“The Arsenal of Democracy” San Francisco 1942

USS San Francisco 1943…
Palace of the Fine Arts, Marine District, San Francisco
Palace of the Fine Arts, Marina District, San Francisco

Marcella and little Jerry settle in San Francisco at 1501 Scott St. near the Marina District close to the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was a time of joy and hope for Vernon’s safe return from Pearl Harbor…

It was also a time of great stress and pain for America. WWII mobilized the United States and its allies like no other time in history.

“The Arsenal of Democracy.” Franklin D Roosevelt


What was it like in the Bay Area during WWII?

“After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Bay Area became a centerpiece of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “the arsenal of democracy.”

Shipyards went up with lightning speed to construct the ships that would take the war to the Japanese in the Pacific. In San Francisco, the executives of the Bechtel Corp. got a telegram from the government on March 2, 1942, asking if the company would be interested in building and operating a shipyard on San Francisco Bay.”

So, Little Jerry was 14 months old in November 1942. He loved hanging out with his mom, especially at the park.

While Marcella sat on the bench next to the small lake at the Palace of Fine Arts, she dreamed of Vernon coming home. Vernon was somewhere between Hawaii and San Francisco sailing home.

There was very little communication back then, Marcella thought, “maybe Vernon would be home for Christmas.” She was already planning for his home coming.

Little Jerry, under the watchful eye of mom, watched the birds fly around the lake. He would point to the birds, and tried to express his awe and joy at the birds.

Jerry would grow up and join the Navy too. He served on the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier during Vietnam. He would be a warrior someday just like his father.

Marcella had a few bread crumbs to feed the birds while they waited for a treat. Jerry would beg his mom with his little hand reaching for a few crumbs. He looked up at Marcella to say, “Mommy, feed the birds, feed the birds, please, mommy!”

Little Jerry was just learning how to say a few words then. He was a very curious little boy. He loved to tinker with things.

Jerry was a good boy. “He hardly cried,” his mommy would say to friends. He was a happy little boy.. They were close. Little Jerry felt loved ❤ He was hugged then and often.

But that would change when his Daddy came home. Vernon would be joyful at times but upset and angry once he got home. Vernon wanted to return to the Pacific and fight the Japanese. Pearl Harbor changed Vernon forever.

Vernon was on a mission like no other in his young life. Vernon was a a fighting man, warrior first. America was at war!

Little Jerry thought every big tall man in a Sailor hat and uniform was his daddy. Mom showed him pictures often and talked about his Daddy.

There were many Navy and Marine military men strolling with friends in the the park. Jerry would look up as the young sailors walked by, reach out to them and yell out with his toddler cute voice and say, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

“Jerry wouldn’t remember this first visit after Vernon came home,” Marcella thought with sadness. It would not be until June of 1945 when WWII ended.

As Marcella gently put little Jerry back in the stroller to head back to their new apartment on Scott St., she looked lovingly at her son to say, “Daddy will be home soon, son, he will be home for Christmas.

So, the Christmas preparations were in full swing.

A little Christmas tree on a stand in the corner of the apartment was decorated. Candles glowed at night. “Santa is coming soon,” she would say to little Jerry. Jerry was just learning about Santa and the joy of Christmas then.

Little Jerry loved his 1st Christmas in San Francisco. He even met Santa at the Naval Base near home. He sat on Santa’s lap looking up with some speculation. Then pulled Santa’s long white beard.

Jerry loved to tinker with things. He wanted to know things. He also loved to be hugged. Little Jerry felt loved and secure with his mom back then.

Jerry would grow up and join the Navy too. He would be a warrior just like his father, Vernon. Jerry served on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), during the Vietnam War.

Marcella still didn’t know if Vernon would come home. She and other Navy wives would gather often with little ones and pray their husbands would make it home safely for Christmas.

Marcella attended Saints Peter and Paul Church every morning and prayed that she would see Vernon’s ship sail under the Golden Gate Bridge any day.

But she didn’t no if or when… It was a hopeful but scary wait, a long long wait, Marcella said the rosary and prayed each day. Marcella’s faith kept her going.

Marcella knew Vernon would come home for Christmas to meet his first born son. She prayed and prayed, and said the rosary again, until Vernon returned home for Christmas on his birthday December 10, 1942…

Steve Sparks, Author, US Navy vet

The Hawaiian Nation…Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941…

Ed and Carmen Clark, Little Whale Cove, Oregon

The Hawaiian People served too!

Meet our dear neighbors, Ed and Carmen Clark! Judy and I so appreciate their interest in contributing to our “Celebrating Democracy” series.

Both Ed and Carmen Clark were born in 1946 like me. We are proud members of the 46ers Club of Boomers.

Ed and Carmen were born and raised in Hawaii. They share a rich history and Hawaiian Nation heritage.

We both share a post WWII legacy as well. Our fathers, uncles & grandfathers served in the Pacific well before WWII and the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.

Well before WWII, the South China Sea was a war front line. The Japanese invaded China during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War starting in 1937.


The US Navy Pacific Fleet was out in force helping China fight back the powerful Japanese Navy at the time.

My father, Vernon, was serving on the USS Tennessee (BB43) in 1937-39, long before Pearl Harbor.

And this takes us to Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Now, the Sparks/Clark famlies team up to share the stories that need to be told.

We ‘Celebrate Democracy’ together.

This is a highlight from our conversation from the YouTube video above.

From Ed Clark…

“WWII was a time to learn and build our nation to protect our freedom.
But … during that time after Pearl Harbor, it was terror to the civilian population. No one tells the stories of the after effect of that terrible day, December 7, 1941.

Everyone was frightened with the unknown after effects – is there going to be an invasion?

My mother was in downtown Honolulu when the attack started. She didn’t know what to make of all the noise until she saw the planes over head.

Why she thought? Maybe it was for training. No one was running or hiding. It wasn’t until she got home was she told what happened.

Everyone was afraid of an invasion.

My father-in-law was hired to help pick up the dead for 50 cents a day. His stories of what he had to do made me cry and sooo sorry for the loss of lives.

I visited Haleiwa airfield where the two fighter planes took off. Off shore there is a trench that probably to this day holds the wreckage of a Japanese plane.

Edmond Clark, Depoe Bay Oregon

Veterans Day 2020


Thanks again to Ed and Carmen! Telling the stories we have not told before is so healing…

Judy and Steve Sparks

Celebrating Democracy with Steve Sparks… Christmas 1935 Sparks Family, St Paul Mn

It was Christmas eve 1935 in St Paul, Mn. My dad, Vernon, and his pop, Al Sparks, just returned home after an afternoon visiting his Pop’s favorite bars in the neighborhood.

Grandpa was already “3 sheets to the wind” as his family would observe when he staggered in and flopped in his favorite chair in the small living room off the kitchen.

Vernon came strolling in after his pop. Vernon often went with him to make sure he got home safely. After all it was Christmas eve and the family was gathering for dinner. 

Grandpa Sparks at times didn’t make it home after being out and about the neighborhood drinking with friends at the local bars and pubs. He would get drunk and fall asleep somewhere, who knows. 

Grandma was busy making chicken dumplings with her daughters Juneth and Dolly. Ronnie, Dad’s younger bro was just a toddler at the time. 

Grandpa liked to hide whiskey in several hiding places at home. My dad knew the places. He changed these places so as to keep his daughter Juneth from finding the bottle and dumping it down the sink while Grandpa watched with horror and trepidation.

The kids hated holidays because the mood went quickly from joy and favorite Christmas songs to violence that looked like a brawl in a local bar.

Aunt Juneth knew there was a bottle of whiskey somewhere and went looking for it while Grandpa took a short nap.

Aunt Dolly joined her sister while they hunted for the booze. Vernon tried to stop them, pleading not to touch it. “Grandpa would go into a violent rage,” Vernon would yell out. Vernon was very loud, indeed. I am my father’s son…

Aunt Juneth found the bottle in the backyard hidden under a small wooden box disguised as a flower stand. Junith, a 13 year old teen, couldn’t wait to dump the booze down the kitchen sink slowly while Grandpa threatened to kill her.

He would say to my auntie Junith with hate in his eyes, “I told your mother we should have stuffed you in a gunny sack when you were born and tossed you into the Mississippi River!”

So, as it was for every holiday, including my own childhood, that most Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays ended up with drunkenness, violent outbursts, broken furniture, bruises, and chaos. It was dangerous. No child should ever be in a home like this.

It’s no wonder that I come from a very sick and traumatized family dynamic. It’s disgusting and horrible for kids to live in a dangerous home like that.

What is sad is in the this year 2020, families in every community live in a home growing up with violence. My home was this way during the holidays. At least 2 weeks dug in a fox hole. It was survival of the fittest. Down and dirty…

What happened at home stayed at home. But this wasn’t Las Vegas. It was St. Paul MN, 2 blocks from St Paul Cathedral in 1935 on Christmas Eve…

You ask why some folks say they hate Christmas? “Now you know the rest of the story.

Steve Sparks, Author, US Navy vet

Independence Day Remembrance…Lost WWII Heroes Discovered in South Pacific…a profoundly healing legacy experience for loved ones…

Heroes of Palau…

Palau…Searching for Heroes…  Click on this powerful video clip…worth all 13 minutes! Published on Nov 7, 2014

“Passion meets technology in the search for downed aircraft in the South Pacific. The BentProp Project is a group of volunteers who search for and help repatriate missing World War II Airmen. Their searches were long and arduous until they enlisted the scientific know-how of Scripps Institution of Oceanography-UCSD and The University of Delaware. What they find is truly inspiring.”


Watching this inspiring and beautiful video clip moved me deeply.  I know more now of the empathy and passion I feel each and every day about the sacrifice of veterans of all wars, especially the children and families who never find out what happened to their loved ones injured or lost to wars long ago…  Once learning about my own father’s experience in WWII and my family’s post war emotional challenges living and caring for Dad, I had no idea this would be the beginning of my own journey of healing.  Millions of children and families live with the trauma connected with war and the lifelong generational struggle of the inherent trauma and the loss of loved ones.  There is too often silence among family members who have a deep desire to find peace of mind, but just “suck it up” and move on without the benefits of healing. 

I hope this powerful story moves your family to find out more about fathers, mothers, and grandparents who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy in America.  You can start your own journey of healing and make a difference for others at the same time.  We owe this to ourselves and the legacy of war we honor to learn more and to help our nation heal in life after war…

Steve Sparks

Pearl Harbor WWII Survivors of USS West Virginia (BB48)…Honor and Remembrance…


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.

USS West Virginia (BB48) c1941 click image for full view…

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!

Pearl Harbor and WWII Survivors:

USS West Virgina
USS West Virginia (BB48) during the surprise Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. Click here…USS West Virginia Assocation…

  • Robert Benafel (PH)
  • Jim Downing (PH)
  • Arthur Rinetti
  • Tony Reiter
  • Herbert G. Crask
  • Robert John Andler
  • John Brown
  • George Gackle


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 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…

Steve Sparks, US Navy veteran, post WWII Navy BRAT and author




Steve Sparks
Vernon H. Sparks, BMC, US Navy c1943

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!”

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.

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)




We can thank the US Army and WWII troops trained at Camp Abbot, and John D. Gray for Sunriver Resort!

Camp Abbot sign at Sunriver.  Click for larger view…

Interior of the Great Hall (former Camp Abbot Officer’s Club) Click for larger view…

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John D. Gray… Click for article in the Oregonian…

“From his family, to guests at the resorts he created, to the beneficiaries of his philanthropy, Portland developer John D. Gray wanted Oregonians to enjoy what the state and region have to offer.  During World War II, he served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, earning the rank of lieutenant colonel and a Bronze Star Medal.”

  Camp Abbot, WWII…

“Military officials established Camp Abbot, about 11 miles south of Bend, to serve as an Engineer Replacement Training Center (ERTC) in 1943, with soldiers first arriving for training in March. As many as 10,000 men could train at a time at the camp, with 90,000 men trained over its 14 months of operation. The typical 17-week combat engineering training cycle included three phases. The first focused on hand grenades and anti-tank grenades; defense against air, mechanized, and chemical attack; and rifle marksmanship. The second phase concentrated on demolition training to blast bridges and other structures. The final phase consisted of three weeks of field maneuvers carried out under combat zone conditions.”


On the 70th Anniversary, End of WWII, we can honor and remember the troops who trained as combat engineers at Camp Abbot.  The US Army built the initial infrastructure to help create this gorgeous area next to the Deschutes River what we know today as Sunriver…  US Army Corps of Engineers learned how to build bridges and destroy enemy bridges.  They also learned how to defend themselves as a special forces team under combat zone conditions.

Camp Abbot protected our freedoms during WWII and built the foundation for the citizens of Oregon to enjoy this beautiful area following the end of the war.  John D. Gray, a famous developer and WWII veteran from Portland, Oregon purchased the property in 1967.  Mr. Gray also developed Salishan near our home in Depoe Bay, Oregon.

By Elliot Njus | The Oregonian/OregonLive The Oregonian “You can be excused for not recognizing the name: Gray, who died at 93, had faded in recent years from the news, and his death was initially treated in a way that understated his enormous contributions in shaping the modern identity of this state and in guiding and supporting many of its leading institutions.

There is so much to learn about the history of the State of Oregon.  Everywhere we go, we learn something new and connect the dots often to the “Greatest Generation” of men & women who served America during WWII.  We can never honor veterans of all wars enough…  But we can take note of the of critical institutions and foundations that have helped protect our freedoms and built America as the strongest and most prosperous nation in the world.  Camp Abbot and John Gray paved the way for the gift and joy of Sunriver, Oregon.

Judy and I are headed out to float in a Kayak down the Deschutes River on this perfect day in May…  We are so thankful for the dedication and passion of so many who came before us… It is a blessing to be an American citizen…

Deschutes River, Oregon

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…