Vernon H. Sparks, Coxswain, US Navy, Battleship USS West Virginia December 7, 1941…”People like myself could go on & on…but that would take a book…”

by | Dec 6, 2012

Battleship USS West Virginia December 7, 1941
From US Navy Medical Records…Post WWII…
Following is the specific diagnosis of Vernon H. Sparks: “Combat Fatigue, #2171 Origin: Not Misconduct. Tense, nervous, anxious, has shoulder that is easily dislocated. Symptoms came on while at sea, tour of combat duty of 66 months ending some 6 weeks ago. Sleeps poorly, wakens often, nightmares of combat. Appetite is variable. He is sensitive to noise and crowds. Startle Reaction. He is moody at times. Not suicidal. He is fatigued.”
Dad’s photos and decorations framed For Mother when he passed away in 1998… Mom was a single parent with first born Son, Jerry, for all of WWII… 
The following account of my father’s experience aboard the USS West Virginia is intended to honor him and all veterans who served and died on that terrible day of December 7, 1941… I write about Dad’s experience in my book at the beginning of the story. I did not have his complete handwritten account at the time Reconciliation: A Son’s Story was published in November 2011. The document was recently forwarded to me by my cousin Dawn Quirk, who’s Mother, Dolly, and also my father’s sister, received the US Park Service copy many years ago. Dad did not share this with any of his children, nor did my Mother, Marcella, tell any of us about it or may not have seen it herself… I wrote Dad’s story based on his verbal accounts and statements over the years, which are consistent with his written words. Pearl Harbor was the one WWII experience he spoke of most, but not much else during the war. His Naval records revealed the horror of the rest of WWII, including a diagnosis of severe “Battle Fatigue” as it was known at that time. And if that wasn’t enough, Dad was sent to sea again during the Korean War. I believe Pearl Harbor was the most painful experience of his life and represented a severe moral injury from which he never recovered during his lifetime. Dad started to receive treatment for complex PTSD later in life and calmed down a whole lot. As a family, we struggle with our own journey of healing caused by the effects of secondary PTSD that often result from living with a parent who suffers from moral injury.
My heart goes out to the families of veterans of all wars, who served too!  God bless the United States of America!
Steve Sparks
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

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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