did anyone attending the dedication realize that a vow Sparks made years ago would
ensure soldiers were at the ready.
During a two-hour ceremony that began with
a cannon shot, Sparks described how an incident on Easter Sunday, 1944, strengthened
his resolve to build within this nation a more highly trained Reserve.
3,200 men set sail from Virginia on June 8, 1943. Out of those men in the initial
invasion force, about 2,000 were from members of the Colorado Guard.
its initial landing in North Africa, the 157th Infantry Regiment moved on as part
of an invasion in Italy (at Sicily and Salerno) in September 1943.
29, they stormed the beachhead at Anzio. Sparks, a 26-year-old captain, witnessed
the death of five of his men, who were killed by a German shell that exploded
on the beachhead.
"I was shocked," he said, "although I had
seen death every day."
Sparks detested "a stupid system" that
was sending young boys into combat with only 90 days of boot camp training.
"I swore to myself, "When I get out of the Army I am going to get into
a Reserve unit and do my best to see soldiers are well-trained before they go
into combat,'" he said.
But Sparks would suffer a further shock. He was
promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1944 and was a battalion commander of about
Their last major assignment, in April 1945, was to capture Munich,
the center of communications and supply.
As the commander of a task force,
Sparks was given extra troops. On the way to Munich, he received notice via the
radio to proceed to the concentration camp at Dachau, seize it, seal it off, and
"let no one in or out."
Sparks had never even heard of a concentration
camp. Nor had his soldiers.
When they reached the camp, the first thing they
saw was a string of 39 railway cars, filled with perhaps 2,000 dead bodies.
Sparks found himself surrounded by troops that were crying, cursing, or absolutely
They later learned that those bodies were those of prisoners from
the nearby Buchenwald camp; after being crammed into the railcars destined for
Dachau the people had suffocated along the way-at least most had. One had received
an even worse punishment.
They soon discovered that most of the German officers
had fled. Then, they found the prison area, in the far corner of the camp. The
men liberated Dachau.