in some way.
"You're the quarterback, right?" Jensen recalled asking Parker, who said "No." Jensen learned that Parker wasn't the running back or a linebacker, either.
"He says, 'No, I was a cheerleader,'" said Jensen laughed. "He was the first man cheerleader I ever met."
Fitzharris said he "never saw a guy smile so much."
"We call him the 'pied piper' of Vernon Hills," Fitzharris said, referring to Parker's dental practice. Fitzharris said he draws in patients with his personality, including his "warm, personal nature, his sense of humor and his integrity."
He told a story about a female patient who was terrified to go see a dentist until she met Parker.
"He has golden hands and a gentle spirit," said Fitzharris.
Fitzharris also spoke of Parker's faith.
"His relationship with his Redeemer is No. 1," said Fitzharris. "If anyone is aware of God's grace in his life, it's Steve Parker. I imagine most of his prayers are 'thank you's.' Steve Parker is an incredibly grateful man."
"Steve, we all here, and countless thousands you have served, say a tremendous 'thank you,'" Fitzharris added.
Presidents Say "Thank You"
Jensen pointed out that Parker received a stack of 'thank you' letters from a host of dignitaries, including President Barack Obama and former President George H.W. Bush.
"Twenty-seven years of military service does not go unrecognized," said Jensen, who then read the letter from Bush.
"You unselfishly answered the call of duty, Capt. Parker," Bush wrote in the letter. "This former Navy man salutes you."
Parker showed his gratitude by offering "thank you's" to his family—both civilian and military, including the Marines he served with over the course of his career.
"It's very important for me to have Marines here today," said Parker. "Seventeen out of the 27 years, I've served with Marines. Marines are a cut above; it's not just a job, it's a way of life."
He got choked up while speaking about the Marines' impact on his life.
"They taught me what life is all about," said Parker. "I changed what I wanted to do after meeting these men."
Parker took a few moments to read his official retirement orders. He then watched as Dental Corps students conducted a flag ceremony while Fitzharris read "Old Glory." After being handed the flag, which flew over many buildings at Great Lakes, Parker presented it to his son, Bryce.
Standing "The Watch"
"Let us remember that for 27 years, this sailor stood the watch," said Lt. James Feliz, who then recited the poem, "The Watch."
"For 27 years, he stood the watch so that we and our fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety because he had the watch," Feliz read. "Today, we are here to say the watch stands relieved. Relieved by those you have led, guided and trained."
Parker's retirement ceremony ended with the Piping Ashore Ceremony, led by honorary sideboys and boatswain, during which Parker was given permission to "go ashore" one last time.
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