October 17, 1919 ~ March 21, 2014
The Rogue Valley's last surviving member of the Northwest's 41st Division Jungleers has left us. Benjamin Franklin Frank Sparks passed away March 21, 2014 at the age of 94.
Frank was born to James Sparks and Hattie (Kilgore) Sparks October 17, 1919 in Timpas, Colo. After selling their farm in Colorado the family moved to Parkdale, Ore., near Hood River, and eventually settled in the Medford area. Their first winter was rough, with the growing family living in a tent in Dark Hollow (near Phoenix) while father, James, drove a borrowed horse and wagon team back and forth to Medford, building the family home near Table Rock Road. In time the Sparks brood grew to five with Frank's older brothers, John, Bob, and Paul, and welcoming the newest addition, George.
Jobs were hard to come by during the Great Depression so following his 1937 graduation from Medford High School Frank eventually joined the Army National Guard. After the Guard was mobilized following the attack on Pearl Harbor it became part of the Army's 41st Division. The 41st was shipped overseas in March of 1942, becoming the first American division deployed to the Pacific theater. Following additional training in Australia, the 41st distinguished itself in the vicious combat that characterized the fighting in the jungles of New Guinea and The Philippines. Frank served with distinction, reaching the rank of sergeant and receiving the Bronze Star for valor. He was a proud American and especially proud of his service to his country.
Finally, having accumulated enough points to gain him relief from further combat duties, Frank was sent home. His troop ship docked in Seattle, Wash. on August 15, 1945, the day the Emperor of Japan announced that country's surrender. Just five days later, on August 20, Frank and Leilla McGraw were married at the home of her parents in Medford. Their agreement upon his departure in 1942 had become an engagement when he proposed marriage in a letter home. The whole time he was overseas she wrote him every day.
Frank and Leilla's first home was a house on Biddle Road in Medford before moving to a 27-acre farm on Pacific Highway between Phoenix and Talent. The Sparks family eventually included four sons, Keith, Denis, Lee, and Jay, each of whom graduated from Phoenix High School. To support his growing family Frank worked at a variety of jobs over the years, from owning a Mobile station in Medford to mill work and real estate sales, all the while working the family farm he had promised himself if he made it home from the war. At the time of his retirement he had worked for many years as a maintenance worker and bus driver for the Phoenix-Talent school district. His wife, Leilla, was a long-time grade school secretary at Phoenix Elementary.
Frank was quite the family patriarch, a strong man who believed in honest values and hard work. He was without guile what you saw was what you got! We are heartbroken at his passing but know he is in a better place, free from the pain he endured without complaint in the last years of his full and wonderful life. Dad, we miss your warm smile and caring nature more than mere words can ever say.
In addition to his beloved and devoted wife, Leilla, he leaves behind his four sons, Keith (Stephanie), Denis (Lynn), Lee (Wendy), and Jay (Janie); eight grandchildren, Andrea, Amy, Jason, Kara, Megan, David, Tyler, and Shawn; six great-grandchildren, Cameron, Tyler, Taitum, Inem, Payton, and Hayden; as well as many nieces and nephews. Frank's four brothers and grandson, Casey, preceded him in death.
A private interment with military honors will be held at the Eagle Point National Cemetery. Friends and family are encouraged to attend a memorial service to be held at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, April 5, 2014 at the West Main Church of Christ in Medford, where Frank and Leilla were faithful members for over 60 years.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the West Main Church of Christ in the name of Frank Sparks.