Priit Parming (July 16, 1938 – February 22, 2019) was born in the picturesque Estonian harbor town of Parnu, one year before Nazi Germany and the USSR divided up Eastern Europe on the basis of the secret protocols of the Stalin-Hitler Pact.
“Be prepared!” CW2 Priit Parming in Remembrance
July 16, 1938 – February 22, 2019
Everyone knows one “hypenated American” or another. African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans… the list goes on and on.
The American Special Forces community is even more at ease with this idea, even being substantially dependent on American citizens whose parents or grandparents once came from one foreign country or another. How else do you recruit expert foreign language speakers? How else do you conduct really sterling area studies?
Priit Parming – a 32-year veteran of the now-disbanded 11th Special Forces Group (bringing his total time in the Army Reserves to 34 years) – exemplified this type of loyalty to America and her armed forces, while at the same bringing to SF a huge amount of valuable knowledge about the distant, small and exotic country of Estonia in Northern Europe. Priit, who was an intelligence sergeant before he became a team sergeant and eventually a warrant officer, had an encyclopedic knowledge of his country of birth, and an incredible memory that endured without a hitch to the end. Priit also literally knew the bad guys by name and modus operandi.
Priit’s family (he was but six at the time) lost their previously independent homeland of Estonia to the Red Army in 1944, when the Soviet military ejected the Nazi German army of occupation but then stayed on itself, also as a belligerent occupation force.
The Parmings had to wait in refugee camps in occupied Germany until 1949, when the US opened its doors on a large scale to people who’d fled communism. The Parming family then settled in New Jersey, where a small but significant Estonian community had come into being in such places as Seabrook and Lakewood. The English language came quickly for the Parming kids in American schools, but on weekends time was also found for involvement in an Estonian scout troop and attendance at an Estonian-language Sunday school. It was and remains a tight-knit community.
Priit and his younger brother Tonu, who was also Special Forces qualified (Tonu was an RA officer during his two tours with 5th Group in Viet Nam, eventually retiring as a major), both gravitated towards the social sciences. Priit studied history at Upsala College, while Tonu specialized in sociology and history as an associate professor at the University of Maryland, continuing to lecture in Toronto until he passed away in 1998. Knowledge of history comes in useful, among other things, when you need to know your enemies.
SF veterans who served with Priit in the 11th recall he was there pretty much in the earliest years, about the time that group was founded. During the Cold War, the 11th was in many ways a sister organization to 10th SFGA, particularly when the bulk of the latter was based at Fort Devens in New England. Both had Central and Eastern Europe to a significant extent as their potential areas of operation.
To the point that it was possible, Priit was politically active. When Nikita Khrushchev visited the US in 1959 and 1960, he was there along with other people of Estonian ancestry demanding freedom and human rights for his former compatriots and relatives in Soviet-occupied Estonia.
Priit and Lia Parming got married some 60 years ago. During his “day job”, Priit was a heavy construction supervisor.
While only a few of his Estonian friends and acquaintances were aware of how many hash marks Priit Parming wore on his sleeve and even fewer were aware of how interesting (but also clandestine) of a life he lived as an SF soldier, the SF community is probably blissfully unaware of what a major contribution Priit made over the decades to the Estonian-American community on the American East Coast. The list of organizations he chaired, the roles that he played and the contributions he made is impressively long.
It may sound like a cliché, but they did break the mold when they made Priit. The extent of his dedication to what can only be called a philosophy of provident living is apparent from the outpouring of sadness and sympathy that news of his passing has evoked during the past days from brothers in arms, from members of the Estonian community in several countries, and friends in many places.
Scouting has been a life-long guidance system and framework of activities for the Parming clan. A lodestar, if you will. For many years, Priit was involved with a host of friends and helpers in providing support in order to help reawake the Girl and Boy Scout and other youth movements across the Atlantic in Estonia, once the country regained its independence in 1991. Suffice it also to say he didn’t care for communism!
The Boy Scout oath may sound quaint or dated to some these days, but Priit’s credo helped him become and be the man that he was. Priit walked the walk, living his duty to God and country, to other people, and to self. He remained loyal to America and his causes and devotions. Having learned of his passing, a person close to him put it even more basically: “Priit was an honest and nice person.”
In addition to his widow Lia and sisters Anu-Irja and Kaja, survivors also include Priit and Lia’s daughter Tiiu and son Toomas, grandchildren Patrick Jr. and Colin, a number of nieces and nephews, and also relatives in Estonia.
Written by Juri Estam who served as an Engineer Sergeant in 10th Group on ODA 312 in the seventies. He’s now a journalist and consultant by trade. Juri has known Priit Parming as a good friend for decades, though he never served directly with him. Juri has lived in Tallinn, Estonia since 1991.
Services will be Friday, 01 MARCH 2019, 16:00 -20:00 hrs
Riewerts Memorial Home
187 South Washington Ave.
Bergenfield, NJ 07621
Cremation to follow, with interment to be announced later.
Priit Parming Cemetery Memorial Service