Podcast #361: The Untold Story of WWII’s 45th Infantry Division

When many people think of the American involvement in WWII, they likely bring to mind the 101st Airborne Division (aka the Band of Brothers) and their heroics at Normandy. But there was another American infantry division that took part in the largest amphibious assault in world history (no, it wasn’t D-Day) and then fought a year in Europe before the 101st even showed up. All in all, this division saw over 500 days of combat. They were the Thunderbirds of the 45th infantry division and my guest today was written a captivating history of this oft forgotten group of soldiers. 

His name is Alex Kershaw and he’s written several books on WWII. The book we discuss today is The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau. Alex begins by sharing what made the 45th different from other infantry divisions and discusses why they’re often forgotten. He then talks to us about a colonel from Arizona named Felix Sparks who always led from the front and fought side by side with his men for over two years. We get into some of the major battles the 45th encountered and their liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau. Alex ends our conversation with a call to all of us reach out to a WWII vet before they all leave this life (which is not far off). 

Show Highlights

  • How Alex got into writing WWII stories 
  • What made the 45th different from other divisions?
  • The interesting story of the 45th’s insignia
  • The cultural and geographic makeup of the 45th 
  • What the Nazis thought of the 45th 
  • Why the 45th doesn’t get much recognition, despite their 500+ days in combat 
  • Who is Felix Sparks?
  • Why Kershaw considers Felix Sparks the most inspiring figure of WWII
  • The story of the Battle of Anzio 
  • How Sparks dealt with incredible losses in his division 
  • Why Sparks’ leadership was so compelling
  • How the men reacted upon coming to Dachau 
  • What Kershaw considers the greatest achievement in American history 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Alex 

Alex’s website

Alex on Twitter

Alex on Instagram 

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