In early May 1942, US and Japanese carrier forces clashed in the Battle of the Coral Sea. While both sides suffered major losses, the US Navy checked a major Japanese offensive for the first time.
Then, in the Battle of Midway the following month, US carrier aircraft dealt a devastating blow to the Japanese navy, destroying four aircraft carriers. The battle marked the first major US victory against Japan and was a turning point in the war.
By shifting the balance of naval power in the Pacific, Midway allowed US forces to take the offensive for the first time. The Allies soon set their sights on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and on New Guinea.”
Vernon was trained as a coxswain or steerman on a Landing Craft Mechanized — an amphibious landing craft also known as a Higgins Boat. This boat was designed to transport troops and equipment from ship to shore as necessary to conduct any military operation.
As many as 18 LCMs were carried by a Landing Ship Dock, a large “mother ship” loaded with all elements of a landing force necessary for a variety of expeditionary warfare missions. Coxswain’s were assigned to the LSD2 USS Belle Grove for the entire war.
Vernon’s next Pacific War duty, as a newly appointed Chief Boatswains Mate (BMC), would be the USS Bellegrove LSD2. Vernon dreamed, worked hard. Vernon proved himself as warrior, the best of the best at sea and on land.
Pearl Harbor Survivors, like Vernon, were treated with great respect and honor. Vernon never felt that way, though. He was serving America with pride, honor and duty. There was an enormous higher calling during that fateful time in history.
Vernon was already a highly trained and experienced coxswain. Vernon would man the LCM’s and lead coxswain’s on the Bellegrove during the 8 Pacific campaigns to follow.
Vernon was already a hardened warrior. Fighting was all he knew as a young man. A warrior, indeed. Vernon never recovered from too much war and trauma in his life.
Vernon didn’t see any of that back then. He thought about killing Japs who killed his best friend Roy Powers, and many of his shipmates on December 7, 1941.
When Vernon finally arrived home with Marcella and little Jerry to their apartment on Scott Street in San Francisco he was so joyful. Marcella couldn’t believe her husband was finally home.
Vernon came home just after his 24th birthday. He was already a hardened combat veteran who survived the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor while serving on the USS West Virginia BB48.
Little Jerry kept saying repeatedly, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” Marcella was busy in the kitchen while Vernon played with his son. He and Jerry seemed to enjoy each other. They laughed while Vernon talked to his son with love in his heart.
Vernon loved the Christmas tree and decorations. Marcella put a white blanket around the the table where the Christmas tree was. This reminded him of Christmas in St Paul, but with sadness.
He missed his family in Minnesota but was happy not to be around them. Christmas was always a disaster back home, he mused with a smirk on his face, and said to Marcella, “I don’t want to go home to St. Paul, not now or ever.”
Vernon was overwhelmed with tearful joy while hugging and kissing Marcella and little Jerry for a long time. It was a very special time that Christmas in 1942. The Sparks family was born.
Marcella had a little radio in the apartment too. That was special. They could listen to Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra singing favorite Christmas songs. Little Jerry loved “Jingle Bells with Gene Autry the most.
President FDR’s firm and reassuring voice on the radio was so important to all Americans during that time.
America’s fighting men and families around the the world trusted their commander in chief. They knew President Roosevelt loved and cared about them and their families.
“America would win WWII,” Vernon thought, as his mind was distracted from the brief joy of living in the moment during the holidays with his young family.
Vernon couldn’t relax. He was full of anxiety. He couldn’t sleep. Marcella was worried about his nightmares and nervousness. He was soaked in sweat and shook uncontrollably at night.
The first night Vernon had one of his frequent nightmares, Marcella woke up scared and jumped out of bed. He was yelling, “close the hatch, close that hatch.”
Vernon would be forever guilty about having to leave the men in the brig on board ship. The Marine with the keys was killed. Vernon would never forgive himself for that.
Marcella tried to wake him with a hand on his chest and a hug, but he pushed her away. While she fell back on the floor, Vernon punched holes in the wall, and yelled as loud as he could, “Japs, the Japs are bombing us!”
Marcella was frightened for the very first time while little Jerry was screaming with fear. She knew then what she already expected, Vernon was sick.
Marcella then knew for sure her husband would be fighting a war with himself. She also knew she and the kids would be his shipmates fighting along side him. She knew this instinctively.
What she didn’t know though, is the entire family would be sick from WWII, for generations to come. It was the high cost of war.
Vernon was also drinking too much upon his return. Sailors could stay sober at sea, but stayed mostly drunk while on liberty. It was the only thing that could help keep the pain of war at a safe distance, for a little while at least.
But the the nightmares, anxiety, shaking, and sweating profusely returned every night while Vernon was home.
“It was no picnic at the beach,” Vernon thought, as he contemplated going back to sea. “My Country needs me,” he would say to Marcella with tears in his eyes.
It became very hard for Vernon to be home and around others who didn’t know much or understand his scary and troubling behavior.
It scared the “holy shit” out of me too,”he would say to Marcella.” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, honey.” he would say with hands on his sweating face and shaking hands covering his face. Marcella didn’t understand panic attacks then.
“I’m so sorry,” he told Marcella with trepidation just about everyday while home on liberty that Christmas 1942.
Vernon’s mind was 24/7 locked and loaded. He would soon return to the Pacific on the USS Bellegrove LSD2 in Feb 1943.
But he couldn’t talk to Marcella about that, “not once, not anytime, not ever,” he thought with a sad smile while hugging and kissing Marcella and little Jerry.
Vernon loved Marcella and Little Jerry with all his heart and soul. He was afraid he wouldn’t come home again…
This would be an all too brief visit for every Sailor preparing for the Pacific War. It was this way back then. America was at war…
Vernon also knew there was a 50/50 chance he would return home alive. But he didn’t talk about that either.