Parker Hills is making shambles of Douglas MacArthur’s philosophy of old soldiers fading away. But then, there is nothing stereotypical about him.
Soft-spoken and unassuming, Hills greets people at the Clinton eatery Pimento’s with a warm hello. Studying his coffee, he talks about his art educational background in art and psychology, his military career, his work to properly interpret and preserve Civil War battlefields and his books, eventually getting around to his leadership-training/historical tour company Battle Focus.
“People ask me now, ‘Isn’t great to be doing what you love?’” Hills says. “I tell them I’ve always done what I love. I loved soldering. And, I’m still having fun.”
It has been an interesting career, indeed.
A native of Jackson who grew up with a keen interest in the Civil War, Hills elected to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, earning his undergraduate degree in commercial art. He also faced conscription in the Korean War and joined the ROTC.
“I knew I was going to get drafted, so I figured if I’m going to serve, I might as well be an officer,” says Hills, who would go on to unit command in Korea.
Hills would leave the military briefly, forming an advertising agency with his wife, Carol, a Hattiesburg native who Hills affectionately calls his “chief of staff.”
Then, the Vietnam War came.
“It was like I was on the sidelines during a big game,” Hills says. “I couldn’t stand it.”
Upon arriving in Vietnam, he was immediately transferred to command of an artillery unit back in Korea. He would go on to forge a 32-plus year military career, serving in Desert Storm and leading counter-drug operations before retiring as a brigadier general in the Mississippi Army National Guard in 2001.
After retirement, Hills went full bore into his work to document and preserve Mississippi’s Civil War battlefields, playing a key role in understanding battle sites such as Raymond and Brice’s Crossroads. He has literally re-written history with his many finds, particularly relating to the Vicksburg campaign, and has played a key role in landing funds for battlefield preservation. Hills has served as president of Friends of the Vicksburg Campaign and Historic Trail, president of Friends of Raymond, chairman of the Mississippi Civil War Battlefield Commission and is chairman of the Mississippi Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission. He has also written or co-written four Civil
War books, including “Art of Commemoration,” which studies the monuments and statues at Vicksburg National Military Park and ties back in with Hills’ art education. He has contributed to a fifth book, “The Vicksburg Campaign: March 29-May 18, 1863,” which is due out this fall, and is currently at work on “The Natchez Trace Civil War Trail in Mississippi.”
However, Hills, who also holds a master’s degree in educational psychology from Sul Ross State University and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, has had to adjust his archeologist/battlefield detective/author/historical activist schedule to make room for Battle Focus.
The Army utilizes a training program called staff rides, where officers tour battlefields to learn about decision-making, leadership, tactics, etc. While still in the military and due to his expertise in local Civil War actions, Hills led staff rides of Mississippi Civil War battlefields.
That would follow him. The same year he retired, he got a call from the Army asking if he would be willing to continue to lead Mississippi staff rides.
“I never thought it would go past that,” Hills admits.
However, he subsequently got a call from a civilian group who asked if he would lead them on a Civil War tour.
“I was apprehensive. Then, I found out I loved it,” Hills says. “I didn’t have to worry about being a general — I could just be myself.”
Since then, Clinton-based Battle Focus has added corporate clients, using the state’s battlefields as classrooms in strategic thinking, team-building, etc. He now counts clients from all over the country and world.
“The growth of Battle Focus has come from just meeting demand,” Hills says. “Nobody wants to tour a battlefield in Mississippi in July, so I use the summer months to do research and write. The rest of the year I stay busy with Battle Focus.”
For more information on Hills and Battle Focus, visit www.battlefocus.com/.