Sunday morning service at New River Worship Center began with a unique event.

Lance Cpl. Stanley Parnell of Elizabethtown is a 96-year-old World War II Marine Corps veteran. That morning, while attending church, he was surprised with an honorary ceremony and given the Bronze Star Medal.

“We want to take this time today to honor you,” said fellow churchgoer Sgt. Maj. Wendell Pike.

Parnell’s service included tours in Iwo Jima and Guam in the Pacific Theater. He was wounded in Iwo Jima after he was hit by shrapnel while in a foxhole, and was awarded a Purple Heart.

Pike, who organized a lot of the surprise ceremony and is a Vietnam War veteran himself, said Sunday he began to plan the event in February after reading an article online about the Bronze Star.

He wanted to find a way to give this honor to Parnell, who both attend the same church, but plans were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to those in U.S. Armed Forces after Dec. 6, 1941 who have either been engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States, engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the U.S. is not a belligerent party.

At the start, the color guard from the Eliza­beth­town Marine Corps League held a procession onto the stage of the church.

Marines 1st Sgt. Brian Peeler and Maj. Tyler Garrett then pinned the Bronze Star Medal onto Parnell’s jacket while surrounded by his children.

With the help of Parnell’s family, they were able to not only give him the Bronze Star, but a few other medals he had not received, but was eligible for.

In the end, he received a shadow box with his paraphernalia.

“He went through things I would never have thought about going through in Vietnam. He had to go through things that we would never go through,” Pike said.

On stage, he told Parnell it had been difficult to keep the secret from him for so long. Parnell said the whole thing was surprise to him.

“I appreciate it. I appreciate everyone coming out,” Parnell said before returning to his seat for the rest of church service. “One hundred percent, I appreciate it.”

Andrew Harp can be reached at 270-505-1747 or

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