Celebrating Democracy with Steve Sparks… USS Tennessee BB43, San Diego 1937

I imagine my father, Vernon, following bootcamp 1937, standing next to the big guns of the USS Tennessee Battleship. The young Seaman Sparks was preparing for his 1st sea duty. The Tennessee would sail off in March 1937 to the Philippines with a stop at Pearl Harbor. This would be the beginning of Vernon’s Naval career and WWII on the horizon, unbeknownst to him in that moment.

Seaman is a military rank used in many navies around the world. It is considered a junior enlisted rank and, depending on the navy, it may be a single rank on its own or a name shared by several similarly-junior ranks.”

Vernon was a rugged teen in St Paul. At 17 he was more than ready to get the hell out of the “shit hole” neighborhood where he grew up.

Vernon dreamed of “joining the Navy to see the world.” He thought of freedom. Freedom from being poor and hungry everyday. Freedom from hate and anger. Freedom from fighting to survive as a kid.

Vernon was tired of feeling trapped in a family preoccupied with so much emotional pain that there was little time for love at home. “Walking into his home was like stepping into a mine field,” he imagined.

America was in a deep depression. It was a very tough time. But for Vernon, he was a fighter, a warrior. Vernon found his calling. He would serve America!

There were no hugs or a welcome voice to be found. Only sadness and anger. Usually his sisters and mother were were yelling and complaining about his fathe. Al was all too often drunk in bar after his daily job painting some where near by in town.

Al didn’t know from one day to the next if he could work to put food on the table after spending much of his pay at the local bar. Sometimes he wouldn’t get home for a couple of days.

Vernon’s last Christmas at home in December 1936 was a “fuckin’ disaster!,” he mused with a little sadness, but with excitement about his future as as a Seaman aboard the USS Tennessee. Vernon was a Navy man now. He loved it from the get go.

“Why would I ever go back to St Paul,” he told his buddy Striker, as they downed a few beers and shooters at a popular water front bar, “The Sailor’s Hole,” where sailors and marines hung out. It was near the Tennessee and other war ships. They wouldn’t dare miss curfew!

After all, San Diego was beautiful in March. On this afternoon it was 70 degrees and sunny. The sail boats were out in the bay. The ladies of San Diego wore shorts and tops in the warm balmy weather.

Vernon and Striker could only gaze and dream of Hawaii and the Philippines.

Later in the evening before liberty curfew, at 12 midnight, Vernon and Striker walked up nthe bridge and asked, “permission to come aboard sir,” and Sparks and Sricker salauted at attention, so proudly, and walked aboard.

Both men would make America and the world proud, so proud forever… Honor and duty so important to both as they served America.

The USS Tennessee BB43 sailed away early that morning. Destination Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They would cross the equator en route. This was a special Navy ritual, a right of passage.

Vernon never looked back. He and Striker would learn to be the best of the best Seaman and hardened warriors at sea when America needed them the most.

*****

Crossing the Equator

It was a way for sailors to be tested for their seaworthiness. When a ship crosses the equator, King Neptune comes aboard to exercise authority over his domain and to judge charges brought against Pollywogs that they are only posing as sailors and haven’t paid proper homage to the god of the sea.

Happy Thanksgiving! Sarah, Judy and Steve