THE LIBERATOR – A TIMELINE

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AUGUST 2, 1917 Felix L. Sparks is born in San Antonio, Texas

1935 At the height of the Great Depression, Sparks graduates high school but because there are no jobs in his hometown of Miami, Arizona, he is forced to ride the rails across America in search of a job.

1936-38 Sparks serves in the Coast Guard Artillery in Hawaii where he sets up a photography business and saves enough money to put himself through college.

1938 Sparks enters a pre-law course at the University of Arizona where he meets Mary Frances Blair, his future wife. FEBRUARY 1941 Sparks reports for duty at Fort Sill in Oklahoma where he joins the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th “Thunderbird” Infantry Division, a National Guard unit.

JULY 10, 1943 Captain Felix Sparks, regimental adjutant to the 157th, lands in Sicily on the first day of the Allied invasion of Europe. His first challenge is to identify and bury men drowned during the invasion.

OCTOBER 12, 1943 While leading E Company of the 157th, Sparks is badly wounded by anti-aircraft fire in the mountains of southern Italy and evacuated to north Africa.

FEBRUARY 16-23, 1944 During some of the most intense combat of WWII, Sparks loses his entire company to save the Anzio bridgehead in Italy, spending a week cut off and surrounded by the Germans before managing to get back to Allied lines.

AUGUST 15, 1944 Decorated and promoted for his heroism at Anzio, Sparks leads a battalion ashore in south- ern France as the Allies carry out their most successful amphibious operation in Europe – Operation Dragoon.

JANUARY 18, 1945 Sparks risks his life to try to save some of his men who have been surrounded by the SS near the village of Reipertswiller in the Vosges Mountains near the German border. Tragically, despite repeated rescue attempts, Sparks’s Third Battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment is destroyed. Six hundred men are killed, wounded or captured.

28 MARCH 1945 As the Third Reich falls apart, Sparks leads a reconstituted Third Battalion into the German city of Aschaffenberg and encounters fanatical resistance, losing ninety men in an intense week-long battle to clear the city.

APRIL 1945 Sparks is made commander of a special task force whose mission is to advance without delay to southern Bavaria in the hope of capturing Adolf Hitler.

APRIL 29, 1945 Sparks receives orders to secure a concentration camp north of Munich called Dachau. Along with Company I of the 157th Infantry Regiment, he enters the camp that morning and amid scenes that “rob the mind of reason” liberates Hitler’s first and most notorious concen- tration camp.

MAY 8, 1945 Sparks and his men learn in Munich that the war in Europe is over. 1,449 of his fellow Americans in the 157th Infantry Regiment have laid down their lives to liberate Europe from the greatest evil of modern times, spending 511 days in combat.

MARCH 15, 1993 Having retired as a successful lawyer and much respected general in the Colorado National Guard, Sparks learns at his mother’s funeral that one of his beloved grandsons, 16-year-old Lee Pumroy, has been shot dead by another teenager in Denver. Heart-broken, he cam- paigns relentlessly and successfully to pass a law banning minors in Colorado from carrying handguns.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2007 Sparks dies with his wife Mary at his bedside in Denver. All Colorado and US flags in the state are lowered to half-staff. Rather than being interred at Arlington National Cemetery, he is buried in a Denver graveyard beside his slain grandson.

About alexkershaw

WRITER AND JOURNALIST AUTHOR OF NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLERS ABOUT WWII
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