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Aram Yervant Parunak
Captain, United States Navy
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Courtesy of Van Parunak: March 2007

Captain Aram Yervant “Dick” Parunak, United States Navy (Retired, of Pitman, New Jersey, died February 25, 2007, aged 96, at the home of his son H. Van Dyke Parunak in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 22 March at 11 AM. Memorial gifts may be made in his name to the National Aviation Museum Foundation, 800-327-5002.

AY Parunak PHOTO

Parunak was born on July 21, 1910, in Freehold, New Jersey. He was the third of four children and the only son of Dickran and Agavny Parunak, Armenians who arrived from Turkey in 1908. Soon after his birth, the family moved to South Amboy, New Jersey, where he spent much of his early childhood.

As a student at South River High School, he played football and developed scholastically under the guidance of Coach William Denny, an important mentor to whom he credited much of his later success. After graduation in 1929 and with the help of his coach and his high school football record, he was admitted to Ursinus College in College Town, Pennsylvania, majoring in math and physics, with a minor in English literature. His football exploits at Ursinus are recorded in seven articles in the New York Times between 1930 and 1932.

Parunak graduated from Ursinus in 1933 with a provisional teachers certificate. He began teaching science and math and coaching basketball at the Junior High in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania. His 1935 basketball team was unbeaten, a record that stood for 29 years.

After two years of teaching, he joined the newly commissioned Naval Aviation Cadet Program, in Pensacola, Florida, as a Seaman, Second Class. Upon completion of flight training, he was assigned to patrol bombers; PBYs and B-24s. Prior to World War II, Parunak flew reconnaissance flights in the Caribbean from his base in the Panama Canal Zone.

On April 13, 1938, Parunak married  Eleanor Usinger, daughter of Henry and Ellen Usinger of Pitman, New Jersey, at the Pitman Methodist Church. They lived in Pensacola and Panama. Eleanor died four years later. They had no children.

Parunak was at the U.S. Navy Mine Warfare School in Yorktown, Virginia, when the US entered the war in 1941. His war assignments included air/sea rescue missions in Greenland during the Bolero Movement (the air transfer of US Army aircraft to England via Greenland). During his Greenland service in July of 1942, while under the command of the famed Norwegian Arctic aviator, U.S. Army Colonel Bernt Balchen, Parunak earned recognition as the first pilot to land and take off from the Greenland Icecap, during the rescue of the crew of the US Army Aircorp B-17 bomber “My Gal Sal”. This achievement won him the Distinguished Flying Cross and six more mentions in the New York Times, and was recently featured in a documentary on Norwegian television.

Later in the war, he commanded squadrons of B-24 bombers in anti-submarine patrols in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean from bases in North Africa and England.

Near the end of the war, Parunak married Orianna Van Dyke, the younger sister of a high school friend and the daughter of James Wilbur and Laura Van Dyke of Spotswood, New Jersey. Dick and Orie were married at the Dutch Reformed Church in Spotswood on May 12, 1945. Drawn by their close relation with the parents of his first wife, they purchased their home in Pitman soon after and lived there briefly before his career moved them on.

From the end of the war until 1947, he attended the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island, the Air Force Tactical Command School, and the Army Staff and Command School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

From 1947 to 1948 Parunak served as technical director for the Naval Aviation Supply System. In 1955, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and in 1956 was given command of an air transport squadron based in Japan in support of the Seventh Fleet. He took command of the U.S. Naval Air Station at Atsugi, Japan in 1958. For his contributions in re-building American-Japanese relations during this post-war period, Emperor Hirohito ordered Captain Parunak decorated with the “Third Order of the Sacred Treasure.”

In 1960, he returned to Pitman, New Jersey and was stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Air Station. From there he retired from the Navy in 1961.

He worked for General Electric Space Research in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania for ten years as manager of facilities and maintenance, then worked as a private consultant in building management for five years more before retiring. He stayed active: working his land, pursuing his interests of refurbishing antique furniture and rebuilding antique clocks. Towards the end of his life he corresponded with many people and historians regarding his participation in the Bolero Movement of World War II, experience with PBY aircraft and his first hand knowledge of the famed, Norwegian arctic aviator Bernt Balchen.

In 1996, after 51 years of marriage in which they raised four children, his wife Orianna Van Dyke Parunak passed away 
Parunak is survived by three sons; H. Van Dyke of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Herbert Aram of West Jefferson, North Carolina, and Harold John of Essex, Connecticut; one daughter, Heidi Orianna of Seymour, Tennessee; nine grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a number of nieces and nephews.

Recordings of some of Capt. Parunak’s war stories are available at http://www.parunak.com/ayparunak.


Posted:  17 March 2007
 . Distinguished Flying Cross