Research from Vernon H. Sparks Naval records 1936-1960.
Department of the Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Washington D.C.
Vernon H. Sparks, BMC, 328 41 29, USNFR-F6, May 1, 1966…30 years of honorable service
By Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate…
This body of work is described as a deep dive chronology of my father’s service to America. He was among the “The Greatest Generation” of the men, women, and families who served in WWII and Korean War.
I received Dad’s military records, including medical, in February 2011. This chronology of events was used as a reference for writing my first book, Reconciliation a Son’s Story, published November 2011, by Signalman Publishing in Kissimmee, Florida.
My goal was to accurately portray the trajectory of Dad’s Naval Service to show the tragic effects of too many years of hard combat deployments on this man, his family, and the intergeneration impact on all of us as a family.
There are too many stories from all wars just like Vernon, where the emotional damage of war comes home to the kitchen table.
Without adequate and consistent life-long treatment of symptoms of PTSD, including lingering and painful untreated depression, takes a huge toll on the lives of so many military families over several generations until the cycle of pain ends.
We now heal as a family. The pain stops with us…enough! As a family legacy we desire that others benefit from the awareness that has provided a foundation for healing decades of emotional trauma and strife as a military family.
How did we survive and thrive growing up in a profoundly dysfunctional home and finally face our own mental health challenges and demons as kids and adults? I don’t have a simple answer to this question. The answer is found in each individuals journey of healing, most often over a lifetime.
Bos’n Sparks Ship Log 1936-1958, A Soul Lost to War…
Vernon H. Sparks was promoted to Warrant Chief Boatswain’s Mate (WBMC) in 1943 when the USS Belle Grove (LSD2) was commissioned on August 9, 1943 for duty in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.
Dad loved to blow the Bos’n Whistle when we were kids in the 1950s to get us out of the rack early. Dad loved the Navy and serving America. He made Bos’n 1st Class in 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
To begin this chronology, following is my father’s first account of his experience aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48) on that fateful day, December 7, 1941. Dad was a highly decorated US Navy veteran. He earned the following recognitions and medals shown above:
WWII Victory, Philippine Liberation, Asiatic Pacific (with 1 silver star and 1 bronze star appurtenance), American Defense (with 1 bronze star appurtenance), American Campaign, Good Conduct (with 3 bronze star appurtenance), Korean Service, China Service, Pearl Harbor Survivor, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation (Navy).
National Park Service
Survivor Questionnaire – Persons Present December 7, 1941, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii
Vernon H. Sparks, US Navy, Battleship USS West Virginia, Coxswain
Hometown: St. Paul, Mn
Brief Account of What Happened to You Before, During, & After the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I was on the 3rd deck heading for the anchor windless room when the first torpedo hit the USS West Virginia. From there, more bombing and torpedoes- when all hell broke loose.
Men in the brig were screaming for help. I could not respond, there was no time…to check where the Marine guard was with the keys to the cells. Evidently, he had already been hit. The men in the brig were engulfed in water and perished.
I worked my way up to the 2nd deck with water up to my waist. By this time, I came to a hatch with the manhole still open leading to the main deck. I barely made it out of the escape hatch and was ordered by…
Lt. Stark to close that hatch. The men were still down there but it was too late for them. That was the first time I heard that the Japs were attacking our fleet…and the whole island. I watched one of my best shipmates get himself killed-Roy Powers.
He stuck his head out the portside close to the ship-fitters shop; and about that time another torpedo hit, and the concussion blew his head off. His body fell back on deck headless.
After that it was a matter of surviving. There was no defense, the ship was already listing to port at about 35 degrees angle. I worked myself up further on the deck and observed the Commanding Officer, Captain Mervyn S. Bennion heading for the bridge.
The strafing and bombing were still on. When I arrived on the main deck going forward to the number one turret…strafing still going on…I dived under the overhang of the turret. Communications was out, so by word of mouth heard the order, “all hands abandon ship.” Note: Capt. Bennion was lying on the wing of the bridge mortally wounded…
Captain Bennion asked the doc, “What kind of chance he had?” And was told, “Not much Captain.” Then, Captain Bennion said, “Leave me on the bridge and this is my last order, ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP!” He died right after that order…
After that order I jumped over the side to starboard and swam to Ford Island…Us guys that made it were standing on the beach watching the USS Arizona blow up sky high…what a helpless feeling.
I had torn my white uniform up to use as emergency treatment bandages for the wounded. Anyway, to make a long story short, we dashed across the field under strafing conditions to shelter.
In the BOQ, we were able shower in there and salvage clothes from the lockers and helped organize the Harbor Patrol. And was with that duty for a few months – then assigned to new construction with the 5th Amphibious Force hitting the beaches of the South Pacific, all the way, then finally Iwo Jima, & Okinawa until the Peace Treaty was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Toyko, Japan.
People like myself could go on & on…but that would take a book…”
Vernon H. Sparks, December 7, 1941, Battleship USS West Virginia
From Ship’s Crew Muster:
Sparks, Vernon H. 328-41-29 Cox. 13 Jan. 36 10/12/39
In the 2 photos above… Vernon with friends, and fellow shipmates at the Owl Bar, Manila; on island patrols 600 miles south of Manila c1938-39…Vernon, served as a coxswain on the tiller. His first shipboard duty in 1936, was the Battleship USS Tennessee.
Vernon was born in Eldred, Mn on December 10, 1918. He spent his childhood growing up in St. Paul, Mn.
Following a challenging time growing up during the Great Depression, he joined the Navy in December 1935 at age 17. Dad wanted to “join the Navy and see the world” as did countless men from that time before WWII.
He graduated from Naval Training Center, Bootcamp, USNTC, San Diego, Ca on June 6, 1936. Vernon’s first duty station was the USS Tennessee (BB43) in March, 1937.
This was the beginning of a story of one man’s journey of duty and honor to country and family. But this is also an all American story of a lifetime of emotional pain. Too many years of sea duty and hard combat changed his life forever, especially decades of painful family dynamics caused by the trauma of war.
The USS Tennessee sailed to the South Pacific from Bremerton, Wa in March 1937. Vernon became a larger than life coxswain during those early years of fighting in the South China Sea leading up to WWII and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Vernon, according to his medical records, served a total of “66 months” of combat duty during his 22 year actIve Navy career.
Abstract of Service by Ship and Duty Station:
USNTC San Diego January 13, 1936 recruit training. Vernon lived at 581 Selby Ave., St. Paul, Mn before joining the Navy.
USS Tennessee (BB43), June 6, 1936 to March 16, 1937. Vernon dislocated his shoulder on the get go the first time in July 1936 while carrying a box of spuds aboard ship. He lived for most of his adult life with shoulder challenges. Vernon loved basketball and swimming.
USS Henderson (DD785), April 23, 1937 to September 3, 1937, then back to USS Tennessee
USS Blackhawk (AD9), October 29, 1937 to July 1938 (Vernon made Seaman 1st Class Feb 16, 1938). He was instructed in the use of Gas Mask and put through Gas Chamber a Navy Yard, Cavite, P.I. Dec20 1937.
Naval Hospital, Puget Sound Washington, March 16, 1937 to April 23, 1937
USS Sacramento (PG-19), July 18, 1938 to December 14, 1938
USS Augusta (CA-31), December 1938
US Naval Hospital, Canacao, P. I. for treatment January 16, 1939 (6/5/39 on sick list due to own misconduct.)
USS West Virginia (BB48), October 12, 1939 to December 7, 1941 (one offense of AOL from 0730 on 10/23/39 until 0815 on 10/24/39, confined for 8 days, and loss of pay one month $14.
Addresses for family residents during this surreal and painful period 1941 to 1945; 1351 Lime Ave., Long Beach, Ca; 1501 Scott St., San Francisco, Ca from the left; Jerry, Marcella, Steve as baby, and Vernon summer 1946.
USS Relief (AH1), December 11, 1939 to December 29, 1939 for medical treatment. Vernon was injured in an altercation on his birthday, December 10th while on liberty from the USS West Virginia. He was apparently clubbed in the head, sustained a serious head wound.
Section Base, Bishop Point, Harbor Patrol, 14th Naval District, Pearl Harbor, Oahu December 30, 1941 to April 6, 1943. AWOL from 2000, 2 July 1942 to 0600, 3 July 1942, 10 hours. Tried on July 6, 1942 and confined for a period of twenty (20) days and $20/month loss of pay for a period of four (4) months per Deck Court- Martial. On April 2, 1943, he was appointed BM1st class. On September 30, 1942, JAG remitted entirely that part of the sentence involving confinement because he “PARTICIPATED IN THE BATTLE OF PEARL HARBOR ON DECEMBER 7, 1941.”
USS Belle Grove (LSD2), August 9, 1943 to June 2, 1945 Crossed the 180th Meridian with permission of the Golden Dragon Lat. 14 degrees 10’ N., on 20 January 1944. August 9, 1943 recommended for appointment as Warrant Boatswain (temporary). He Participated in the bombardment and capture of Iwo Jima Island March 20, 1945. He was authorized to wear the
Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two Bronze Stars ICW ALNAV 64-45.
On May 9, 1945, Vernon was recommended for appointment to rank of Warrant Boatswain Mate Chief.
US Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, Ca July 23, 1945 to September 4, 1945. This was Dad’s post WWII “battle fatigue” (PTSD) treatment, recovery and convalescence immediately following the end of WWII.
The Sparks Clan; from the left, Uncle Ronnie, Vernon, Grandma Mildred, Grandpa Art, Aunt Juneth, & Aunt Dolly. Sparks home St Paul 50s…1608 Van Buren Ave, St Paul, MN 55104
USN Cargo Handling Group No. 1 Oakland, Ca Sept 17, 1945 to November 28, 1945
USNH Treasure Island, December 10, 1946 for treatment.
USS Topeka (CL-67), June 17, 1947
US Naval Hospital, Long Beach Ca July 1947 to Sept 1947, recurring “battle fatigue” symptoms.
USS Astoria (CA-73) November 6, 1947 (less than month)
USS St. Paul (CA-73), December 8, 1947
USNTC San Diego February 25, 1948 to August 24, 1951, recruit training, bootcamp commander
company 255. 6605 Kelly St, San Diego, CA 92111
USS Weiss (APB-135) September 7, 1951 to August 16, 1952 (transferred to US Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan for treatment)
US Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan September 17, 1952
USS Skagit (AKA105), September 30, 1952 to March 19, 1953
USS LSM(R)-401 March 29, 1953 to June 22, 1953
USS Andromeda (AK-15), June 22, 1953 to January 25, 1954…
My brother Dan helped me remember this apparently fun Sunday event of dinner on the ship as a family and hanging out, learning…2804 Gearing Dr, San Diego, CA; 4632 Hawley Blvd, San Diego, CA 92116; 6605 Kelly St, San Diego, CA 92111
US Naval Hospital San Diego, February 24, 1954 to April 21, 1954 (84 days in hospital)
In transit status, April 21 to April 28, 1954
Conus/Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB1) June 30, 1954 to August 2, 1954
USNTC Great Lakes, September 30, 1954 to June 23, 1955. Vernon re-enlisted for the last time on June 16, 1955. Sister Laura born March 1955 in photo with Marcella and Vernon. 2621 Iroquois Rd, Waukegan, IL 60087
For the record, his tattoos were noted as the following.
“Tattoo’s Eagle “USN, USS Tennessee 1935” right forearm, “Honolulu, Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Yokohama” right inner forearm, Girl “USS Sacramento, Asiatic Station 1937-1939 left inner forearm.”
USS Chowanoc (ATF100) Oct 23, 1957 (less than 90 days)
Construction Battalion #1
Released from active duty on November 5, 1957. Placed on the retired list of the US Navy from the Fleet Reserve effective October 1, 1965.
Family home addresses post Navy; 18228 Mettler Ave, Carson, CA 90746; 1249 W Anaheim St, Harbor City, CA 90710
Vernon’s final Navy performance rating was 3.980/4.0. Dad was an outstanding professional! BMC to BMGC master chief.promotion in 1957. He eventually completed his High School GED from St. Paul Public Schools, December 28, 1953.
Unbeknownst to us he received post retirement medical treatment at US Naval Hospital, Long Beach, Ca. It appears Dad was under great stress and pain during this time. He was never free from anxiety and depression from PTSD that lingered for a lifetime. He also cut a tendon in “right ring finger” and knee sprain from an accident at home.
We lived at 22907 Meyler St., Torrance, Ca. As a family. I recall much chaos and strife at that time on our family as a whole. It was an unmitigated disaster, a completely broken family dynamic. No family should ever live this way, ever…never…no way!
There were absolutely no behavioral health care services for combat veterans except a short stay in Naval hospitals to detox, often for months before returning to duty. Dad knew he had to stay in the Navy to receive the health care he needed desparately when he fell off the wagon. Dad needed a ‘continuum of care’ that only existed in the safety of a US Naval Hospital.
The Navy was Dad’s rock. He struggled so much and none of us knew it. The typical response was, “we don’t talk about stuff like that.” Vernon survived and thrived with serious mental illness and addiction without any clue of how to effectively manage or mitigate his serious mental health problems.
Our mother, Marcella, was very sick too, and suffered from acute depression all of her life as well. The post WWII Sparks family was only one example of 1000’s of families during that fateful period that took the war home to the kitchen table. The war never ended in June of 1945 when he came home, it was never over in his mind.
As a sign of the times…Vernon also completed a radiological training course.
Vernon joined the Federal Bureau of Prisons when he retired from the US Navy and stayed for 18 years, finally retiring again. But he worked as a consultant for faith community half-way houses in Tacoma, Wa for several years until retiring for good. Vernon served America for more than 40 years!
In the years since writing my first book, along with continued research of Dad’s career in the Navy, including our military family life, I was able to start the healing process. I found that healing was through forgiveness of myself first. That gave me the power to forgive my parents and my family as a whole. This step was an ‘aha’ moment, indeed. But, healing is a work in progress. My goal is to keep the emotional pain at a safe distance by making a difference for others.