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A sweeping reminder that WWII was more than Normandy and the Band of Brothers,
This review is from: The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau (Hardcover)
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Thanks to all the stellar re-examinations of WWII through the collective efforts of Steven Spielberg, Stephen Ambrose, Tom Hanks, etc., a younger American would be excused for believing that WWII was fought solely through Normandy and into Germany. Alex Kershaw's bloody biography, "The Liberator," reminds us of the thousands of Americans who gave the last full measure in vastly different campaigns.
Kershaw's subject is the iron-willed Arizonan Felix Sparks. A child of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, Sparks joins the army literally as his last dollar runs out. He serves briefly in Hawaii before the war, but this brief prologue to his military service is completely at odds with the gruesome slog that will comprise most of his tour. Sparks soon learns the hard truth of an infantry officer - it's easy to get promoted because everyone around you is getting killed; the hard part is staying alive.
For almost two full years, from 1943 through 1945, Sparks' regiment marched from Sicily through Italy and eventually into Germany, fighting more battles and losing more men than virtually every other unit in the Army. At Anzio, Sparks emerges as the only survivor out of his entire unit (around 200 men) - and that was not because Sparks led from behind. Indeed, the man had a recurring tendency to outrun his own unit, even when fighting some of the Nazis' most lethal units. But Sparks knew his job even if he didn't know he had an angel on his shoulder keeping the bullets at bay . . . he personifies the old sports adage, "the harder I work, the luckier I get."
While Kershaw's descriptions of these battle scenes are fine, he really breaks no new ground here. Sparks is an amazing man who does amazing things, but Kershaw's descriptions of battle do not set up apart from other talented military historians. What brings "The Liberator" into a surprising new area is the discovery of Dachau and Sparks' role in managing the horrors of the concentration camp. Frayed nerves and rage play a huge part of the early days at Dachau, and an incident ensues that eventually sees Sparks being called to judgment before the desk of General Patton. This story is so heartbreaking that it serves as the highwater mark for the book.
Sparks was a great American, returning home to become a successful attorney in Colorado with a long, distinguished career. Kershaw's book stands as a reminder that there were plenty of American heroes in the Greatest Generation who did not fight for Easy Company. Highly recommended.