Pearl Harbor Day “Never Forget”

by | Dec 3, 2023

Pray for all souls lost to wars

My father Vernon, passed away in 1998. He was 79. It took my own life experience, including following his footsteps, enlisting in the US Navy in 1963 at age 17, to begin my own journey of healing. After over 4 decades, I researched, wrote and published my memoir, Reconciliation a Son’s Story, in 2011.

There are too many stories from all wars just like Vernon. And, all too often, the emotional damage of war comes home to the kitchen table.

Without adequate and consistent life-long treatment of PTSD symptoms, including lingering and painful untreated depression, healing from trauma is very difficult. It takes a huge toll on the lives of so many military families over several generations until the cycle of pain ends.

Ending the cycle of pain

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.

“Never Forget”

Following is my father’s first hand account of his tragic experience aboard the Battleship USS West Virginia on that fateful day…

Vernon H. Sparks, December 7, 1941, Battleship USS West Virginia 

“I was on the 3rd deck heading for the anchor windlass 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.

I was then orderer 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.” 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.

Honor and remembrance

We honor veterans and military families every day of the year.  They paid a huge price for the freedoms we enjoy in America and around the world to this day…  We shall never forget the sacrifices and the debt that can never be repaid… Steve Sparks

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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