In Memoriam: Colonel W. Hays Parks, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

I’m writing to report the very sad news that Col. W. Hays Parks, USMC (Ret.) passed away last week.  Not only was he a friend of many decades, he was also a legendary international law of war scholar who influenced not just my own thinking, but that of generations, both here and around the globe.

In 2016 Hays graced Lawfire readers with a guest post (“Exclusive: Hays Parks on Human Shields and Restrictive Rules of Engagement”), and that gave me an opportunity to discuss a bit of his service to the Nation.  My remarks included these observations:

For more than four decades Hays has been America’s most formidable advocate of the U.S. view of the law of war.  What has made him such an intimidating nemesis of so many nongovernmental organizations – and even of governments who wanted to impose their views of the law of war on the U.S. – [was] not simply his extraordinarily powerful intellect and gifts of both written and oral expression, but his keen understanding of actual warfighters.

We are fortunate to have a more extensive review of Hays’ amazing career for you today.  Maj Gen Dan Lecce, the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant to the Marine Corps, has very kindly permitted me to share with you a wonderful tribute by the Marine Corps Judge Advocate Division that he sent out to the field:

On Tuesday, 11 May 2021, the Marine Corps legal community lost one of its luminaries. Col W. Hays Parks, USMCR (ret.) passed away after suffering a stroke. He was 80 years old.

Col W. Hays Parks, USMC (ret.)

Col Parks entered federal service in 1963 as a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps. His initial service was as a reconnaissance battalion platoon leader. He served in the Republic of Vietnam (1968-1969) as an infantry officer and senior prosecuting attorney for the First Marine Division.

Subsequent military assignments included service as the first Marine Corps Representative at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, U.S. Army; as a congressional liaison officer for the Secretary of the Navy; and as Chief, Law of War Branch, Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy.

After leaving active duty, Col Parks remained in the Marine Corps reserves attaining the rank of Colonel. He was instrumental in the development of a Law of War Program to assist the training of Marine commanders and their staffs, as well as judge advocates. During his military service, including his reserve career, he earned Navy-Marine Corps, Canadian, and British Parachutist wings, U.S. Army Master Parachutist wings, and 82nd Airborne Centurion wings.

In his civilian capacity, Col Parks served as the Special Assistant to the Judge Advocate General of the Army for Law of War Matters from 1979 to 2003. He was a legal advisor for the 1986 air strike against terrorist-related targets in Libya and had primary responsibility for the investigation of Iraqi war crimes during its 1990-1991 occupation of Kuwait.

He served as a legal adviser for U.S. Special Operations Forces from 1979 until his retirement. He has served as a U.S. delegate for law of war negotiations in New York, Geneva, The Hague, and Vienna. He was instrumental in the negotiation of several important treaties, such as the Blinding Laser Protocol.

In August 2003, Col Hays joined the International Affairs Division, Office of the General Counsel, Department of Defense. He chaired the DoD Law of War Working Group from 2003 until his retirement in October 2010.

Col Parks occupied the Charles H. Stockton Chair of International Law at the Naval War College for the academic year 1984-1985.

In 1987, he was a staff member on the Presidential Commission established to examine alleged security breaches in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. In 1989, he prepared the U.S. Government’s legal opinion defining assassination. He testified as an expert witness in cases against terrorists both in the United States and Canada.

Col Parks lectured at the National, Army, Air Force, and Naval War Colleges; the military staff colleges; other military schools; and at U.S. and foreign military units.

In 2001, he became the sixth person in the history of U.S. Special Operations Command to receive that command’s top civilian award, the U.S. Special Operations Command Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. In 2006, he was awarded the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Major General William F. Garrison Award for a career of service to Special Operations Forces.

In 2016, Col Parks was awarded the NDIA Small Arms Group’s Gunnery Sgt Carlos N. Hathcock Award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions in operational employment and tactics of small arms weapon systems that have impacted the readiness and capabilities of the U.S. military.

Col Parks also advocated for the use of ammunition by the military that was more accurate, reliable, and hence more effective, such as “Open Tip Match”  ammunition.  Approval of this type of ammunition resulted in more effective fire and thereby saved American lives.

Col Parks encouraged innovation, provided careful guidance to those responsible for developing ammunition to ensure compliance with our treaty and policy obligations.

He was a “watchdog” against challenges to existing military small arms ammunition, such as the 1999-2000 challenge by certain organizations in the international community of the Raufoss 12.7mm Multipurpose Projectile, which he successfully defeated. There are countless U.S. service members alive today because Col Parks put more accurate, reliable, and effective ammunition into their hands and the hands of their fellow warfighters.

Colonel Parks served as a mentor, teacher, and friend to scores of Judge Advocates of all Branches of the Armed Services, but above all, he was a Marine’s Marine.

The DoD, Marine Corps, and the nation lost a valuable member of the team this week. He leaves behind his wife of 45 years, Maria Lopez-Otin.  Details on any funeral service will be forthcoming.

Hays will be sorely missed, but I know that he will continue to stand watch – Semper Fi – over the Nation he loved so much and served so magnificently.

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