VETERAN PROFILE: Bruce Sparks recalls World War II, Korea
SPRUCE PINE – Veterans Day has special significance for 92-year-old Mitchell County resident Bruce Sparks.
Sparks has lived in Spruce Pine with his wife Gladys since 1986. He spent 26 years in the United States Navy and was on active duty during World War II and the Korean War.
Sparks was born in Bakersville and joined the Navy when he was 17. With World War II raging, he knew he would likely be drafted and have no control over what branch he was placed in, so with his mother’s approval, he joined the Navy.
During World War II, Sparks was stationed on the USS Boise (CL-47). The Boise was a light cruiser out of Brooklyn, New York, that saw action in the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters.
“I saw a good deal of combat,” he said. “Our problems were primarily with kamikazes. We had pushed the Japanese back through the Philippines and they sent the remnants of a fleet for a suicide attack.”
Sparks said he observed as the United States aerial fleet pushed back the attackers directly overhead. Soon after, the ship came back stateside for repairs.
“Our planes finished it off,” he recalled. “We destroyed what was left of the Japanese fleet. They didn’t have much left and we came back to have work done on the ship.”
A few short years after wrapping up his tour of duty in World War II, he was asked to be active during the Korean War in the 1950s.
“They asked certain people involved in World War II if we would stay for the Korean War,” he said. “It was an attractive offer, so I agreed.”
He didn’t see combat action during his second tour of duty and in 1969, he officially retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.
With his military days behind him, he took a job as an appliance salesman at Sears, where he said he was surprised by how much money he made.
“We worked on commission and I’d often earn 6-9 percent of the total sale,” he said, smiling. “I’d make $18-20,000 a year and back then, that was like $100,000.”
Bruce and Gladys also did small repairs and room additions as a side business. After starting work on their own house, neighbors quickly took notice and requested their services.
Bruce and Gladys, who will celebrate their 70th anniversary in February, have traveled together to almost every state in the country and have enjoyed trips to Canada and Mexico, to name a few.
“We really enjoyed our trips out West,” he said. “Gladys is a very intelligent and innovative person and a wonderful helpmate.”
During his active duty, Bruce said he and Gladys were never separated for long. At most, the two spent six months apart while he was serving.
“We didn’t worry much about it,” Gladys said. “I just loved him.”
Bruce and Gladys have one daughter, who is now 65 and lives in Buford, South Carolina, as well as two grandchildren and a pair of great-grandchildren.
When their daughter was very young, Gladys showed her pictures of Bruce so she wouldn’t forget what her father looked like while he was busy overseas.
“We went to pick him up in Johnson City and she looked at him and said, ‘Daddy!,’” Gladys said. “I was so glad she still knew. We’ve all just loved each other and we’ve gotten along great. We’ve all had our ups and downs, like anybody.”
Now, Bruce spends much of his time at home with Gladys. When he does go out, he often wears a hat with bold, gold letters paying homage to the USS Boise – the ultimate conversation starter.
“I have many people thank me for my service,” he said. “They like to ask me about the ship and almost everybody is nice and appreciative. I’ve never had anyone really be negative.”
Bruce was diagnosed with prostate cancer about a year ago. He said he understands the end is near for him. In the meantime, he’s happy with where he is in life. This Veterans Day, he will likely wear his favorite hat and reflect on the many memories he’s made.
“I’m on my last legs,” he said with a small smile. “It’s just a matter of time, but we’ve done very well financially and we’ve had a good, long life.”