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…
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.
My journey of healing is truly a life-long work in progress that has provided a peace of mind never before achieved. My life transformed after publishing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story in November 2011. I no longer have anger or hate in my heart from growing up in profoundly dysfunctional family circumstances.
Like tens of thousands of families living in the post WWII and Korean War era, we lived without any awareness of the painful outcomes resulting from exposure to traumatic experiences from wars, domestic violence, child abuse, maltreatment, and alcohol self medication. My family was fractured over 7 decades, consumed with the challenges of post trauma stress symptoms that replaced the gift of love with the pain of anger and hate. In our military family life, the wars of our father never ended when he came home from years of hard combat. The “battle stations” experiences of his deeply held emotional struggles came home to the dinner table. My mother was scared and numb from this exposure as well. We children feared going home from school or play with friends. Our family life was profoundly dysfunctional, especially during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
I now have a completely different perspective of a most challenging childhood circumstance and experience. I see my parents as doing the best they could do with what was available in their parental toolkit during this difficult time in the lives of so many who returned from extended deployments in hard combat during WWII. We did not have a trauma informed society back then…just the opposite. Sailors and soldiers were told to go home when the war was over and forget about it, never talk about the horrific experiences, battle buddies who were left behind, death and carnage almost daily for months and even years at a time. But the severe emotional pain became bottled up in the heart and soul of these hardened combat veterans. The pain did rear its ugly head at dinner tables all over America for decades, including the post Vietnam War era, until we started learning about severe trauma’s long term affects on the children and families of sufferers.
For those of us lucky enough to find a path of healing and recovery from the damage of severe traumatic experiences, it is possible to achieve peace of mind. It is possible to learn how to love yourself and others. Forgiveness seems like a gift rather than giving in Being vulnerable is not only okay, it is a healthy disposition in our daily lives.
I think about Mom and Dad with love in my heart and a healing soul… I could not have felt or said this a short 7 years ago. I feel blessed and at peace, living with joy and love for family and friends. My journey of healing continues each day with the good work of public service in Lincoln County Oregon, being mindful of living in the moment, and appreciating the blessings each day offers.
Steve Sparks with Judy Sparks…author, blogger, child advocate, mental health champion, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)
Click photo for larger view...USS West Virginia (BB48) Pearl Harbor and WWII shipmates: From the bottom left, Robert Benafal, Pearl Harbor survivor; Robert John Adler, WWII; George Gackle, WWII; John Brown, WWII; Jim Downing, Pearl Harbor survivor; top from left, Tony Reiter, WWII; Herbert G. Crask, WWII: Arthur Rinetti, WWII.
It was truly an emotional and spiritual connection with my father, Vernon, during this annual reunion of WWII veterans who served aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48). Jim Downing and Bob Benafel both served with my father on December 7, 1941. This was one of the most humbling and healing experiences of my life. I had the honor to speak at the Saturday evening banquet to veterans and family members of the heroes who attended the reunion celebration. This was indeed a personal experience that will go down as a significant life changing event…Honor and Remembrance…
From the left, Jim Downing, Steve Sparks, and Bob Benafel… Jim is age 103 and Bob is age 96… Both served with my father, Vernon, on December 7, 1941…
USS West Virginia Association Annual Reunion, Seattle, Washington…October 8, 2016
Honor and Remembrance…Children and Families Serve Too!
The well recognized photo of the USS West Virginia (BB48) is very personal to me. I know my father, Vernon, was swimming to Ford Island at the time the photo was taken of his ship sinking in Pearl Harbor. The heartfelt feelings are healing and provide a special spiritual connection to my father. When asked, Dad talked of his experience on that fateful day so long ago… I could tell it was hard for Dad to speak of the events because the memories were so vivid and painful for him. He lost his best friend and shipmate Roy Powers on that day, and could never get past the memory of seeing his battle buddy falling back headless from looking out the porthole of the ship during the bombing. Dad rarely spoke of the rest of WWII and the many months he spent in hard combat in the South Pacific. He finally came home in June of 1945 just before WWII ended. I share my family’s post WWII story of forgiveness and healing in my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.
Writing this non-fiction memoir gave me new perspective and a deep appreciation for the human sacrifice of war, especially on generations of families, who live with the legacy of war long after the war is over. I was able to achieve a peace of mind for the first time in my life, and see the importance of preserving our family legacy as both a post WWII military child and US Navy veteran. We should never forget our heroes who served America in all wars. We should never forget the sacrifice of the children and families who serve too. By honoring and remembering the legacy of service to our country, we are able to build a more loving, compassionate and empathetic society for future generations. As the children of warriors, we have a duty to honor and never ever forget the sacrifice of war.
My cousin, Dawn, in Minneapolis, Mn., sent me Dad’s written account of his experience aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48) before he finally abandoned ship as ordered. Dad wrote his account for the US Park Service on the50th Anniversary (1991) of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.(click on this powerful ABC video clip)! This was the first time he returned to Pearl Harbor following WWII to receive thePearl Harbor Survivors Medal. The unexplained part of this story is that my father never shared theUS Park Service document with his immediate family. He mailed it to his sister, Dolly, for safe keeping. My guess is that it was too painful for him to share the tragic details with us by revisiting the experience over and over again…
In honor of all those who served, and the families who waited for weeks to learn of the fate of loved ones, following is my father Vernon’s transcribed first person account of those minutes following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941…
Steve Sparks, US Navy veteran, post WWII Navy BRAT and author
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 the2nd 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 him-self killed-Roy Powers. He stuck his head out the port side 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, 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 Tokyo, 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.328-41-29Cox.13Jan.3610/12/39 “Remember Pearl Harbor!”
“Holidays and family functions can make the PTSD sufferer feel like an outsider. They may feel uncomfortable joining in the celebration and, as a result, end up feeling alone and isolated. Although family members may try to include the person with PTSD, if the event brings back memories or makes him or her uncomfortable, being pushed into participating can make the feelings of isolation even more uncomfortable.”
I am now learning how to love the best time of the year, the Holiday Season! It is still a challenge at times, but knowing why I “hated Christmas” for most of my adult life has been very healing and constructive for me and my loved ones. Each and every year at Christmas time, my wife, Judy, dreaded my annual announcement, “I hate Christmas!” The joyous season was no joy for me starting around Thanksgiving, and it was a feeling never understood until researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. I usually did a pretty good job making others at home miserable during the Holiday Season. I even avoided contact with my kids who lived elsewhere during this time because it was so difficult to feel the joy that came so easily for others, so it seemed.
Not knowing why one has certain negative feelings that affect those close to you is not good anytime of the year. But with increased awareness of the symptoms of PTSD and the pain of moral injury, it is entirely possible to experience the joy of the Holiday Season. This will be the sixth year in a row that Judy nor others will hear, “I hate Christmas.” I feel more joy now than ever, and very blessed. The journey of healing is well in hand for me and others in my family. My heart is more open to the spiritual meaning of Christmas as a Christian. My only regret is not knowing and learning much earlier in life about moral injury and the symptoms of PTSD. Living and coping with the pain is terrible for the person affected, but even worse for those you love, who have to live with this negative behavior. This time of the year is special and it is when we should all have forgiveness in our hearts, lots of love to share, and a desire to make a difference for others. When you engage in making others happy, you are much happier!
The holidays are far more joyful for me these days since researching and writing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. I am now fully aware of the circumstances and symptoms of life after trauma. Although still a work in progress, it is so much easier to keep the pain of the past at a safe distance. I now look forward to the holidays with my family and friends. I engage with pleasure and joy with loved ones in all the preparations and celebrations rather than escape to my blanket fort of the past. I spend my time counting our blessings and the spiritual meaning of this season of joy. For me, helping others, focusing on loved ones, and things larger than myself creates new and positive memories during the holidays. The best part is knowing that my own outward expressions of happiness and joy are infectious and allow those close to me to experience a much happier season rather than being distracted.
A most joyous and happy holidays to all!
Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)
“Twenty three years later (following WWI), we were preparing for yet another world war and we answered that all too familiar call. The call that your country needs you, and without hesitation spouses gave what their country demanded of them, even on the heels of The Great Depression when times were still tough. Spouses went to work in defense plants and volunteered for many war related organizations such as The Red Cross. Life on the home front was a crucial part of the war effort and had a significant influence on the outcome of this particular war. Spouses, in part, helped supply the fruits of victory. That is where we come from, remember that!”
The photo above of my mother was taken during a visit with her in Reno, Nevada. With each visit for so many years, I couldn’t help asking myself if this was the last time I would see her. This year, Mom passed away on January 1st with loved ones at Regent Care Center in Reno, Nevada.
We owe so much to the military spouses and moms of all wars! “Together we served!” Without the courageous military spouses of “then and now,” we military kids, including my own boomer generation, would not be here at all. War weary soldiers and sailors had the hopes and dreams of going home to resume their lives, which gave them the spiritual power and bravery to get through each day, no matter how horrific the circumstances of battle. We remember and honor the ultimate sacrifice of countless numbers of warriors who didn’t make it home. Many had children they never met. It was then and now that the military spouse as a single mom, had to carry on and raise the children who would not have a father. For those warriors who did come home, the war often came home with them. It was then and now a double duty to care for a broken warrior as well as raise the children who came before and after the war was over…
Regent Care Center, Reno, Nv
It is with love, privilege and honor to celebrate my mother’s birthday; and her service to America. Military families serve(d) too! It was a hard road for my parents and countless couples who came out of the Depression Era to fight for freedom during World War II. The home front was critical to fighting and winning wars then and now…
Happy Birthday, Mom! I know you are at peace in Heaven. The memories of all our visits in recent years will remain special and healing…
Chandler Davis, Musician, Community Activist, Mental Health Champion, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)
Lincoln County Oregon
From Chandler Davis…Lincoln County Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)
HOW BAD IS IT? Here are some brand new statistics that the Lincoln County Addiction Prevention Recovery Committee (APARC) requested and has just received this month from the Oregon Health Authority (and which we have forwarded to the Lincoln County Department of Health & Human Services):
At this time the OHA data is only specific to the Medicaid population, but they show that in Lincoln County:
….20.2% of young adults ages 18-25 NEED addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) treatment — only 1 to 2% are GETTING any treatment!
….7.5% of youth ages 12-17 NEED SUD treatment. — fewer than 1% are RECEIVING it!
….7.2% of adults over 26 NEED treatment. — only 1.5% to 3.3% are RECEIVING treatment!
According to the Oregon Health Authority: There is “lots of work to be done in your county and across the state for outreach and engagement into treatment especially in the transitional age group 18-25.”
Oh yeah, and the LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH, in Oregon and Lincoln County, according to the Oregon Health Authority, is OPIOID OVERDOSE!
Substance Abuse Statistics…click image for larger view…
Pentagon getting serious about Apparent over-prescription of anti-psychotic drugs
Stan and Shirley White of W.Va., whose son Andrew, a Marine, suffered from PTSD. When he died in 2008 at 23, they blamed a “lethal cocktail” of drugs. They were in Phila. fighting the use of antipsychotics for service people. DAVID SELL / Staff
“During about 300 missions, Andrew had a steady diet of death and destruction.
A combat engineer, Andrew cleared mines and improvised explosive devices from roads before they blew up his fellow Marines, soldiers, and civilians. After nine months, White was sent home and eventually received a medical discharge for PTSD.
“It changed him,” Stan White said of combat. “He became a recluse. In the last four months of his life, he ate two meals with the family. He would take his food to his room.”
On Feb. 12, 2008, when Andrew had failed to meet her for a planned lunch at a restaurant, Shirley White went home. She found him dead in his bed. He was 23.”
The above quote from the referenced website article is becoming an all too common tragedy by combat veterans who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD. Since the illness is invisible and soldiers will not even talk about their pain, they become a suicide risk without loved ones getting any warning. The diet of prescription drugs and use of alcohol as well can cause a person to lose hope and no longer have a desire to live. I know from my own experience that the side effects of medications can cause psychotic episodes that put you and others at risk. I remain hopeful that the continued monitoring and research of anti psychotic drugs, especially mixing with other prescription medications, including alcohol will help mitigate a troubling trend.
Pain killers came into my life after decades of using alcohol for self-medication. Physical health challenges hit me like a baseball bat once entering mid-life, especially in my 50’s. My doctor was very stern with me about the risk of mixing prescription medications or opioids with alcohol. I drank too much back then anyway, but my ego and self-talk rationalized a determination to start on pain killers and continue my self-medication ways of the past. After just 12-18 months on this new regimen of pain, sleep, and anxiety medications along with alcohol, I was a total basket case to say the least.
At age 55 with strong support from my family, doctors, and own hyper-vigilance, I stopped drinking, period! But what I didn’t do is curtail or manage effectively the use of prescription drugs. I became addicted and kept taking prescription drugs as long as recovery from multiple surgeries to replace joints and fix a severe arthritic condition with chronic pain. It took me until my mid 60’s to finally get off of pain medications and other opioids, only to discover then the many alternatives of non-narcotic medications and mindfulness exercises. Now at almost age 70, my life is completely free of narcotic based medications for pain, sleep, and anxiety challenges.
And what a gift in life it has been not to take anything related to narcotics or alcohol! I feel very lucky to still have a relatively healthy body and mind for the coming golden years of new opportunities and adventures in life. I’m thankful for my wife and soul-mate who has been so supportive and loving for all of our 32 years of marriage. I treasure the many years of happiness together. But without a close friendship and dedication to working together confronting our life challenges, there would not be a future of hope and joy in these later years.
My passion to give back and help others who suffer from post-trauma stress has been strengthened by my own life experience. I know we can save lives through building awareness and in advancing the conversation of post-traumatic growth that literally saves the lives of so many children and families in life after trauma.
When we started doing an exercise during a community Mental Health 1st Aid workshop to demonstrate how it feels to experience auditory hallucintations, I had not a clue what this term meant. When my fellow student, Winnie, started to talk to me, I was hearing a voice in the background, acted out by another student, Bill, who used a rolled up paper to say weird stuff to me. The questions included, Why are you talking to her? Don’t trust her. Is she looking at you? Why would she want to talk to you? Bill, had this rolled up piece of paper in my ear yelling at me. I started whacking at the bull horn and looking around at him in distress because I could not hear or concentrate on anything Winnie was saying to me. It was at this moment I realized how a person suffering from a psychotic episode must feel. I then realized why so many of us do not know how to respond or what to do when we see a person struggling outwardly from the nagging, disruptive, and painful voices in their head. It was then it hit me like a good slap in the face why Mental Health 1st Aid training must be mandatory in our society as a integral part of America’s First Aid Training.
I highly recommend to everyone to make it a personal goal in the coming weeks and months to take the Mental Health 1st Aid one day training in your community. You will receive a certificate of completion to hang up in your office or home that shows you have completed the 8 hour course. It is critical to let others know that you have the awareness, compassion, and empathy for those who struggle with mental health challenges. The workshop will provide the tools to help friends and family, even strangers, in several ways. As part of the class students also receive an easy to read, and well done reference and workbook entitled, Mental Health First Aid USA, First Edition, to keep on hand. Following is the action plan learned from the workshop.
Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis. In the Mental Health First Aid course, you learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.
“Understanding infant mental health is the key to preventing and treating the mental health problems of very young children and their families. It also helps guide the development of healthy social and emotional behaviors. Learn more about infant mental health and how important trusted relationships are for infants and children.”
Following is an excerpt from my latest book project, I Worry About The Kids, a workbook for parents, teachers, and mentors…
No child of any age should have to live anywhere that is not wholesome, safe, secure, and surrounded by loving human beings!
Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive and distressing recollections of the event through flashbacks, and nightmares (Note:Spontaneous and intrusive memories may not necessarily appear distressing and may be expressed as play reenactment.)
Avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma, and emotional numbness.
Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
Increased anxiety in strange situations.
Recurrent distressing dreams related to the content and/or feeling of the traumatic events. (Note: It may not be possible to ascertain that the frightening content is related to the traumatic event.)
Reactions as if the traumatic events are recurring; the most extreme being a complete loss of awareness of present surroundings. (Note: Such trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.)
Diminished interest or participation in significant activities such as play.
Persistent reduction in expression of positive emotions.
Clinginess to caretaker.
Over/under use of words related to the trauma.
Distress in relationships with parents, siblings, peers, or other caregivers, or with school behavior not attributable to another medical condition.
Just because children cannot or do not talk about their feelings does not mean the feelings are not there. If not recognized and treated early on, post-traumatic stress disorder will manifest later in the lives of these children.
Patience Carter, 20, was shot in the leg during the rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning and is expected to recover. Carter’s friend, 18-year-old Akyra Murray, and 48 other people did not survive.”
“When Dad completed his shore patrol assignment in Hawaii in the summer of 1943, it had been almost two years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was able to return home briefly for a few weeks before returning to war in the Pacific. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer (BMC) early in 1943 and subsequently assigned to the USS Belle Grove (LSD2). He was on the commissioning crew of August 9, 1943. Dad was one of three Pearl Harbor survivors on the BG. He was held in high esteem. The BG would become one of the most decorated war ships in the Pacific Asiatic Theater serving in 7 campaigns, included the now famous Iwo Jima battle. LSD means Landing Ship Dock. These mighty ships were cleverly designed as a sea going ship repair station deployed in the campaigns to repair damaged ships at sea, land marines on the beach, and to recover the wounded and killed.
These men, heroes to be sure, who landed on the beaches of places like Iwo Jima, knew they were given a 50% or less chance of survival. My dad carried marines onto shore and risked his life as well, but never felt he was a hero or was doing what his fellow marines had to do. In other words, he wasn’t exactly on a suicide mission like the rest, so he as well as most sailors felt guilty most of the time for being alive. This kind of guilt lives with men following the war for the rest of their lives. It is one of the symptoms creating the conditions for PTSD. Interesting but tragically, the feeling of guilt also lives with the abused spouses and children of surviving combat veterans. Guilt is evident in most cases of PTSD whether from combat, surviving an accident where others were killed, or from living in a toxic family culture as a survivor of long term abuse.”
Of all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, survivors guilt, stacks up as being one of the worst nightmares, leading to chronic depression, anxiety, and anger. When a survivor, as your loved one or friend, has a panic attack or an outburst of anger, please be sensitive and provide a calming response. The behaviors of survivors reflect a profound and almost never ending grieving process that can linger for a lifetime. It takes significant awareness, love, empathy, and compassion on the part of family members and friends to help a trauma survivor through a severe episode of extreme guilt that is hidden in the soul and mind. Survivors suffer from moral injury and must grieve. Loved ones can help by being extra sensitive to the circumstances and needs of those who suffer from survivors guilt.
PTSDchat.org Radio Podcast… BlogTalkRadio, HEALTH…Advice for Family Members, Hosted by Steve Sparks and Kate Gallie on June 8, 2016…
“Advice for Family Members” is my first in-depth and heartfelt radio interview on the topic of children and families in life after trauma… I discuss my own story as a post WWII and Korean War military child growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s during a time when there was no awareness of post-traumatic stress and treatment strategies for individuals and families. Your comments and questions would be most appreciated. Thank you!