The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau

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Overview

The true story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War: the battlefield odyssey of a maverick U.S. Army officer and his infantry unit as they fought for over five hundred days to liberate Europe - from the invasion of Italy to the gates of Dachau.

   From July 10, 1943, the date of the Allied landing in Sicily, to May 8, 1945, when victory in Europe was declared – the entire time it took to ...

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The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau

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Overview

The true story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War: the battlefield odyssey of a maverick U.S. Army officer and his infantry unit as they fought for over five hundred days to liberate Europe - from the invasion of Italy to the gates of Dachau.

   From July 10, 1943, the date of the Allied landing in Sicily, to May 8, 1945, when victory in Europe was declared – the entire time it took to liberate Europe – no regiment saw more action, and no single platoon, company, or battalion endured worse, than the ones commanded by Felix Sparks, who had entered the war as a greenhorn second lieutenant of the 157th “Eager for Duty” Infantry Regiment of the 45th “Thunderbird” Division.  Sparks and his fellow Thunderbirds fought longest and hardest to defeat Hitler, often against his most fanatical troops, when the odds on the battlefield were even and the fortunes of the Allies hung in the balance – and when the difference between defeat and victory was a matter of character, not tactics or armor.

   Drawing on extensive interviews with Sparks and dozens of his men, as well as over five years of research in Europe and in archives across the US, historian Alex Kershaw masterfully recounts one of the most inspiring and heroic journeys in military history.  Over the course of four amphibious invasions, Sparks rose from captain to colonel as he battled from the beaches of Sicily through the mountains of Italy and France, ultimately enduring bitter and desperate winter combat against the diehard SS on the Fatherland’s borders.  Though he lost all of his company to save the Allied beach-head at Anzio and an entire battalion in the dark forests of the Vosges, Sparks miraculously survived the long bloody march across Europe and was selected to lead a final charge to Bavaria to hunt down Adolf Hitler.

   In the dying days of the Third Reich, Sparks and his men crossed the last great barrier in the West, the Rhine, only to experience some of the most intense street fighting and close combat suffered by Americans in WWII.  When they finally arrived at the gates of Dachau, Hitler’s first and most notorious concentration camp, the Thunderbirds confronted scenes that robbed the mind of reason.  With victory within grasp, Sparks confronted the ultimate test of his humanity: after all he had faced, could he resist the urge to wreak vengeance on the men who had caused untold suffering and misery?

   Written with the narrative drive and vivid immediacy of Kershaw’s previous bestselling books about American infantrymen in WWII, The Liberator is a story for the ages, an intensely human and dramatic account of one of history’s greatest warriors and his unheralded role in America’s finest achievement – the defeat of Nazi Germany.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

World War II specialist Alex Kershaw (The Bedford Boys; The Longest Winter) recaptures the story of an army officer and his troops as they fight their way through war-torn Europe in the final sixteen months of WWIII.

The Washington Post - Del Wilber
The Liberator is well-researched and filled with vivid battle scenes…Kershaw…paints a revealing portrait of a man who led by example and suffered a deep emotional wound with the loss of each soldier under his command…a worthwhile and fast-paced examination of a dedicated officer navigating—and somehow surviving—World War II.
Publishers Weekly
In his latest WWII narrative, Kershaw (The Longest Winter) examines the war through the experiences of Felix Sparks, an American law student–turned–soldier who saw action in some of the bloodiest campaigns of 1943–1945. Sparks was initially assigned as a second lieutenant with the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division (the so-called “Thunderbirds”) and ended his service as a “world-weary” lieutenant colonel. Kershaw follows Sparks and the 157th as they land at Sicily, help liberate Rome, push on through France, and are among the first American troops to enter Germany. “No force in history is thought to have freed so many people and marched so far to do so,” Kershaw proclaims. But the darkest moment comes when the soldiers liberate the concentration camp at Dachau, which pushes many of them to the breaking point. While Kershaw’s prose can be purplish, he is a captivating narrator, hammering home the chaos and carnage of war, sparing no sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture. Kershaw’s portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors) makes for a riveting, almost epic tale of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure. 16 pages of b&w photos, and photos throughout, 13 maps. Agent: Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management. (Oct. 30)
Library Journal
Like many of his generation, Felix Sparks did not seek glory on the battlefield but dutifully accepted the responsibilities of being a soldier. Kershaw (The Longest Winter) details Sparks's service in the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division of the U.S. Army as he rose from second lieutenant to colonel in the European theater from Sicily to the liberation of German concentration camp Dachau. But Kershaw is not writing a biography so much as a regimental history, although Sparks's legacy deserves fuller attention. After the war, he served Colorado as a state supreme court justice and became a gun-control advocate. Kershaw could have gone on to use the war as a backdrop for how Sparks handled further challenges. VERDICT As historical narratives, Rick Atkinson's The Day of Battle and Michael Hirsch's The Liberators offer better understanding of the Italian campaign and the liberation of the concentration camps, respectively, but general readers may consider this as well.—JS
Kirkus Reviews
Well-researched, sprawling account of unforgiving combat in World War II, told with pulpy immediacy. Kershaw (The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II, 2010, etc.) crafts a dramatic historical narrative from lesser-known aspects of the European campaign by simultaneously focusing on the larger sweep of events and the experiences of one officer, Felix Sparks, whom the author interviewed prior to Sparks' death in 2007. Sparks joined the Army as a way out of the Depression and was a lieutenant in the 45th "Thunderbird" Division of the National Guard when war broke out; the intensity of his combat experience was indicated by his rank of colonel at the war's end. Sparks and his unit had a grueling wartime record: a year and a half of nearly constant combat, starting with the 1943 invasion of Sicily. Fortunately, Sparks "loved being a rifle company commander"; as the war intensified, he was seen as an officer with the rare combination of combat experience and esprit de corps. Yet multiple calamities befell Sparks and his unit, including the loss of his entire command during Anzio. Later, Sparks faced elite SS troops in harsh winter combat and was among the first American officers to liberate a concentration camp. Kershaw emphasizes the lethal, grinding absurdity of the European theater, which ultimately drove ordinary Americans like Sparks toward feats of bravery and endurance. Although the gruff dialogue and broad canvas of supporting characters can give the book the dramatized feel of a miniseries, it is an appealing addition to the literature of World War II. This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war's toll on individual participants.
From the Publisher
“Exceptional….The Liberator balances evocative prose with attention to detail and is a worthy addition to vibrant classics of small-unit history like Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers….From the desert of Arizona to the moral crypt of Dachau, Mr. Kershaw's book bears witness to the hell that America's innocents came through, and the humanity they struggled to keep in their hearts.” Wall Street Journal

“A revealing portrait of a man who led by example and suffered a deep emotional wound with the loss of each soldier under his command….The Liberator is a worthwhile and fast-paced examination of a dedicated officer navigating — and somehow surviving — World War II.” Washington Post

“Kershaw’s writing is seamless. He incorporates information from a vast array of sources, but it works – you get a sense of the different voices coming into the story….A gripping read.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A history of the American war experience in miniature, from the hard-charging enthusiasm of the initial landings to the clear-eyed horror of the liberation of the concentration camps….An uncynical, patriotic look at our finest hour.” —The Daily Beast

“Kershaw has ensured that individuals and entire battles that might have been lost to history, or overshadowed by more ‘important’ people and events, have their own place in the vast, protean tale of World War II....Where Kershaw succeeds, and where The Liberator is at its most riveting and satisfying, is in its delineation of Felix Sparks as a good man that other men would follow into Hell — and in its unblinking, matter-of-fact description, in battle after battle, of just how gruesome, terrifying and dehumanizing that Hell could be.” —Time.com

“Kershaw’s accounts of the battles Sparks survived are clear and grisly and gripping.” World War II

“[Kershaw] is a captivating narrator, hammering home the chaos and carnage of war, sparing no sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture.  [His] portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors) makes for a riveting, almost epic tale of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war’s toll on individual participants.” Kirkus Reviews

“Inspiring….A gripping and superbly told account of men in war.” Booklist

“Alex Kershaw's gripping account of one man's wartime experiences has both the intimacy of a diary and the epic reach of a military history.  The Liberator reminds us of the complexity and moral ambiguity of the Second World War.” —Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

“A searing, brilliantly told story of the heroism and horror of war, Alex Kershaw’s The Liberator is a book that’s impossible to put down. A must read for anyone who loved Band of Brothers.” —Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London
 
“Alex Kershaw, long acclaimed for his terse, lightning-fast narratives of true wartime action and heroism, reaches his full maturity with this sweeping saga of a legendary infantry unit and the leader who spurred it to glory.” —Ron Powers, co-author of Flags of Our Fathers

“A literary tour de force.  Kershaw brilliantly captures the pathos and untold perspective of WWII through the eyes of one of its most courageous, unsung officers – a great leader, who always put his men first.  The Liberator is a compelling, cinematic story of the highest order." —Patrick K. O’Donnell, combat historian and author of Dog Company

Library Journal
Actually, that's 511 days of war. Kershaw, well known for his books on World War II, e.g., The Bedford Boys, The Longest Winter, here writes about a standout officer named Felix Sparks and the men he led across Europe, from Sicily to Dachau, fighting every inch of the way.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307887993
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 247,045
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Alex Kershaw is the New York Times bestselling author of several books on World War II, including The Bedford Boys and The Longest Winter.  He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The West

Miami, Arizona, 1931

Felix Sparks woke early. It was getting light outside. He pulled on his jacket, grabbed his shotgun, and headed out into the dusty canyon, past miners' shacks and mountains of tailings from the nearby mine, and into the red-rocked canyons, eyes darting here and there as he checked his traplines. The Tonto forest and mountains surrounding his home were full of bounty and menace: snapping lizards, tarantulas the size of his fist, and several deadly types of scorpion. It was important to tread carefully, avoiding porcupines beneath the Ponderosa pines and always being alert for the raised hackles of the diamondback rattler and the quick slither of the sidewinder snake, with its cream and light brown blotches.

Each morning, he checked his traplines and hunted game, hoping to bag with just one shot a quail or a cottontailed rabbit or a Sonora dove. He couldn't afford to waste a single cartridge. As the sun started to warm the cold, still air in the base of canyons, he returned to the small frame house he shared with his younger brother, Earl, and three sisters, Ladelle, Frances, and Margaret. His mother, Martha, of English descent and raised in Mississippi, and his father, Felix, of Irish and German blood, counted themselves lucky to have running water. They had moved to Arizona a decade before to find work. But now there was none. Every animal their eldest son brought home was needed to feed the family.

The economic panic and failure that followed the October 1929 Wall Street crash had swept like a tsunami across America; more than nine thousand banks had failed, and unemployment had shot up tenfold, from around 1.5 million to 13 million, a quarter of the workforce. There was no stimulus spending, nothing done to stop the catastrophe enveloping the nation like one of the dust storms that buried entire towns in Oklahoma.

By 1931, the copper mines in Miami had closed down and a terrible silence had descended on the town that stood three thousand feet in the lee of Mount Webster. The rumble of machines far below, the distant growl made by their grinding and lifting, was gone. Over Christmas, at age fourteen, Sparks hiked far into the mountains with his father and Earl, laid traps and hunted for two full weeks, then skinned and dried pelts. They also fished for perch. But none of it was enough.

When he was just sixteen, Sparks's mother and father sent him to live with his uncle Laurence in Glendale, Arizona. There were too many mouths to feed. It hurt to see the anguish and guilt in his father's eyes as they said good-bye. In Glendale, he had to pay his way by doing chores, milking cows and working in his uncle's store on Saturdays.

When he returned to Miami a year later, in 1934, a government program had been set up, part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, to provide people with basic food requirements. Families in Miami were able to at least eat, even if there was no work. Once a week, he went down to the train depot in town and drew free groceries, staples such as flour, beans, and lard, salt pork, so many pounds per person, per family. Nothing was wasted. His mother was a resourceful woman, cooking salt pork gravy and biscuits for breakfast, feeding her five children as best she could, making them clothes on an old sewing machine, and cutting their hair.

When he wasn't hunting or studying, he became a regular visitor to the public library in Miami. His passion was military history: the Indian Wars, tales of the mighty Cherokee and Custer's Last Stand, and the heroics at the Alamo, where his great-grandfather, Stephen Franklin Sparks, had fought. He hoped someday to go to college and become a lawyer. But he was also drawn toward the military and applied to the Citizens' Military Training Program. To his delight, he was one of just fifty young men from around the state accepted into the program. Those who completed it became second lieutenants in the U.S. infantry. Training took place every summer in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, a hundred and fifty miles from Miami, at an old cavalry post. He hitchhiked to the camp, saving his travel allowance until he had enough to order a new pair of corduroy trousers from the J. C. Penney catalog.

The long marches and drills in more than one-hundred-degree heat tested the hardiest, and many youths did not return after the first summer, but Sparks enjoyed playing war with real weapons in the desert and nearby canyons. Aged eighteen, he was fully grown, around 140 pounds, slim, and tall, as wiry as a mesquite tree, with a toothy smile, thick black hair, and a broad and handsome face.

In his last semester at high school, he won a nationwide essay competition and received a $100 pocket watch. In June 1935, he graduated, the most gifted student in his senior year. He knew he had it in him to go far. Of one thing he was certain: He would never be a miner like his father. He would earn his living with his mind, not his hands. But he did not even have enough money to buy a suit for the graduation prom. Nor did he have a way to escape the poverty that had engulfed so much of America. There was not a spare dime for him to go to college, no loans to be had, and no jobs in Miami. He would have to leave home to find work of any kind.

Late that summer, his father borrowed $18 from a friend and gave it all to his oldest child. It was a grubstake for a new life somewhere else. His mother, Martha, sewed a secret pocket in his trousers for the borrowed money, which would have to last him until he found a job. He had no clear plan other than to head east and maybe get a berth on a ship out of Corpus Christi, on the Gulf Coast. At least he might get to see some of the world he had read about.

One morning, he put a change of clothes and a toothbrush in a pack, slipped a small metal club he'd bought for a dollar into a pocket, said a wrenching good-bye to his family, and then got a ride from a friend to Tucson, where he was dropped off near some rail tracks. Other men were hanging around, waiting to "catch out." One of them pointed out a train due to go east, south of the Gila Mountains, through the Chiricahua Desert, toward El Paso, Texas. The hobo warned Sparks to make sure he got off the train before it arrived in the rail yards in El Paso; otherwise he might be beaten or shot by railroad security men—"bulls"—armed with clubs and Winchester shotguns.

Sparks pulled himself up into a chest-high boxcar. There was the acrid odor of hot oil mixed with steam. He was suddenly aware of dark shapes in the recesses, movements in the shadows, other men. It was safer, he knew, to travel alone. He had bought the club just in case he had to defend himself. Instead of backing away, he moved to an empty corner and lay down.

"The Jungles," the Dust Bowl, 1936

The train jerked to life, shuddering as it began to move. The shaking slowly became an almost comforting, rhythmic click-clack of iron wheels on rails. Then came the adrenaline rush. For the first time, Sparks felt the exhilaration and intense sense of freedom that came with all the dangers of riding the "rods." It was like being on an iron horse, snaking back and forth through canyons, through the desert, headed east, toward the sea.

When the train built up speed, acting like a runaway colt, it was wise to stand up and brace oneself. When the boxcars slowed, it was possible to actually relax, to lie on one's back with a pack as a pillow and gaze out of the open doors, watching the desert pass leisurely by: the brittle mesquite trees, the greasewood bushes, and the cactus that dotted the horizon.

He wanted to stay awake, in case he was jumped by the other hobos, but the sweet syncopation of the wheels on the tracks and the train's rocking motion eventually sent him into a deep slumber.

"Kid! It's time to get off."

The train was approaching San Antonio, Texas, the city where he had been born on August 2, 1917. Its rail yards, patrolled by ruthless bulls, were up ahead.

"We got to get off here, buddy," the hobo added. "If they catch you, they put you on a chain gang or make you join the army."

When the train slowed, Sparks jumped down. He hiked into San Antonio, where he spent the night in a flophouse. In the morning, he walked to the other side of the city and hopped another train, bound for Corpus Christi. For several days, he watched what other bums did and copied them, learning how vital it was to carry a water jug and to hop freights with covered boxcars to protect him from sun, sandstorms, and rain. He adapted fast to the ways of the "jungles"—the rail-side camps—as did a quarter million other teenage boys during the height of the Depression, thousands of whom were killed in accidents or violent encounters with bulls or predatory older men.

Once in Corpus Christi, he searched without luck for a job. Hundreds of men with families waited in lines for just a few openings. The prospects were dire, so when he heard things were better out west he hopped another freight train and rode the high desert to Los Angeles, first glimpsing the Pacific from a rattling boxcar. But there again scores of men queued for every opportunity. Not knowing where else to go, he hung around for a few weeks, sleeping rough in parks, learning the feral habits of the urban homeless, getting by on just 25 cents a day: hotcakes for a dime in the morning, a candy bar for lunch, and a hamburger for dinner.

He decided to try his luck farther north, caught out again, and was soon watching the Sierra Nevada Mountains slip slowly by to the east. In San Francisco, he went to yet another hiring hall, this time on a dockside. There were jobs, but he would have to pay $15 to join a union to get one. He was down to his last couple of dollars. Again he slept rough. Then he ran out of cash.

One morning, as he was walking along Market Street, hungry and penniless, he passed a man in uniform.

"Hey, buddy," said the man. "Do you want to join the army?"

Sparks walked on.

What the hell else have I got to do?

He turned around.

"Yeah, I do."

"Are you kidding me, buddy?"

"No, I'm not kidding you—I want to join the army."

The recruiter gave him a token and pointed at a streetcar.

"Get on that streetcar. At two o'clock there will be a small boat coming in from Angel Island."

He was soon heading across the bay to Angel Island. From his boat, on a clear day, he would have been able to see the infamous Alcatraz prison, built on a craggy rock that rose from the riptides like an obsolete battleship, and where Depression-era killers like Al Capone and "Machine Gun" Kelly were kept under maximum security. At the army post on Angel Island, he was sworn in and given a choice of wherever he wanted to serve. So it was that one fall day in 1936 he found himself on a troopship, passing beneath the cables and iron girders of the half—constructed Golden Gate Bridge. He went below to his assigned bunk amid hundreds of others stacked three high in the fetid hold. He couldn't stand the crowding, so he grabbed his mattress and took it up on deck. The journey to Honolulu lasted a week. He slept every night under the stars and ate three square meals a day as he headed toward the land of lanais, perpetual sunshine, and coconut shell cocktails.

Camp Kamehameha, Hawaii, 1936

The barracks were airy and spacious, with fans lazily circling on the high wooden ceilings. The palms shading the base, located at the mouth of a channel leading to Pearl Harbor, were taller than those back in Arizona, the air humid and the breezes warm. Sparks's days began at 6 a.m. with the sharp call of a bugle, followed by training in how to operate huge sixteen-inch guns.

Army life suited him. He didn't mind the routine and discipline, the hurry-up-and-wait bureaucracy and boring details, the endless hours mowing the grass and practicing drills on the parade ground surrounded by sugarcane fields. He was warm and well fed. There were no bums waiting to jump him in a boxcar or a rail-side jungle. His barracks had a library, a pool table, and a piano. His weekends were free and his days ended at 4:30 p.m., leaving him plenty of time to explore Honolulu, eight miles away.

One day, he bought a camera from a soldier for $2 and photographed the base as well as other soldiers. Then he discovered that the only place he could develop his images of fellow artillerymen and nearby beaches was at an expensive camera shop in Honolulu. Some men saved money and time by developing their negatives in the barracks latrine, but the prints were crude and faded. He quickly saw an opportunity. In Honolulu, he bought a book about photography and then asked his company commander if he could get him an appointment with the Post Exchange Council, which operated a large store on the base. He told the council he was an experienced photographer and suggested they set up a shop where soldiers could drop off film to be developed. To his delight, the council agreed to loan him money and equipment to set up the print shop. A week later, he was in business, developing roll after roll by hand, bent over developing trays in a red-lit darkroom. Soon, he had to hire a fellow soldier to help him. Within a month, he was "rolling in money," he later recalled, earning more than the battery commander. He put it all in a postal savings account that paid 2 percent interest.

He also taught himself how to take high-quality portraits and began snapping officers, their families, and the various tourist attractions. He scanned newspapers for details about arrivals of Hollywood stars at the pink-hued Royal Hawaiian hotel in Honolulu, so he could capture them lounging under sunshades. The musical star Alice Faye, a twenty-two-year-old natural blonde, was one of several actresses who agreed to be photographed, despite the protests of a boyfriend. He promptly sold the pictures as pinups back at base. By the time his enlistment was up, he had saved $3,000, more than enough to finance a college education.

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Table of Contents

Contents
 
Prologue – The Graves

PART ONE – THE DUSTBOWL
Chapter 1 – The West 
Chapter 2 – Off To War

PART TWO – ITALY  
Chapter 3 – Sicily
Chapter 4 – The Race for Messina
Chapter 5 – Mountain Country   

PART THREE – ANZIO
Chapter 6 – Danger Ahead  
Chapter 7 – Hell Broke Loose
Chapter 8 – A Blood Dimmed Tide
Chapter 9 – The Battle of The Caves 
Chapter 10 – Crossing The Line
Chapter 11 – The Bitch-head
Chapter 12 – The Break Out
Chapter 13 – Rome 

PART FOUR – FRANCE
Chapter 14 – DAY 401
Chapter 15 – The Champagne Campaign
Chapter 16 – The Vosges

PART FIVE - GERMANY
Chapter 17 – Black December 
Chapter 18 – The Breaking Point
Chapter 19 – Defeat
Chapter 20 – The River 
Chapter 21 – The Siegfried Line
Chapter 22 – Cassino on The Main
Chapter 23 - Downfall

PART SIX – THE HEART OF DARKNESS
Chapter 24 – The Day of the Americans
Chapter 25 – The Hounds of Hell
Chapter 26 - The Coal Yard
Chapter 27 - The Linden Incident
Chapter 28 - The Long Day Closes

PART SEVEN – LAST BATTLES
Chapter 29 – The Last Days 
Chapter 30 – Victory in Europe 
Chapter 31 – Peace Breaks Out
Chapter 32 – The Last Battle 

Acknowledgments
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Index

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted November 18, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Felix Sparks was a son of the great depression. He spent several

    Felix Sparks was a son of the great depression. He spent several years on the road with millions of other young men. Looking for work to do and trying to find a place in life. In 1937 he found a place in the US Army. He entered the military as a private. He left as a Lt. Colonel. During that time he served with the 45th “Thunderbird” Division. He saw action with this unit throughout some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

    The Division Landed in North Africa and were trained in invasion tactics. The first loses came in the course of the training. Moving from ship to small boat is a dangerous thing in itself. The first invasion was Sicily. Under the leadership of George Patton they raced Montgomery to try to cut off the German pull back to Italy.

    Following this they invaded Italy twice, first at Paestum in September of 43. Then after fighting their way up the boot they were selected to invade again, this time at Anzio in the abortive attempt to outflank the German line of resistance. After fighting in Italy until August of 44 they landed in France at Saint-Tropez. From there they fought their way into Germany until the unit saw its last action in the liberation of the Dachau complex.

    Through the course of this fighting Felix Sparks spent over five hundred days in combat. He had fought in eight campaigns and earned two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the Croix de Guerre.

    Following his military service he was active in politics and in worked for many causes. Some that readers will agree with some they will not. However, nothing changes the fact that Lt. Colonel Sparks led his men through some of the worst fighting in the Second World War.

    Alex Kershaw is a bestselling author and has produced a carefully crafted and stunningly told story of men in combat. This volume deserves to stand with the best books on the European campaign.

    30 out of 35 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 13, 2012

    Another great book on WWII by Alex Kershaw! This book follows t

    Another great book on WWII by Alex Kershaw! This book follows the story of Felix Sparks and the fighting Thunderbirds from Italy to the liberation of Dachau. It really is a great story, that I wasn't familiar with before reading this book. One of the reasons I like reading an Alex Kershaw book is that he really makes you feel history on a personal level with the soldier's stories that he tells. His books read more like a novel than just another dry account of historical events. He always helps me "see" history through the soldier's eyes. This was another great story of World War Two that needed to be told, and I couldn't think of a better author to do so! If you are interested in World War Two history, then this book is a must read.

    26 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    An Amazing Tale

    The Lib­er­a­tor: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau by Alex Ker­shaw is a non-fiction book about the amaz­ing jour­ney of offi­cer (later Gen­eral) Felix L. Sparks. The book is an excel­lent, well researched account of sol­diers on the ground and the lib­er­a­tion of Dachau.

    Join­ing the Army to get away from the depres­sion, 25 year-old Felix Spars arrives in Italy as a cap­tain in the 157th Infantry Reg­i­ment of the 45th Divi­sion – the Thun­der­birds. Sparks proves to be a nat­ural leader and a man of high intel­li­gence, moral and respectabil­ity lead­ing his men in 4 amphibi­ous inva­sions, through the rough moun­tain­ous ter­rains of Italy and France and win­ter com­bat against the SS on the Ger­man border.

    Some­how Sparks sur­vives, one of the few in his unit to sur­vive the bloody march, and is put in charge to lead the hunt for Hitler into Bavaria. How­ever, Sparks and his man stum­ble onto the noto­ri­ous con­cen­tra­tion camp Dachau whose hor­rors force them to strug­gle with their human­ity and sense of revenge.

    The Lib­er­a­tor: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau by Alex Ker­shaw is a dra­matic nar­ra­tive which fol­lows Felix L. Sparks from join­ing the Army as a way out of the Great Depres­sion to his death in 2007. Mr. Ker­shaw inter­viewed Sparks before he died which adds to the authen­tic­ity and reli­a­bil­ity of the story.

    Sparks, the only man to sur­vive the war from his orig­i­nal com­pany, is por­trayed as a man of courage, intel­li­gence and integrity. There are numer­ous times when Sparks, com­man­der in the 45th “Thun­der­bird” Divi­sion of the National Guard, risks his life to save his men, pro­tect­ing them and flirt­ing with dan­ger instead of sit­ting on the sidelines.

    The book describes the day to day grind that the sol­diers had to endure, choke full of details not only of the big pic­ture, but the small stuff that mat­ters every day. A very poignant part is the lib­er­a­tion of the con­cen­tra­tion camp Dachau, the sol­diers couldn’t believe what they were see­ing, and even I had a dif­fi­cult time read­ing about the hor­rors which ensued in the camp.

    The book is fast paced, telling a remark­able story in an eas­ily read nar­ra­tive. The story is not always easy to read, but always excit­ing and inter­est­ing cel­e­brat­ing one of the many heroes of “The Great­est Generation”.

    26 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013

    A real life hero. General Felix Sparks of Colorado National Gua

    A real life hero. General Felix Sparks of Colorado National Guard dead at the age of 90.

    His life was something out of a mythical creation.

    He was an excellent soldier most of his adult life, from the age of 18 during the Great Depression in Hawaii, during WWII in North Africa up into Germany, then as National Guard commander while he lived in Delta, Colorado as a small town lawyer-while raising his family with his wife.Excellent book about Felix Sparks, he is one of those one in million -- high character----super--high class individuals you never read about in the NEW YORK TIMES. This man single handidly is on the main reasons America won WWII as the allies marched up from North Afirca, into Sicily, Italy and into Germany! He risked is life on many occasions, fought along side his Army men (not in the back or in some office), he was a true leader.Felix Sparks should be remembered in all USA history books, but this book is a great remembrance. BUY THIS BOOK, you will LOVE IT!

    23 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I have always been interested in WWII books that tell the true s

    I have always been interested in WWII books that tell the true story of so many of our military exploits from that war. I think this book by Alex Kershaw is told better than any book I have read on the subject. He knows how to write about his subject by using words and phrases that make the reader thoroughly understand what they are reading and finds the story getting better as it goes. The European zone in which our gallant military fought contains so much information told in a great way. Felix Sparks was born and raised in Miami, Arizona, an area that suffered the ravages of the great depression as much as the rest of the nation. Felix hunted, ran traps, and got food any way he could. When he wasn’t hunting he was studying. His military training started in the Citizens Military Training Program where he learned how to march and drill in very high heat environment. He wanted to go to college and he loved the military-anything that was military. He ventured away from the area and found himself being asked by an army recruiter if he wanted to join the army. He figured “why not” and joined, a decision that forged his life forever.

    Felix Sparks, now married with a baby, prepared to shove off on a troop transport that ended up in Europe prepared as well as possible for fighting a war. While on the ship General George Patton announced that from that point and time they would be a part of the 7th United States Army and they were going ashore to attack Sicily, Italy in small troop transport boats. None of the men knew what they were in for. Sparks was a part of the National Guard Thunderbirds, all green recruits. The book describes several of the generals associated with army leading and planning duties, Patton, Marshall, Eisenhower, Mark Clark, and others and how they made their battle plans, some with and some without arguments. Sparks at this time had no idea he would move up in the ranks to eventually become a general too, and that was far from his mind at this time. He just wanted to defeat the Germans and Italians. The many battles he and his group fought were tough and brutal while killing and wounding many men. Their drives would advance one day and lose ground the next. The Germans were tough while the Italians were not since they were not sure if they were staying in this war or not. The Thunderbirds along with the rest of their groups moved up the boot of Italy towards Rome. The Germans fought back for every inch of ground in Italy with both sides killing and wounding thousands of men along the way. New raw recruits kept coming up the pipeline adjusting to war as they had never imagined it to be.

    The description of the battles is beyond imagination. The men would dig a small foxhole if none was available, they would jump into any hole large enough to cover as much of them as possible. The sounds of shells coming from both the enemy and their own units as they sailed over their heads or landed very close to them was such a caustic and nerve wracking and body shaking experience. To have a man sharing a foxhole one minute and killed the next is incomprehensible to those that were never in battle. Sometimes friendly fire fell short of its mark and hit our own men. When they tried to advance, they had to carry such huge heavy packs on their backs containing survival gear as well as ammunition, grenades, shovels, military packed food including good old Spam that was a real war ration. When the chance came to take a break, they would move away to a nearby town and relax as much as possible with wine, women, and song. They danced, they had sex even though they were all pre-warned about the disease that was so prevalent in the entire area due to the women being both lonely with most of their men at war, and the demands the German soldiers made of the women.

    Sometimes the men would find some great caches of wine and they really enjoyed that. But the many grievous losses of men from so many battles were so enormous that it was hard to wrap their minds around that and keep going. Blood flowing from wounded and/or killed men on both sides were everywhere. Some of the rivers and canals flowed red. As the men went through towns that they were taking back from the Germans, the citizens went wild with chants of thanks and food and drink coming out of the cellars and caves. All through this time, Sparks led his troops while taking battlefield rank promotions. His men loved him because he cared about them and would be there with them as much as possible. As they progressed through Italy and into France and Germany, they came to one of the concentration camps, Dachau, where they found the most disturbing sights they had seen during the entire war. The description of bodies just thrown on top of other bodies, the ovens that still had some in them that had been burned, the piles of clothes that the prisoners had to dispose of, and so much more that makes the reader gets chills. One of the last battles of this group was the march to Hitler’s own compound but by the time they had gotten there Hitler had committed suicide.

    I know this review is long but to write telling less doesn’t give the reader a real idea of what all is contained in this super book. You must read it. You will get an idea of what the foot soldier went through during WWII. How the ones that survived made it through mentally is beyond my imagination. Praise to these men for their help in giving us the freedoms we take for granted. Believe me, they are not free-freedoms.

    23 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2013

    Unusually gifted wriitng by this author, story of Felix Sparks i

    Unusually gifted wriitng by this author, story of Felix Sparks in WWII Europe as he fought the Nazis, moving up the ranks in USA Army, leading his men to victory! Investigated in amazing detail, talk about a great WWII book, this did the deal!

    This is like taking the most advanced course on WWII, but told in a simply manner, clustered from Felix Sparks training in USA to his movement by ship to North Africa, then north up through Europe into Germany. Very intense, fealt like I was really there during these events. Consistent with some of the best history books ever written, presented me with a great story!

    Hurahh, Alex Kershaw.

    22 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2013

    Earth's most imporant temporal landed on the mind, body, spirit-

    Earth's most imporant temporal landed on the mind, body, spirit--actions of one Felix Sparks (Americas best army soldier to ever live). He won the war for the USA against Germany during WWII, his life was one of great achievement!

    This book is about "FELIX SPARK," his life growing up is briefly described as he moves up to the time of WWII, start of second world war.

    He is forced to re-enlist in U.S. Army, moved to Northeast USA, then shipped over to North Africa where he starts to train for invasion of Nazi occupied Italy.Him and the men under his command, invade up through the beaches of Sicily, Italy against the Nazis, facing bloody-hard fought battles.Under the head command of General George S. Patton, Felix Sparks and the men who survied each battle, end up in Dachau, Germany. The war is described in nano-detail in this book, the reseach is absolutely incredible. Very good book, from beginning to end, it was something I found very enlightening.

    22 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2013

    Author Alex Kershaw¿s narrative traces the steps of Felix Sparks

    Author Alex Kershaw’s narrative traces the steps of Felix Sparks and his role in the 157th Infantry [Thunderbirds] as they trudged from Sicily to Anzio to France and finally to Germany during World War Two. While the story accentuates the human cost of war, it is primarily based on information gleaned from interviews with Felix Sparks and his recollection of events. This is not a scholarly work, but a tale of inconsistencies, chaos, disorganization, frustration, and the emotional toll faced by an ordinary combat soldier in an extraordinary situation.

    Little snippets about the battalions’ high rate of venereal disease, Generals using photo opportunities to display their egos, hidden caches of liquor, souvenir hunting, and tales of fraternization will appeal to readers voyeurism until they are slapped in the face with emotional breakdown of battle weary American soldiers during the capture of the Dachau Concentration Camp, one month prior to the end of the war.

    The story quickly faded when it jumped from Sparks return to civilian life in 1945 to a very brief awkward overview of Spark’s anti-gun crusade in the 1990s, to his lack of receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, before mentioning his death and funeral in 2007.

    Diaries, other interviews and written materials are used to provide limited documentation to Sparks’s account, are listed in the notes. The nine maps provided are very inadequate for showing the position of his regiment or its movement through the terrain for key battle scenes mentioned in the book.

    The author should have included transcripts for key Starks’s interviews in appendixes. Adding appropriate academic cross-references for deployments, critical battle decisions and casualty statistics mentioned throughout the text would change this book from one man’s interesting interpretation of the Thunderbirds accomplishments to a documented account of the man and division.

    An acknowledgment, notes, list of selected bibliographical materials and index is provided.

    22 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2013

    I would personally evaluate Alex Kershaws' The Liberator as one

    I would personally evaluate Alex Kershaws' The Liberator as one of the best World War Two, history books to come out of the last half century. Mr. Alex Kersha faces the battles of WW2 from July 10, 1943 to May 8, 1945 in the most revealing, honest, original manner. The nonfiction books focues primarly upon Felix Sparks of Miami, Arizona. Felix Sparks born in 1917, graduates from high school in 1935, with no job prospects during the great depression, railway crossing across the USA, he finds himself in San Francisco, where he enlisted in the US Army, and spent his service in Hawaii. Upon his release date from enlistment, he leaves for college back in his home state of Arizona (at the University of Arizona in Tuscon), but with with the Nazis conquering Europe the Army recalls Felix Sparks as a 2nd lieutenant in the 157th Infantry Regiment. From July 10, 1943 to May 8, 1945 under Sparks is promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and fights with is fellow thunderbirds under the command of legendary General George Patton. America's 157th Regiment soldiers fight some of the bloodiest, tenacious, honest battles in all of WW2, burying over 1,400 of their own men from North Africa to Germany. The author Alex Kershaw, faces the issue of warfare in a revealing, insightful, cold manner. This book brought home the brutalies and/or heroism of wafare, and revealed as if you are a real live witness some of the most important battles in all of warfare. A book to read and re-read. If you read one book on WW2, this is the one to read. The Liberator is well balanced and shows excellent attention to detail the facts surrounding World War Two. It is an all time classic, much better that D-Day by Stephen Ambrose, and/or Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. A small town kid from Miami, Arizona goes from 18 high school graduate, to war hero and rank of Lieutenant Colonel, then becomes a morally correct - god fearing small town lawyer in Delta, Colorado fighting gun control and/or corruption. An exceptionally well written nonfiction book on World War Two, Felix Sparks's experiences as 157th Regimental leader from July 10, 1943 to May 8, 1945 from North Africa to Germany, struggled to book this book down!

    22 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2013

    Baffling how much horror Felix Sparks saw while fighting the Naz

    Baffling how much horror Felix Sparks saw while fighting the Nazis from Italy to Germany in WWII, mostly of flak (exploding material), also from machine gunners from Nazis. Very bloody book, but very good too, it was something I am glad that I read, although not as recognized battles from Italy to Germany early part of wwii, more important strategically for allies, good book by alex kershaw.

    21 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2013

    Alex Kershaw's strongest book on WWII. Main character Felix Spar

    Alex Kershaw's strongest book on WWII. Main character Felix Sparks lead American officer and his men fought some of the most brutal battles in all of WWII. Near the WWII end after fighting some of the bloodiest, hard fought battles, these men under Felix Sparks were the first eyewitnesses to Dachau, concentration camps under Hitler's most fanatical-elite soldiers the SS. Through every kind of research available to him, Alex Kershaw conducted interviews, read old letters, telgrams, history and shows the read how Felix Sparks went from an eighteen year old unemployed high school graduate during the great depression to Lt. Colonol of 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division under General Geroge Patton. The Liberator although well written, is not perfect. Some parts of the nonfiction book at the ending, of Felix Sparks life after the war, such as his becoming a lawyer and moving to Delta, Colorado are a bit repetitive, although the work as a whole is wonderful and becoming of an epic title on WWII. Felix Sparks and his men's journey (the ones who survied the war, over 1000 of his men died in combat), just over 500 days of battling from the beaches of Sicily, Italy to the most notorious-evil concentration camp of Dachau, Germany the reader is made to feel like he is an eyewtiness to some of the most important-yet, not well known battles of WWII. Felix Sparks is fearless as a leader, the kind of military leader you see in hollywood fiction movies, but a real life action figure. Riveting, exciting, good book, this author is surely belonging to the elite crowd of writing, history.

    20 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2013

    This title: The Liberator by author Alex Kerhsaw was such a mind

    This title: The Liberator by author Alex Kerhsaw was such a mindblowing book to read. From Felix Sparks early life from age 18 up until his service ended at the end of WWII as he rode a ship back home to America, this man Felix Sparks participated in some of the most awesome battles of WW2. He is an absolute war hero, with the highest morals (he ran out to open machine gun fire for one the Army men under his command)! Felix Sparks' life and time from age 18, his early enlisment in the Army during Great Depression (he spent his intial enlistment in Hawaii), then his service in northeast USA, then going over to North Africa and up into Nazi occupied Italy, then Germany. Details, factual evidence of Felix Sparks endeavors' laid out in amazing detail by author Alex Kershaw. Each chapter provided valuable insight into the concept of warfare. This author is very good at presenting WW2 facts in a fun, entertaining fashion. This book is worthy of an award of some kind, a pultzer for history perhaps, the opening states he spent five years' researching and/or writing it, it was very easy fun book. Alex Kershaw the author is genius, writer of history WWII.

    20 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2013

    Highly recommended reading for anyone! Excellent book, it is we

    Highly recommended reading for anyone! Excellent book, it is well written, fascinating, insightul, inspiring, words cannot describe how well written this book is!
    Alex Kershaw is the best writer on planet Earth! This nonfiction title is a WW2 history book that follows the feats of one of America' most efficent soldiers!
    Starting from the great depression in the 1930s to the end of WW2 and a few years after WW2, the author takes the reading on an excellent journey! Not sure if there is a better writer aive today than that of Mr. Alex Kershaw. Anyone interested in learing, being inspired, history should read Alex Kershaw! One the best books I have ever read. Definetly worth the money, very recommended to anyone, any age group, anyone wanting to purchase an excellent book! HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, EXCELLENT-EXCELLENT BOOK!

    20 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2013

    50% of this was really good, it delves into Felix Sparks Army ma

    50% of this was really good, it delves into Felix Sparks Army man's life as progesses into the battling of the Nazis at the start of America's involvment in WWII, he fights up North Africa into his final destination of Germany, Dachau concentration camp.

    However, this book was in bad need of a more contrite editor, way to long and drawn out, way to make irrelevant facts. Then the author, provides an ending about Felix Sparks involvment to abolish juvenille buying of guns in his Colorado state! Who cares?! The ending kind of veered off about what the main -- 50% beginning of book was focuesd on. I would say if the publisher had just published the first half of the book and taken out the second half it would have deserved five stars, but it was interesting.

    19 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    Best world war 2 book I have ever read. Book is about Felix Spa

    Best world war 2 book I have ever read. Book is about Felix Sparks, Army infrantryman as he marches up north through Nazi occupied Italy into Germany. Very good factual account of what it must have been really like to fight in world war ii. I was entertained by this author, his attention to the facts, the manner in which he spun them into an ever evolving storyline was very well crafted. This has to be the best book I have ever read on wwii, god bless Felix Sparks.

    19 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2013

    This book stands on top of the mountain of all war nonfiction no

    This book stands on top of the mountain of all war nonfiction novels. Epic! Felix Sparks, born within the cycle of history that faced the Great Depression, WWII, great growth of American post WWII, fascinating life. Faced with the misery of the Great Depression, he moves from his hometown of Miami, Arizona to the cart of a railroad car zipping all over Great Depression U.S.A. looking for work, unable to find a job, he enlists in the Army spends a few years in Hawaii, during mid-late 1930s.



    Felix Sparks then found his reveune stream in the army developing photographs for base personal, with enough money saved and his enlistment over, he moves back to his home state of Arizona, enrolls at Universty of Arizona, meets his future wife, then is called back into the Army as WWII begins in Europe. His action in the European campaign involved the most celebrated action in all of WWII, moved up the ranks as thousands die in his Divison, Lt. Colonel Felix Sparks fights through to Germany, facing Nazis, sadistic guards at Dachau, where he stops his men from shooting to death every SS Dachau camp guard. He arrives back home and re-enrolls in college at University of Colorado to become a lawyer, then sets up shop in Delta, Colorado, does work for Colorado National Guard, does philanthropy work for WWIi serviceman (donations, so forth) fights gun control after his grandson is shot (lobbied for state bill banning sales to guns to minors under age 18). Arnold Scharnenegger, Sylvester Stallone, any movie fictional action hero in any fictional movie could not live up the excitement of the true life of Felix Sparks during his life, span in WWII. Alex Kershaw is an international bestselling author, historian, he carefully produced a novel of nonfction revealing the most important battles of WWII, this book should be made into a movie, but the book of course would be best. Action packed, pulse increases as I read, page turner, very difficult to lay this book down after reading the first few pages.

    19 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    "AAA," "first-rate," "A++," those

    "AAA," "first-rate," "A++," those are the symbols I would use to describe The Liberator, by Alex Kershaw. I have read hundreds of war books, most nonfiction, this book trumps them all!

    This author describes in graphic detail, providing relevance, context, historical releavance for the battles of WW2 from the ocean beaches of Sicily, Italy.

    Then he takes the reader along the ride for what can be described as pure war, as Felix Sparks the main character and his Army men strom towards Germany, liberate the most notorious concentration camp, then go home to America! First-rate book. All the way, much better than any other book I have read on war, WW2, nonfiction.

    18 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 12, 2013

    Quite simply, the best WWII book I've ever read, the auhor is fa

    Quite simply, the best WWII book I've ever read, the auhor is fantastic. Alex Kerhaw spent five years of massive research, writing, to creat this incredible book. WWII battle scenes were amazing, the writing was action-packed, very insightful book about WWII, focused on WWII campaign from North Africa to Sicily to Dachau, Germany, main character Felix Sparks is something out of holiday movie. Buy this book, your mind will be greatly rewarded!

    18 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2013

    Great American hero, Felix Sparks! This nonfiction books focuse

    Great American hero, Felix Sparks! This nonfiction books focuses on Felix Sparks life in the USA army from his age of 18, up until the end of world war two. It was a great book. World War two action book, about Felix Sparks army career, exciting sequences from his arrival in North Africa at start of American involvement in World War 2, up until his involvement in stopping his men from slaughtering Dachau SS nazi guards at Dachau in Germany. Very interesting book, learned a lot about USA involvement in WW2, before the great invasion of DDAY June 6, 1944 in Normandy, there was a whole wave of USA involvement (unsung heroes) who marched up from North Africa and/or north up to Germany. This author is very talented, will recommend it to my friends. Good World War two book.

    18 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2013

    WW2 book of Felix Sparks experiences battling Nazis from Italy u

    WW2 book of Felix Sparks experiences battling Nazis from Italy up into Germany. Best researched WW2 book I have ever read, Alex Kershaw the author is very good at taking millions of world history facts and slicing them down into small, interesting, delicious bite-chapters. This book was very exciting, insightful, learned a lot about WW2. Felix Sparks is a true American hero, his life should be celebrated by all USA citizens. A true warrior, his life was very well lived, his experinces during WW2 are very important, great book.

    17 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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