Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Liberator—Alex Kershaw


To the end of his life, Sparks would continue to decry the easy access to guns in America, which have claimed more lives than all the wars fought by Americans throughout the nation’s history. More young Americans have died from gun violence in the year his grandson was shot than had died under his command throughout the Second World War – when death was a daily occurrence. (355)

While I’m reading books that I plan on reviewing, I usually will put Post-It tags on pages that have good quotes. I’ll also add them to pages where I have comments, both positive and negative.  I would say I probably used more tags than ever before on this book, in a completely positive way.

I’m not sure how the author found this particular soldier, but Felix Sparks seems to be the best, most heartwarming, uplifting story of a soldier that I’ve read in a long time. His selflessness, his certainty, his desire to do the right thing – even and especially during a time when rules and conventions are often thrown out the window – are truly inspiring. Myself and the author were clearly not the only ones to notice the amazing leadership capabilities that Sparks possessed, because he was constantly being promoted, even despite his young age. He was a man who persevered, amidst the loss of men who had become his family, continuing on his mission to ensure the freedom of many.

The author gracefully intertwines the personal stories of Sparks’ life and military career with the other events that were taking place during the war. We get pieces of things that are happening with Sparks and his men, from their storming of the beaches at Sicily to the gates of Dachau. Thrown in with that, we also get to see other events taking place simultaneously, and an idea of what the leaders were doing towards the end of the war.

Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about the book is the author’s ability to get inside the mind of the soldier, and to point out that our enemies are not that different from us. There were many instances of humanity from the other side, as well as instances of atrocity from our side. Like this:

“Under cover of darkness, Sparks went out and tied a piece of communication wire to Turner’s leg and to the German captain’s then dragged them both back to E Company’s lines. For the first time, he felt real anger toward the enemy. But a few days later he realized that the Germans could be every bit as humane as his own men. E Company seized another hillside, where two sergeants from G Company had been killed. The Germans had taken their bodies and dug two graves for them in ground that seemed as hard as granite. They had even placed two wooden crosses on their graves and hung the Americans’ dog tags from them.” (74)

Or this:

“At around 11 a.m., something extraordinary happened. Sparks spotted a German half-track, bearing a white flag, moving toward his position. A German captain dismounted. He clearly wanted to talk with an American counterpart. Sparks pulled himself out of his foxhole and approached the half-track.

‘Captain, you have a great number of wounded here and we have a number of wounded,’ the German officer said in fluent English. ‘Would you agree to a true of thirty minutes so we can evacuate our wounded?’” (89)

With so many tragedies and examples of inhumanity these days, and in all times of war really, it’s important to remember that the things that unite us are far greater than the things that separate us.