Lincoln County Oregon Sheriff Curtis Landers
As a member of the Sheriff’s Community Advisory Group, I can speak intelligently about law enforcement. Lincoln County law enforcement and public safety resources work most effectively as a strong collaboration, a continuum of essential services. It is a true partnership between city police departments, state & federal, fire houses, emergency services, ambulance, hospitals and the County Sheriff.
The larger and more critical goal is to improve the safety and quality of life for all citizens, including the most needy who frequent the County Jail. Measure 21-186 is a good investment at the right time.
The expanded services from the Sheriff will help reduce recidivism in the County Jail (being arrested again and re-incarcerated); and promote community treatment and recovery. Measure 21-186 is a “ smart on crime” approach that is spreading across communities all over Oregon and America.
Vote yes on Measure 21-186 to make Lincoln County Oregon a stronger and safer community for all residents and frequent visitors of this beautiful coastal region.
As a Lincoln County citizen and member of the Sheriff’s Community Advisory Group, I can speak intelligently about law enforcement and public safety. Lincoln County law enforcement and public safety resources work most effectively as a strong collaboration, a continuum of essential services. It is a true partnership between city police departments, state & federal, fire houses, emergency services, ambulance, hospitals and the County Sheriff. The larger and more critical goal is to improve the safety and quality of life for all citizens, including the most needy who frequent the County Jail. Measure 21-186 is a good investment at the right time. The expanded services from the Sheriff will help reduce recidivism in the County Jail; and promote community treatment and recovery. Measure 21-186 is a “smart on crime” approach that is spreading across communities all over Oregon and America. Vote yes on Measure 21-186 to make Lincoln County Oregon a stronger and safer community for all residents and frequent visitors of this beautiful coastal region.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. My journey of healing and awareness has allowed me to thrive under some very tough circumstances while growing up in a post WWII toxic home with parents severely affected by the symptoms of PTSD… I carried the emotional baggage with me as an adult for many decades before realizing it was time to reconcile the pain of my childhood and young adult life. My work with children and families through writing books, this blog, and participating in appropriate forums as a spokesperson is a labor of love, and opportunity to make a difference one child at a time.
In this link, Military Kids with PTSD, I posted about my own observations and experience as a military child growing up with parents who suffered severely from the symptoms of PTSD. As a military parent please take extra time to focus on your children. Use not only this month of April…take your increased awareness forward and help kids understand how war affects families of combat veterans, especially children. Use the resources to educate kids with love and kindness. Do not allow the children in your life grow up feeling isolated and alone with the memories that are often painful and misunderstood. As a parent or teacher you can make a huge difference in the lives of kids on this critical issue. We owe it to our children to give them the opportunity to grow up and live a healthy, happy, and productive life…
Please become engaged in community events promoting awareness for the prevention of child abuse. If there is not an event planned near you, create one using the resources and references in the links provided in this post…. National Children’s Alliance…
Steve Sparks, Author, My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2 and Click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff on Amazon…Reconciliation: A Son’s Story…
#StopChildAbuse #ChildAbusePrevention #StepUp4Kids #EndChildAbuse https://t.co/1Qmkn6k2VH
Measure 21-186 is a good investment at the right time. The expanded services from the Sheriff will help reduce recidivism in the County Jail; and promote community treatment and recovery.— Steve Sparks
Lincoln County is a beautiful place to live and a great place to raise a family, however our crime rate has reached a tipping point. Your local Sheriff’s Deputies are strapped and desperately seek your help in solving our community’s problems by voting “Yes” for Public Safety.
- Corrections deputies continue to see high jail recidivism and persons with mental illness housed in our jail as other community needs are not met.
- Solution: Yes on Public Safety provides funding for proven programs and job training to reduce recidivism, funds a full time work crew deputy for an inmate work crew to address community needs and allows for an inmate counselor to help mentally ill inmates.
- Patrol deputies see the after effects of assaults on persons and property crimes that occur when none of us are on duty. In fact, the number of patrol deputies for Lincoln County has not increased in over 25 years and there are not enough of us to provide 24 hour coverage.
- Solution: Yes on Public Safety smartly provides a modest increase of patrol deputies to ensure 24 hour patrol coverage 7 days a week for all Lincoln County. 24/7 patrol coverage is a must for citizen safety and security of property.
- Patrol deputies and detectives see daily the human toll of illegal drug use by addicted parents who abuse children and property crimes perpetuated by persons who steal to support their habit.
- Solution: Yes on Public Safety provides both a full-time drug detective to shut down local illegal drug dealers and a supervisor position to help detectives currently working on abuse and property crime cases.
We, your local public safety servants, view Public Safety measure 21-186 as a smart and effective solution to our county’s crime rate and that it will improve quality of life for all who live and visit Lincoln County.
Click the link above to learn more… Thank you for supporting measure 21-186, a Smart on Crime approach to community building.
Oregon Veterans Memorials Directory… Click on highlighted text for more…
Flame of Freedom…Newport, Oregon Click highlighted text for more…
Several years ago while walking around our City Park in Depoe Bay, Oregon, I stopped to look closely at our town’s VFW Veterans Memorial. When I looked closer, the name Ronald Allen Slane, Sp5, US Army 1967-68 was engraved on the plaque as an example to honor veterans of all wars. Ron was a medic who died during an ambush in Vietnam while trying to save another soldier…he didn’t even have a weapon to defend himself. “Ron Slane, Lincoln City, Oregon, volunteered to go to war as an army medic. He was a conscientious objector, but believed he had a duty to serve in some way.”
For me, and millions of kids born before and after WWII, Veterans Day, is very personal. Now, in retirement, I devote much of my spare time honoring veterans of all wars, and military families who serve too… I also honor my fellow veterans who served during the Vietnam War, and all the wars since then. We can never thank our veterans and their families enough for serving America while protecting the freedoms we enjoy each and every day of our lives. This is a debt that can never be paid back…
So, on this Veterans Day, go visit at least one veterans memorial close to home, and give thanks to all those who have served, who serve now, and will serve in the future, including 1st responders who keep us safe on the home front. Thank the families and loved ones who serve too, and who become the care givers to our heroes who return home with moral and physical injuries that often require a lifetime of healing.
by Commissioner Bill Hall, Lincoln County Oregon
I want to tell you about a young man whose story touches so many things that are important to me–honoring veterans, helping the homeless, treating addictions. He’s a Lincoln County native who came from the most loving, supportive family you could imagine. Did well in school. Honorably served in Afghanistan. He was riding in a Humvee like this that ran over an IED that went off. Complained of back pain. Was given opioid pain killers and sent home. Months later, when the pain persisted, the VA finally did an MRI and found he had a fractured back. Cut off his pain meds. He had a live-in companion, a child, a home, a responsible job. He turned to heroin to deal with the ongoing pain and lost companion, child, home and job. Ended up running afoul of the law and making the news. I saw many horrible comments about him here on Facebook. Ignorant, judgmental people. There’s a ray of hope now. He’s in treatment and so far, so good, but he faces a long road. We have to stop criminalizing addictions, people. We have to start honoring veterans by doing more than just spouting slogans and waving the flag. We have to become a more just and caring society. I know, I’m a dreamer. But if I stop dreaming, I’ll lose hope.
I spent the first 6 decades of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and everything else in my life. When I finally started learning about post trauma stress (PTS) and trauma informed care, it was clear that empathy and compassion were possible once we changed the conversation to “what happened” not “what is wrong.” This seemingly basic concept allowed me to begin my own journey of healing in 2011 at age 64. Everytime I talk to a person suffering from PTSD, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health challenges, I try to find out what happened, not what is wrong. Once we change the conversation to what happened, the talk shifts immediately to a greater mutual understanding of the roots of the emotional struggles of your friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are suffering from a past traumatic life event. In the story above, we are talking about a combat veteran who came home from war a different person because of being exposed to the horrific violence of war. The explosion from an IED can also cause traumatic brain injury, a compounded physical injury that affects a persons ability to process stressful circumstances. We know now that the human brain is rewired, the chemistry changes to adapt to extreme survival circumstances that combat veterans experience in extended deployments on the battlefield. Because we know this as human beings we can have more empathy and compassion for others who suffer terribly, often 24/7 with the emotional baggage of war, the violence and carnage, losing a buddy, seeing little children dead in the streets as collateral damage is too much for a once healthy mind to process and get past once home to resume life as a typical citizen.
I hope Bill Hall’s story and my comments help others to empathize with all veterans who come home after serviing America in wars we start and often never finish. We citizens send young men and women to war, afterall. The war comes home to the dinner table and the community where it is often extremely difficult for veterans to readjust to a typical life as a member of our society. Be kind, be loving, listen and learn, then guide your dear friend and loved one to a path of healing. We know how to help in the 21st Century. There was a time decades ago when sons, daughters, fathers and mothers came home from war and we had no idea what they were experiencing emotionally, and didn’t know what to do. There are no more excuses for ignorance, no more excuses for a lack of empathy and compassion!
click here for my author page…
Moving Forward and Stepping Up – By Bill Hall, Curtis Landers and Steve Sparks
(9.15.17 – Lincoln County, OR)
The three of us teamed up a year ago to launch an effort that’s beginning to transform Lincoln County in profound ways. Stepping Up is a national effort to transform the way we deal with people with mental illness and addiction issues in the justice system, but its’ impacts are even more far-reaching.
In early 2015, the American Psychiatric Association, Council of State Governments and National Association of Counties came together to launch Stepping Up. Jails and prisons have become the default holding facilities in our country for people with mental illness and addictions issues. It’s estimated that nationally, more than two million people are behind bars primarily because of behavioral health challenges.
Why is this a problem? Just a few of the reasons:
These institutions aren’t equipped to deal with this population. They don’t get better behind bars; their condition deteriorates.
This group tends to get stuck in the system, with longer stays often for relatively minor offenses, making it more difficult to keep people in custody who truly need to be there.
It drains public resources, in both the correctional and health care systems, as these people cycle through the system again and again.
Is this a problem in Lincoln County? Yes. Our jail holds 161 people. At any given time, about 30 percent of these folks have a diagnosed mental illness, and about a third of this group are severely and persistently mentally ill. This 30% does not include those with addictions issues.
Their numbers are growing, yet our total number of jail beds are finite, which makes it harder to avoid releasing people before their sentences are completed. Our goal is not to increase the number of jail beds, but to reduce the need for the jail beds we have.
Our county has recognized this issue for a long time. We’ve had a mental health subcommittee under our Local Public Safety Coordinating Council for more than a decade. We have a Mental Health Court, a jail counselor (something many counties larger than us don’t have), and have received a grant to establish mobile mental health crisis services. All of these are positive steps, but we need a lot more.
In October of 2016, the Lincoln County Commissioners adopted the Stepping Up resolution, which formally made us part of this national effort. As of this writing, 389 counties have adopted the resolution nationally, which represents more than a third of the total population in the United States. Sixteen of Oregon’s 36 counties are on board.
Giving people in the justice system better tools to deal with mental illness is one of our priorities. All members of the Sheriff’s Office and Community Corrections have completed Mental Health First Aid training, a one-day course designed to give everyone tools to recognize and assist in a mental health crisis. The Sheriff’s Office is also accelerating Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for patrol and corrections deputies. CIT is a week-long course designed to give officers tools to de-escalate a crisis.
At the end of August, more than three dozen people involved in criminal justice and public safety, along with a number of community partners in treatment, social services, the faith community and peers, came together for a day and a half-long Sequential Intercept Mapping Exercise (SIM). Lincoln County was among 54 counties that applied to receive this workshop at no charge this year: this is a testament to our level of community commitment and readiness.
At the SIM workshop, participants assessed our current system at six key points where people with behavioral health issues can encounter the justice system, identified our most critical gaps, and developed action plans to address the first four issues on that list.
The four priorities that emerged: establishing stronger pre-arrest diversions; setting up pre-trial services to provide support to people released pending trial and to hold them accountable; a more formalized re-entry system; and the integration of peer services at every stage of the process.
We’ve made amazing progress in just a year’s time, yet our work has just begun. We are, however, quite confident of achieving our goals. Why? The tremendous level of buy-in among partners and stakeholders is encourages us greatly. And, it’s been amazing, and sad, to hear from people who are aware of this work and tell us how much it is needed.
We have heard too many stories of families, careers and lives shattered by mental illness and addiction. Sometimes it’s a co-worker, sometimes it’s a neighbor, sometimes it’s a family member. Families and communities everywhere have suffered far too long. It’s up to us as citizens to step up and finally end the cycle of damage and begin to heal.
It has been a lifetime honor and privilege for me to help our community of Lincoln County Oregon launch this important initiative.
The Problem…quote from the above website…click here
“Each year, there are an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses admitted to jails across the nation. That’s equivalent to the populations of Vermont and New Hampshire—combined. Almost three-quarters of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.”
Since the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution on October 5, 2016 to start the formal process of implementing the Stepping Up Initiative, we have been hard at work to win public and stakeholder support to build a community owned treatment continuum that effectively diverts those with mental illness and addiction from being incarcerated in the first place. As a community, we have ignored our responsiblity of caring for our less fortunate citizens for many generations. For decades we have pushed folks with mental illness and addiction into County jails because being arrested and incarcerated was the only public safety option. We have been grossly under resourced in communities all over America because we have failed to step up as a community to fix a problem we clearly own. We delegated our moral responsibility to law enforcement, criminal justice, hospitals, and public health resources for the last 40 years. Along the way with hard lessons learned, we discovered that the longer term solution must be owned by local communities as a family of peer support and services specialists, who are much better at intercepting our friends and family members who are suffering from medical and mental health illnesses, and addiction. We can do this work far better and at a much lower cost than our local government institutions.
To help my readers with where we are in Lincoln County Oregon with the Stepping Up Initiative, following is a report submitted on August 1st that shows where we are and where we are headed. It is a very exciting time in Lincoln County and in other counties in our region to know that we are changing with a sense of urgency.
Stepping Up Initiative August 2017 Monthly Report… September 1, 2017
By Steve Sparks, Project Consultant, Lincoln County Oregon, Board of Commissioners (BOC)
Quality preparation for the GAINS Center, Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM) workshop on August 29/30 paid big dividends! The attendance and participation far exceeded expectations. Most importantly, everyone who attended the workshop came ready to be engaged in a meaningful way. Everyone who has been involved in the leadership and planning for the Stepping Up Initiative and the SIM workshop planning this past year are just outstanding and professional in every respect. We are well positioned to move forward with the post SIM priorities voted by participants during the workshop. I will review these critical actions in this report, especially the top priority, intercepts 0-1.
Sequential Intercept Mapping Priorities for Change
- Establish Intercept 0-1 diversion, including mobile crisis response, peer services, tri-county partnerships, etc. (17 votes)
- Establish Intercept 2 diversion through pre-trial services/intervention (14 votes)
- Increase cross-Intercept peer-delivered services and provide education regarding justice involvement (11 votes)
- Provide formalized reentry planning in Intercept 4 (i.e., closed loop referrals) (10 votes)
- Establish/increase supportive housing for individuals with mental illness (7 votes)
- Increase Intercept 1 diversion options for law enforcement (both voluntary and involuntary) (6 votes)
- Provide cross-training across Intercepts (6 votes)
- Establish Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in the area (4 votes)
- Provide more timely access to services upon reentry (3 votes)
- Enhance recruitment and corporate housing for mental health staff across agencies (3 votes)
- Increase awareness and screening of gambling disorders and training/referrals to treatment (3 votes)
- Enhance care coordination model for community services in Intercept 0 (3 votes)
- Provide a faster handoff from law enforcement to the hospital, reducing wait times for officers (2 votes)
- Enhance cross-Intercept utilization of data and technology (1 vote)
The GAINS Center, Policy Research Associates, workshop facilitators, Travis Parker and Ashley Krider will prepare a detailed Sequential Intercept Map (SIM) tailored after the workshop outcomes presented as priorities above. We have very detailed and measurable post SIM forward actions developed in breakout groups during the 2nd morning of the workshop. In the coming weeks and months, the breakout work teams will continue to be engaged in the process. The excellent professional support from Policy Research Associates and facilitators, Travis Parker and Ashley Krider, will continue as we implement a sustainable strategic plan for Lincoln County that includes participation and collaboration from tri-county partners, Linn and Benton Counties, Samaritan Health Services Hospitals, Samaritan IHN-CCO, and a diversified group of community treatment stakeholders. All are dedicated to building a community treatment continuum that addresses the larger needs of jail diversion, jail re-entry transition, mobile crisis response and peer support services. After the workshop, it was abundantly clear that we are all on the same team.
Establish Intercept 0-1 diversion, including mobile crisis response, peer services, tri-county partnerships, etc. (17 votes)
For starters, we are launching immediately into the highest priority action identified for intercept 0-1. In the near term, my role as project consultant will focus on orchestrating the forward progress of intercept 0-1. Lincoln County was awarded an OHA mobile crisis response grant over a year ago that has become a severe challenge to execute because of our inability to recruit and retain qualified crisis response clinical professionals to staff the 24/7 needs of a mobile crisis response business model. The 0-1 intercept breakout group spent considerable time discussing this problem, the broader complexities, and implications. We agreed to move to a higher-level post SIM workshop action by engaging tri-county partners and other stakeholders in this effort to find solutions for Lincoln County, and potentially drive a stronger regional collaboration. The peer support services component offers opportunities for scale, leverage, and staffing a more regionally focused mobile crisis response business model. CHANCE, https://www.chancerecovery.org/ a peer services and support non-profit from Albany, is committed to supporting this effort and have in place existing peer services contracts with both Linn County and the IHN-CCO. Our goal is to maximize the potential of peer support and services in Lincoln County going forward. Also new in Lincoln County is Powerhouse Residential Treatment https://www.powerhousetreatment.com/ opening soon in Otis. We have already started early discussions with Powerhouse to bring them into the Stepping Up Initiative mix. Also, on the table for discussion is a peer support and services criminal justice model in the State of Montana, Montana Peer Network, “Peers as Crisis Service Providers,” from SAMHSA. There is a strong business case and outcomes in the Montana model that could be considered and replicated in the LBL tri-county. Reference the Montana business case… http://mtpeernetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/White-Paper.pdf
Future Funding Opportunities
As we all know, the funding environment is highly competitive. The Stepping Up Initiative, especially the completion of the highly regarded SAMHSA GAINS Center Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM) platform, will open funding opportunities for Lincoln County and LBL tri-county that we were previously not prepared to compete effectively and win support from diversified funding sources. One such example we are looking into right now is the Laura and John Arnold Foundation RFP, just released. We now know that private foundation funding is very much in the mix as we build a competitive public private partnership business strategy.
My work continues to include high-level interactions with community stakeholders and tri-county partners to strengthen collaborations and build awareness. Commissioner Hall and Sheriff Landers along with other team members have joined me consistently in various community venues, meetings, and radio programs to spread the word. We are receiving much more media attention as well. We are attracting more volunteers and attention from higher education. Keith Nelson, a retired IRS/DOJ professional has been volunteering his skills on baseline data collection and connecting Lincoln County to higher education resources at Washington State University, Criminal Justice, in Pullman and potentially OSU. Shelby Houston, a Creighton University graduate student, is completing her practicum with Lincoln County Community Justice and Probation under the guidance of Suzi Gonzales and Jennifer Landers. LPSCC MH subcommittee, MHAC and APARC advisory groups are very important forums as well. I personally and professionally enjoy the outreach role very much and appreciate the opportunity to reach out to our broader community.
As your Stepping Up Initiative project consultant, I couldn’t be more pleased with the leadership commitment and support this past year since the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners passed the Stepping Up Initiative Resolution on October 5, 2016. I have been able to do this work at a very high professional level with very few roadblocks. The wind is at our back as we move forward with the post SIM workshop action plan. We have the passion and motivation among all stakeholders to move to a sustainable business plan.
click here for my author page…
My personal perspective of living with secondary post-traumatic stress…by Steve Sparks…
There were many years that the thought of my big brother getting hit in the head and knocked out by Dad triggered nightmares and uncontrolled emotions. Although the nightmares rarely happen anymore, the events of that time stay with me. The horrific nature of seeing my big brother almost killed by our father comes to me almost every day, sometimes more than once. The never-ending toxic turmoil and dysfunction in our home left me feeling numb and without empathy and compassion for others. The worst of post-trauma conditions is becoming self-absorbed, caring only about your own interests and survival. There is no world larger than self in the worst case of emotional challenge in life after trauma. My thoughts were mostly of self-defense and survival each and every day followed by self-medication at night. Self-talk was filled with trauma from the past and fear and trepidation of the future. I couldn’t talk to others about my feelings because no one else could possibly get it or understand. Mental health was, and still is to a large extent, a risky topic to explore with others, especially family members and those you work with in your professional life. Living in the moment and feeling safe is a life-long work in progress.
It was always challenging for me to trust others without some sort of escape plan and defensive position. My feeling was that survival was an all-consuming occupation. Even as kids we would avoid being visible or exposed for fear of being criticized and punished for being “bad, stupid, and sinful”. For many years spirituality was something connected to religion, not my soul. I didn’t know how to love until my mid-30s. I never trusted anyone completely and with unconditional love until later in life.
I have learned to live with and mostly mitigate the fear of failure and excessive insecurity in these later years. For most of my life as a child, through adulthood and midlife years, my fear of failure served me well with intense hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal as a professional. But these persistent and less than healthy post-trauma stress symptoms did not work well for me at home when free time should be used for peace of mind and relaxation…a mindfulness existence is a gift.
At home in a safe environment, I was always on the move and could not sit still. When the pain creeped in during weekends, or holidays and sleep deprived nights, I became angry with outbursts and rage at times. The absolute worst part of my behavior is acknowledging how it hurt others close to me, especially my family. What I know from research and awareness now is the larger tragedy of post-trauma stress on children and families. The transferred emotional pain often appears as a secondary post-trauma affliction in loved ones on the receiving end who become care givers and must try to live with the toxic behaviors of a parent, partner, or mentor. The generational consequences become a much bigger burden on others in your immediate family and society as a whole.
I drank alcohol for self-medication until age 55. I got addicted to narcotic pain and sleep medications in later years due to arthritic pain and joint replacements. The combination of alcohol and prescription medications was a very bad cocktail and almost took me down. The grace of God and my wonderful, loving, compassionate and caring spouse saved my life!
I believe now that healing from a painful and traumatic past is possible. But it takes discipline, focus, and lots of love from family and friends. Healing for me is fueled by my passion to make a difference for others who suffer from debilitating mental health conditions.
Dear Friends and Family,
On this 4th of July we celebrate freedom in many ways, including honoring veterans of all wars. This year my family is honoring our Dad by applying for a Posthumous Purple Heart for injuries suffered during 66 months of combat duty before and during WWII. The rules have changed in recent years to reflect injuries that are connected with moral injury or invisible wounds. Our father, like countless other combat veterans, suffered an entire life time from too much war time trauma starting with Pearl Harbor and during the entire Pacific War…click here.
I want to thank my dear friend and Lincoln County Oregon, Commissioner Bill Hall, who helped me connect with Senator Ron Wyden’s office to get the application process started. It is critical in the process of applying for posthumous recognition to have a congressional sponsor. It is also important to have first hand accounts and/or medical records to prove physical and/or mental injuries from combat. I personally researched Dad’s war-time service by ordering his US Naval records, including medical, as next of kin. My family holds on dearly to these records to preserve our father’s and military family legacy. Descendents will never forget and will learn from our family experience for decades to come. As descendents, we should make every effort capture and preserve forever the service of family members who served America in all wars. We should never forget the sacrifice of veterans who protected our freedoms. Honor and remembrance is also healing, especially when family members are care givers for veterans who return home with battle wounds that can last a lifetime. We served too!
Our family legacy is connected directly to America’s Armed Forces and service to America. We are an American military family with US Navy roots, and very proud of this heritage. Dad was too proud to make a case for a Purple Heart even though he earned this honor and recognition for his injuries. At one point Dad even discarded his old Chief’s Navy uniform with decorations attached because he was in such emotional pain. As a family we didn’t understand his emotional pain and too often we didn’t act like we cared. He did not want to remember his honorable and heroic service to America because his heart was broken and soul morally injured while watching his best friend and shipmate Roy Powers killed when the 2nd torpedo hit the USS West Virginia (BB48) on the morning of December 7, 1941. In the years following Pearl Harbor, serving in the Pacific, he saw too much death and carnage for too long. When he finally came home in June of 1945, Dad was a broken man. Like thousands of veterans of that time and in future wars, he had to suck it up and start the long road home to make a living and raise a family. We shall never forget!
Following is the first-hand account of Vernon H. Sparks, Coxswain, USS West Virginia, December 7, 1941:
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 was 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…He 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
Medical documentation showing combat injury: Even though the record shows that he was recommended for limited duty, my father was deployed on the USS Andromeda during the Korean War. This additional duty aboard ship made his post traumatic symptoms far worse during the 1950s and most of his life. Dad passed away in 1998. Our entire family was affected severely by the profoundly dysfunctional family circumstances, domestic violence, and alcohol addiction connected with Dad’s post war traumatic symptoms. He was finally awarded a 40% PTSD disability during the 1980’s added to his Navy service pension. Dad retired from the Navy in 1958 after 22 years of service, then served 18 years with the Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Prisons. Dad never really recovered from the trauma of extended deployments during WWII and Korean War. He was deployed for 66 months during WWII, much of the time in hard combat in the Asia Pacific Theater, including the USS West Virginia, December 7, 1941. Dad was too proud to apply for a Purple Heart Medal.
Dad’s diagnosis following his return from WWII…
“7-23-1945: Diagnosis: FATIGUE, COMBAT, #2172. Origin: NOT Misconduct. Tense, nervous, anxious, has shoulder that is easily dislocated. Symptoms came on while at sea, tour of duty 66 months, ending some 6 weeks ago. Sleeps poorly, wakens often, nightmares of combat. Appetite variable. Sensitive to noise and crowds. Startle reaction. Moddy at times. Not suicidal. Is fatigued. Transferred this date to US Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California for treatment and reclassification.”
It is heartbreaking to our family and healing at the same time to finally know what was going on with Dad for so many decades following the war. We can now heal. We can remember and honor his legacy. We can forgive and love again… We can have peace of mind…