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Remember Pearl Harbor…Honoring my Father and Shipmates who Served Aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48) on December 7, 1941…

USS West Virgina

USS West Virginia (BB48) Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941… It was when this photo was taken, my Dad, Vernon H. Sparks, US Navy, Coxswain, was swimming to Ford Island following the call by Capt. Bennion to “Abandon Ship!”

VHSparks

Vernon H. Sparks, Boatswains Mate Chief, USS Belle Grove (LSD2) 1943-45 Serving in the Pacific War…

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Vernon and Marcella Sparks c1940…

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7, 1941…My Father’s Memories…

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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 tell my family’s post WWII story of forgiveness and healing in the books listed below.

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 the 50th 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 the Pearl Harbor Survivors Medal.  The unexplained part of this story, is that my father never shared the US 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…

Vernon H. Sparks Handwritten Account

Following is a transcription from the National Park Service…

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 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 himself 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 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.328-41-29Cox.13Jan.3610/12/39

“Remember Pearl Harbor!”

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2…Click on highlighted text for my author page…and to download e-books or paperback.

SteveSunriver

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate

You can also purchase the Pearl Harbor 50th Anniversary Edition…by clicking the highlighted text or on my sidebar…

“Schooling with Uncle Sam…We Served Too!” Museum of the American Military Family…

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The above picture was featured in the movie “Brats: Our Journey Home.” It was Christmas, 1941, Ft. Davis, Panama CZ. Pictured from the left to right, Ann, Hudson and Tony Philips. They have just been told that they must leave Panama and their father must stay behind.

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Uncle Sam Schools… Click to expand view.

Schooling with Uncle Sam…  Quote from this website article…Museum of the American Military Family…

“Our evacuation from the Panama Canal was a terribly sad and sudden thing.  As we approached the time that we were to leave, my father’s demeanor changed to a terse and commanding presence. It was time to be soldiers.  When I think back now, it explains why he acted this way. A barrage balloon hovered over the house, tethered not far away.  Piles of sand were placed near our back door to help extinguish fire from incendiary bombs. The entire family was issued gas masks. I was informed of a stash of emergency items in a compartment in the kitchen (in case my parents were out of the house during an attack.)”

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MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN MILITARY FAMILY TO SHOW THE STORY OF SCHOOLS ON U.S. BASES AROUND THE WORLD

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MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN MILITARY FAMILY TO SHOW THE STORY OF SCHOOLS ON U.S. BASES AROUND THE WORLDSpecial Exhibit Opens July 11 in Albuquerque

By Allen Dale Olson

“Less than a third of one of America’s largest school systems is actually in the United States. Its 78,000 K-12 students attend 181 schools, 58 of which are in the States, the rest spread around the world from the Far and Middle East to Western Europe.

Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, as part of the Defense Department (DoD), it has field offices in Peachtree, Georgia, and in Japan and Germany. The Department of Defense Education Agency (DoDEA) is a civilian educator agency serving the families of American military personnel.

The history, challenges, and achievements of this unique school system will be on display in the Main Reading Room of the Albuquerque Special Collections Library starting July 11 and running through August 22, with an opening ceremony on July 16 at 5:00 p.m.

An exhibit created by the Museum of the American Military Family (MAMF),“Schooling with Uncle Sam” uses quotes, photos, documents, and artifacts gathered from around the world from former students, teachers, administrators, and military personnel and curated by MAMF volunteers with decades of experience in the DoD schools. MAMF is the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to collecting and preserving the stories of the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, and other relatives of uniformed personnel from our nation’s founding to the present.”  Click on the title link above for more on this story…

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The following will be included in the Museum of the American Military Family, “Schooling with Uncle Sam” exhibit.  It is a high honor to make this gift and contribution!  The stories of military children and families are sometimes hard to share, but they are healing to countless sufferers of the nagging effects of inter-generational post traumatic stress (PTS).

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life after Trauma, Part 1

 “We [often] woke up in the middle of the night to Dad’s nightmares reliving his combat experiences in the South Pacific while serving in the US Navy in WWII.   My parents would fight well into the evening hours making it difficult to go to sleep.  Mom did all she could do to just get through each day.  We siblings became a secondary priority, and were mostly neglected, except we always had food on the table. 

…School was one of the only escapes during the day.  We felt isolated and ashamed like we were always doing something bad or looked stupid to others.  There was little or no encouragement or support at home for our schoolwork because of the challenges of our parents in dealing with their own issues.  We didn’t talk about our experiences at home to other kids for fear of the consequences of our parents finding out. 

   We lied to teachers and coaches when they asked questions concerning our own sad and angry behaviors.  We moved often so were unable to make lasting friendships that made a difference…”

SteveSunriver

Steve Sparks, Author of Reconciliation: A Son’s Story &  City Councilor, Depoe Bay, OR