Many people know Dr. David Sparks as the pastor of Flat Rock Pentecostal Holiness Church, a post he’s held since 1994, but Sparks also is a veteran and recently was picked to head a national military organization.
Sparks was elected to serve the next year as national president of the United States Landing Ship Tank (LST) Association, during its annual convention in Branson, Missouri.
The local pastor also will continue to serve as chaplain of the U.S. LST Association, which he has done for the past 11 years, in addition to penning “The Chaplain’s Column” for LST Scuttlebutt magazine, a quarterly publication.
Sparks is succeeding Vice Admiral Walter Wittholtz as president of the organization.
The U.S. Landing Ship Tank Association is headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina. It has more than 1,200 members, consisting of former veterans of the LST Amphibious Forces of the Navy.
Landing Ship Tank (LST) was the naval designation for a group of ships built during World War II to support amphibious operations. The vessels were designed to transport large quantities of vehicles, cargo and landing troops to sites such as the Normandy beaches ahead of the D-Day campaign.
Sparks was in the Navy from 1962-66 and a reservist for two years after that. His military career included being stationed with the gunnery divisions on two LST vessels in the Pacific during the Vietnam War.
The Flat Rock reverend said Tuesday that he is proud to head an organization that helps perpetuate the legacy of landing ship tank operations and the individuals who have served within those ranks.
Landing ship tanks originated from a concept advanced by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the World War II era. He recognized a need for some type of craft that would easily access beaches to deliver tanks, vehicles, cargo and troops, which eventually would include both the Army and Marines.
President Franklin Roosevelt assigned Navy engineers to design a craft using Churchill’s concept and they developed one that would run onto the shore with no docks or piers required.
“They built over 1,000 LSTs during World War II,” Sparks said. “They could land almost anywhere in the world — they were the workhorses of the Navy.”
Without that innovation, which allowed the Allies to establish a number of strategic beachheads, the war might have been prolonged another couple of years, in Churchill’s estimation.
As head of the United States Landing Ship Tank Association over the next year, Sparks will oversee the group’s nine-member board of directors chaired by a San Francisco resident and containing other members from across the country.
“I represent North Carolina,” he explained.
Sparks also will support the efforts of an association administrator based in South Carolina who handles its day-to-day functions and help organize events such as the national convention along with heading meetings of LST Association officials, including teleconferences.
The gatherings attended by veterans are a time for those who served on LST vessels to share their common bond and unique role in military history.
“It really stirs the hearts and memories of our guys,” Sparks said.
“We get together and we trade war stories, and by the way, some of them are true,” he joked.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.