Tag Archives: USS Belle Grove LSD2 Pacific War

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!”

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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

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“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.

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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…

Capturing Iwo Jima 70 Years Ago…Honoring the brave sailors of the USS Belle Grove LSD2…

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USS Belle Grove (LSD-2) at anchor, probably at Leyte, circa 20 to 22 October 1944. Photo by J.L. Brown.

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USS Belle Grove (LSD-2) undergoing sea trials in San Francisco Bay, 16 August 1943. US Navy photo from “Allied Landing Craft of World War Two”, published by Arms and Armour Press.

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War Cruise of the USS Belle Grove LSD2…click photo to expand view…

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Vernon H. Sparks, BMC, USS Belle Grove LSD2 WWII Pacific…click photo for larger view…

 

 

USS Belle Grove…7 Campaigns WWII South Pacific…

Ashland Class Dock Landing Ship:

  • Originally authorized as (APM-2), a Mechanized Artillery Transport
  • Reclassified Landing Ship Dock (LSD-2), 1 July1941
  • Laid down, 27 October 1942, at Moore Drydock Co. Oakland, CA.
  • Launched, 17 February 1943
  • Commissioned USS Belle Grove (LSD-2), 9 August 1943, LCDR. Morris Seavey, USNR, in command
  • During World War II USS Belle Grove was assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and participated in the following campaigns:


    World War II Campaigns
    Campaign and Dates Campaign and Dates
    Gilbert Islands operation 
    Makin Island, 20 November to 2 December 1943
    Leyte operation 
    Leyte Gulf landings, 20 October, 31 October to 9 November and 13 to 21 November 1944
    Marshall Islands operation 
    Occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls, 31 January to 8 February 1944
    Luzon operation 
    Lingayen Gulf landings – Abuyo and San Pedro Bay, 9 to 16 January 1945
    Marianas operation 
    Capture and occupation of Saipan, 15 to 28 July 1944
    Iwo Jima operation 
    Assault and capture of Iwo Jima, 19 February to 16 March 1945
    Tinian capture and occupation, 21 to 28 July 1944

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    Until researching and writing my book in 2011, I did not know of my father’s WWII service in the Pacific.  He did tell humorous stories of liberty from combat duty but never about the horror of war.  The USS Belle Grove LSD2 spent 25 months at sea in 7 campaigns before going to Shanghai, China,  for its first “liberty” giving the brave and exhausted sailors, including my father, a break from combat duty.  My father finally returned home from WWII in June of 1945. 

    It is an honor to now acknowledge and remember the 7 Pacific War Campaigns of the USS Belle Grove LSD2 on this 70th Anniversary of the capture of Iwo Jima…  It is so often the case that we post WWII military family members and loved ones did not learn details of the brave service of our fathers until much later in life.  It is never too late or too often to honor the veterans of all wars…

    Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…click the highlighted text for my author page…

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    Reconciliation: A Son’s Story by Steve Sparks 2011…The USS Belle Grove LSD2 story included…

May 26: Sacrifice & Service: The American Military Family Exhibit opens Memorial Day in Albuquerque…

Please support my mission of helping families who suffer from PTSD and moral injury…order my books, My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1… (Kindle $2.99), and Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  Click and order paperback or download Kindle version.  Buy my book at Barnes & Noble as well… Thank you! Steve Sparks, Author

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The military family serves too!

Museum of the American Military Family…”We Served Too…”  Quote from this website… “Through this exhibit, the community can see history through a different filter, relive their own military roots, open dialogue between generations, and leave with a deeper appreciation of what it means to serve as a military family. This is an opportunity for visitors to experience a unique part of history, their history, in many cases — their complete story–the joy and pain, the sorrow, and the sacrifice…”

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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History…  Quoting from this website…

“Sacrifice & Service: The American Military Family” is a special exhibit that will open Memorial Day, May 26, and run through August 31 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

This inspiring exhibition celebrates America’s rich military history through the voices of America’s military families. Through written word and interactive elements, visitors will experience the joy, the sorrow and the sacrifice of America’s steadfast and unsung heroes, the military family.

There is no additional admission cost to view the exhibit beyond regular Museum admission; $8 for adults and $7 for youth and seniors.

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I am honored as a former US Navy military child and Vietnam era veteran, to participate in the Museum of the American Military Family Memorial Day exhibit “Sacrifice and Service.”  My story as a child of a US Navy WWII and Korean War combat veteran is painful.  America’s combat veterans from all wars up to and including Vietnam were from the “go home and forget about it” and “suck it up” culture.  Not because we wanted to ignore the moral injury and invisible wounds of war sustained by American soldiers and sailors who protected the freedoms of Americans, it was because we were ignorant of the lasting emotional damage in life after war.  Medical science did not define or measure the mental health effects of war until around 1980 following the Vietnam War.  Until recently we did not recognize how war affected the entire military family, especially children, often for a lifetime. 

“We served too” has a special meaning to me.   I am proud of my father’s honorable and heroic service during WWII and the Korean War.  I am proud to have been a military child from a US Navy family where my mother served too as a single mom during all WWII and as the life long caregiver for my father.  I am proud to have served in the US Navy during the Vietnam era.  And, I am especially proud to be an American.   I am also now well aware of how war affects the bodies, minds and souls of warriors like my father, including the families, who served America with honor, duty and pride.  I am especially aware of how the American military family served as caregivers to the men and women who returned home following long and multiple deployments in hard combat.  It is with this knowledge and awareness that my own journey of healing includes helping others become educated on the lingering effects and on-going treatment of moral injury and Post-Traumatic Stress on the military family.

I am looking forward to a full schedule of book readings, discussions, and interaction with visitors attending the Museum of the American Military Family “Sacrifice and Service” exhibit on May 31st and June 1st at the Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque.   It is a high honor and privilege to share my personal experience and body of work to help others know more of their own family’s proud but sometimes painful military history and service to America…

As a gift to the Museum of the American Military Family and the upcoming “Sacrifice and Service” exhibit, following is a short poem reflecting heartfelt thoughts about my post WWII and Korean War experience as a US Navy military child.  “We served too!”

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Steve Sparks, 1956, age 10…click to expand photo…

Mother always told Dad we were bad while he was away at sea.

We were safe and free when Dad sailed away.

Fear and beatings made us cry you see…

Mother seemed happier when Dad was away at sea.

With love, joy, and play,

Dreams of family all together forever.

The fear and beatings came again anyway…

By Steve Sparks 

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

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A post WWII family's struggle with moral injury and PTSD

Photos on cover of Vernon and Marcella Sparks c1940 and the USS West Virginia in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor…