“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…
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…
USS West Virginia Association Annual Reunion, Seattle, Washington…October 8, 2016
Honor and Remembrance…Children and Families Serve Too!
Pearl Harbor and WWII Survivors:
Robert Benafel (PH)
Jim Downing (PH)
Herbert G. Crask
Robert John Andler
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!”
“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.”
“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…