Monthly Archives: May 2011

The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 lives forever in the minds of survivors.

An excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story to honor our heroes on this Memorial Day 2011.  My Dad, Vernon H. Sparks, along with several hundred shipmates, were aboard the USS West Virginia as it is shown bombed and sinking in the below photo.  He fortunately abandoned ship and survived on that terrible Sunday morning, the beginning of WWII.

“It gives me pause to think about this “surreal” event in the minds of men who were mentally unprepared for the attack.  I can imagine when the first explosions were heard that one would not make a connection to torpedoes or bombs being delivered precisely to their targets with the intent to surprise, destroy, and kill in what was considered a “safe harbor.”  Looking out “open portholes” during an attack or even having the portholes open was neither an acceptable practice nor how sailors were trained to respond.  Watching a fellow seaman get his head literally blown off his shoulders would create a shock to the body and mind that would forever be implanted in a person’s psyche.  This surprise attack had to be an “Armageddon” for those either with religious or non-religious beliefs.  How would any of them who survived get the experience rationalized to the extent that they could go on to fight another day?  How would their lives be affected, and how could they even discuss the event with family members who would not understand?  Would they decide not to discuss it at all?   We now know the answer and subsequently became victims as family members and paid a price ourselves, but not even close to price our dear heroes and my father paid.”

 

How an old shipmate remembers Dad is most touching on this Memorial Day.

Following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story. 

Vernon  H. Sparks served on the USS Belle Grove (LSD2) in the Asiatic Pacific Theater during WWII from August 1943 to June 1945 just before the war ended.  The Belle Grove was at sea for 25 months before the first liberty.  The men serving on this war weary ship delivered troops and equipment and repaired other US Naval ships in seven campaigns during this period.  The USS Belle Grove became one of the most decorated war ships of that time and later served in Viet Nam as well.  These men were also responsible for transporting Marines onto shore for the fight and for bringing back the wounded and killed.  Charlie Minter was one of my Dad’s shipmates and had this to say about him.

Quoting Charles Minter <crminter26@ntelos.net> :
“Steve- My name is Charlie Minter. I served under Sparks on deck of the Belle Grove. I went
aboard on Oct 43 was assigned to the 3rd. division aft. The first chewing out I ever got was from Bosn Sparks. He had the longest arm of any one I ever saw. You didn’t fool with him. He was fair as anyone this little 17 year old ever knew. . He could get loud too. I thought a lot of him on
the ship. He was good to me as he got me a pie job on the ship. But with the understanding I would keep his uniforms pressed at all time which I did. Hope this helps.” Charles R Minter P.O. Box 585 Daleville, Va.

On this Memorial Day it is a great honor to remember my Dad and all his shipmates on the USS Belle Grove, including Charlie Minter’s kind recollections of his relationship with “Bosn Sparks.”

 
BMC Sparks is 3rd Chief Petty Officer from the right in 2nd row.  The Belle Grove was in need of repair at the end of WWII.

A symptom of PTSD, extreme guilt, often lives forever with surviving combat veterans.

Following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story.
“When Dad completed his shore patrol assignment in Hawaii in the summer of 1943, it had been almost two years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was able to return home briefly for a few weeks before returning to war in the Pacific.  He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer (BMC) early in 1943 and subsequently assigned to the USS Belle Grove (LSD2).   He was on the commissioning crew of August 9, 1943. Dad was one of three Pearl Harbor survivors on the BG.  He was held in high esteem.   The BG would become one of the most decorated war ships in the Pacific Asiatic Theater serving in 7 campaigns, included the now famous Iwo Jima battle.  LSD means Landing Ship Dock.  These mighty ships were cleverly designed as a sea going ship repair station deployed in the campaigns to repair damaged ships at sea, land marines on the beach, and to recover the wounded and killed. 
These men, heroes to be sure, who landed on the beaches of places like Iwo Jima, knew they were given a 50% or less chance of survival.  My dad carried marines onto shore and risked his life as well, but never felt he was a hero or was doing what his fellow marines had to do.  In other words, he wasn’t exactly on a suicide mission like the rest, so he as well as most sailors felt guilty most of the time for being alive.  This kind of guilt lives with men following the war for the rest of their lives.  It is one of the symptoms creating the conditions for PTSD.  Interesting but tragically, the feeling of guilt also lives with the abused spouses and children of surviving combat veterans.   Guilt is evident in most cases of PTSD whether from combat, surviving an accident where others were killed, or from living in a toxic family culture as a survivor of long term abuse. 



This subject requires much more research to determine why the conditions of abuse cause guilt similar to the guilt experienced by survivors of war and other tragedies that cause trauma to minds and body.  There must be a connection in the mix that relates back to the “I’m not deserving or good enough” mindset.  This kind of feeling happens to me all the time, much more so as a younger man.  And this kind of guilt feeling can be destructive and cause a person not to manage success very well.  We deserve failure but not success so to speak.  But we who suffer with PTSD work hard to be successful and to prove our worthiness.” 

Many WWII combat veterans did not get to know their kids until the war ended.

The following excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story shows how war and PTSD symptoms can create a lifetime struggle for a father and son to bond and experience a loving relationship.

“My oldest sibling suffered the most of all of us.  Dad was not home from the war when he was born in September 1941.  I believe Dad was steaming toward Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the USS West Virginia at that time and was not able to get leave to see his first son born.  When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941, Mother was scared and worried that her son would never see his Dad.  She didn’t know for some time whether Dad survived or not.  I can imagine what she was going through at the time.  Constant worry and distress, trying to keep her head up, and take care of her son during a very scary time in American history.  Dad was in the middle of it, the beginning of WWII. 

Thousands of babies during WWII became toddlers while their fathers were away fighting for our country.  Although often too young to understand completely, kids feel and they are a lot smarter than parents think.  I believe my older sibling was exceptionally intelligent and highly strung as well.  Mother and son probably developed a co-dependency that served them well while Dad was away. Dad came home briefly one time during the war when his son was almost 2 years old.  This represents a significant period of time for a child not to know his father.  There would be virtually no memory of this first visit for a small toddler.

When Dad finally came home to stay after a 2 year absence, following his USS Belle Grove War Cruise in the Asiatic Pacific Theater,  his son could have been scared and suspicious of this big man who he knew only from pictures and talk about things he didn’t really understand.  He was also jealous, as any child would be, that this strange man was taking time away from the attention he was getting from his Mother; undivided attention.  Alcohol was a big part of life at that time as well, but not a healthy component in a family damaged by war and separation.  I believe my older sibling never felt comfortable or close to his dad since there was not an opportunity to bond until age 4 or 5.  It is my opinion that a child experiencing a long separation could have a difficult time developing a healthy lifetime relationship with a father they don’t bond with early in life.  Each experience like this is not always the same, but in my own family and from my research, it is clear that long separations are difficult to overcome, especially if a parent is a suffering from symptoms of PTSD or “battle fatigue” as it was called during WWII.”

Is “homemaking” still a viable choice for the modern woman?

In my book, Reconciliation A Son’s Story the subject of “homemaking” is compared and contrasted with contemporary realities.
“In the context of contemporary life, “homemaking” in the traditional way, although highly honorable, is not a generally realistic choice for the long term for either partner in a relationship where children’s needs must be met every step of the way.  The total emotional, nurturing, and financial needs of a family are difficult to achieve if one’s spouse is not fully engaged in a professional or vocational career.  It is realistic, however, to plan for mom or dad to stay home for a couple of years to provide the close care and bonding needed for a new child.  This goal is only possible if both parents achieve an adequate education beyond K-12, either academic or a vocational institution.  Our country just can’t afford to support a one income family anymore.  This reality started to kick-in during the 1950’s and was especially apparent as boomers became adults.  A huge “war chest” is necessary to minimize family debt and to provide for the education of each child.  Even with good financial support, college bound kids still need to be resourceful by getting their own loans and working along the way.
With the good education and success of both parents, dreams of family security, happiness, and a strong partnership in marriage are realistic to achieve.  Still, the challenges of raising a family in a chaotic and media driven 21st century world are many.  Technology affords us all a more efficient path forward, but requires education and funding as well.  The demands of work and school put big pressures on families, especially those who join the military and are sent off to war.  It is even more essential to plan smart as a young women or man to avoid early pregnancies and premature responsibilities in raising a family.  It is hard, very hard to get this done, and the risk of failure increases if partners do not practice a little discipline in making education a priority at the outset.  I discuss this with my kids and others whenever given the opportunity.  Be patient, be safe, and get educated or pay the price later, and a higher price at that.  Think about your choices and how they affect others in your life before making a move.  Life happens and the challenges are enormous.  Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.  Be smart and enjoy the journey while minimizing risk.  It’s not an easy journey, but doing the right things right make a huge difference. Avoid mistakes!”

Remembering our Courageous and Loving Mothers from the “Great Depression” and WWII years.

On this Mother’s Day, I will honor my mother with the following excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks.  Marcella C. Sparks is now 92, still tough as nails, living comfortably in Reno, Nevada surrounded by loving family members.
Marcella and Vernon Sparks
“Growing up during the “Great Depression” years was a huge disadvantage for women during my mother’s time.  Most women had to quit school at an early age like my mother.  They needed to get to work early on and try and find a husband to start a family as a way to survive.  Women today are lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to look past a 7th grade education and hold off getting married and starting a family too early with often disastrous consequences.  In the case of my Mother, Marcella, she made it through the 7th grade then started working to help her family during these challenging years.  Yes, she had dreams has a young women, most did at that time.  But those dreams gave way to the realities of the times.  Women were not considered productive in the broader economy and assumed to be homemakers at best, with little or no opportunities for even completing high school let alone entering college and pursuing a career in a male dominated world.
Mother met Dad not too long after he entered the US Navy in 1936.  Of course, he was rarely home between the time they started courting each other and the time they were married in 1940.  Mother was good friends with Dad’s sister Junith during that time, so this became the connection to my mother’s chances of succeeding in finding a husband and having a family as the ideal way to survive during this time.  Not too long after they were married Dad was off to sea duty again right after she became pregnant with my older brother Jerry.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 created an impossible situation for a new marriage to thrive and grow. 
My Dad was gone, really gone, and Mother was not sure he would even come back.  Consequently, many women of that time ended up being single parents, without an education, alone without a husband or friends or even a job.  Pile on the depression years growing up and the trauma of WWII and you get an awful case of PTSD that starts to affect the kids before “battle fatigued” Dad arrives home from the war.  Mother was a basket case by the end of WWII as were no doubt many thousands of women in the same position at that time.  Newly married, small children, no husband, no money, lonely, and uneducated; a very negative combination of challenges and hardly anyone cared or even thought about it.  These wives and mothers had to tough it out on their own since their war hero husbands were sacrificing their lives in Europe and in the Pacific.  As a kid during the war my brother Jerry carried the most burden of living with Mother during that time.  My guess is Jerry had to grow up really fast.  And his story will come later.”

Our heroes from WWII did not receive adequate diagnosis or treatment for PTSD or “battle fatigue.”

Following is an excerpt from Reconciliation, A Son’s Story

“I probably could have been more understanding if had known more about “battle fatigue” now referred to as PTSD, and it was a terrible problem.  I also recognize that a mental disorder of this type is not likely clear in the minds of victims of abuse, especially young children.  The men at sea fighting in WWII had only alcohol on liberty and a structured life style on the ship; both serving as a non-clinical and less than effective treatment plan.  Not to excuse Dad’s abusive behavior at times, however.  But the more one understands about mental disorders the easier it is to avoid hate.  Hate, from my experience, is a killer of a healthy mental disposition and peace of mind.  Dad needed help but at that time it wasn’t very macho to whine or to seek out support.  Those sailors who survived the war felt guilty for living, a typical human reaction among survivors of traumatic events where close friends or loved ones are killed.  The only things that held them together after all that time at war were thinking of their families and the buddies they fought with.  It was really hard for them emotionally when a close buddy was killed.  Otherwise, they held together pretty good while at war using a “dead already” mindset.  Kind of like the “dead man walking” idea.  Once they got home all hell broke loose in very visible and uncontrolled ways.  Families did not understand, nor did they feel comfortable spilling the beans about their illness that might keep them from working.  It was a vicious circle at that time and very sad to say the least.   Our heroes from WWII had to live with PTSD or “battle fatigue” without adequate diagnosis and treatment.   PTSD is consequently an invisible war wound that does not heal nor go away easily.”

Terrible and traumatic events will affect a person’s life forever.

Following is an excerpt from Reconciliation – A Son’s Story.  My Dad, Vernon’s, first experience in the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of WWII changed him forever.

“The Japanese used 354 planes to torpedo, dive bomb, horizontal bomb, and strafe ships, and air bases. All but 28 returned safely to their aircraft carriers and were available to participate in the Battle of Midway five months later. According to Navy reports of the event, it was a complete and total surprise, a surreal experience. No one could believe that any country in the world would even think of attacking the United States of America’s Naval Fleet.

It gives me pause to think about this “surreal” event in the minds of men who were mentally unprepared for the attack. I can imagine when the first explosions were heard that one would not make a connection to torpedoes or bombs being delivered precisely to their targets with the intent to surprise, destroy, and kill in what was considered a “safe harbor.” Looking out “open portholes” during an attack or even having the portholes open was neither an acceptable practice nor how sailors were trained to respond. Watching a fellow seaman get his head literally blown off his shoulders would create a shock to the body and mind that would forever be implanted in a person’s psyche. This surprise attack had to be an “Armageddon” for those either with religious or non-religious beliefs. How would any of them who survived get the experience rationalized to the extent that they could go on to fight another day? How would their lives be affected, and how could they even discuss the event with family members who would not understand? Would they decide not to discuss it at all? We now know the answer and subsequently became victims as family members and paid a price ourselves, but not even close to price our dear heroes and my father paid.”

Getting to know your loved one again following the experience of combat or any horrific event is not easy.

Following is an excerpt from my book, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks

“I owe my success in part to my Dad but not without a high price. I call this “collateral damage” from living in a family culture affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At that time, men at war and coming home from war were too proud to share their stories and admit that anything in the way of mental illness was on the table for discussion. My Dad was no different than 1000’s of veterans with similar symptoms, especially those who were battle weary and emotionally damaged. The children and wives and others close to these men would have to experiment and learn on how to navigate our way through a terrible circumstance. We did it well, but not without scars that often show. WWII has been in our past for well over a half century, and most of the “Greatest Generation” passed on, but the effects of “PTSD” carry forward just like bad genes. We are still feeling the effects of WWII when PTSD was not studied and treatment was minimal. As a result, we are just beginning to address the realities of PTSD, including diagnosis and treatment, along with complete recovery from this unfortunate mental illness, is now possible. “MEN WERE EXPECTED NOT TO DISPLAY EMOTIONS DURING THAT ERA.”