Netflix just released The Liberator, a four-part animated series based on Alex Kershaw’s book The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey. The combat drama follows U.S. Army officer Felix Sparks and his infantry unit as they fight to liberate Europe over 500 days. It is a story of epic proportions, but perhaps one of the most riveting aspects of the new animated series is that it is based on a true story.
Sparks was a real army officer for the 157th Infantry Regiment from Oklahoma. For nearly two years, he and his group went from the invasion of Italy on July 10, 1943, through southern France, and on to liberate the people imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp. They only stopped when victory was declared in Europe on May 8, 1945. According to Kershaw’s book, no regiment saw more action than the one led by Sparks.
The Liberator closely follows Kershaw’s retelling of Sparks’ life during that time including when he was injured in battle, nearly died, and told that he was unfit for further combat, but returned anyway. The historian’s portrayal highlights Sparks’ courage in the face of terrifying circumstances. “My darling Mary, for the rest of my life, if ever I go silent or seem to leave you even when you’re right beside me, you’ll know where I am,” Sparks writes to his wife in a letter read in the trailer’s voice over.
The real-life Sparks joined the Army at 18 after struggling to find work during the Great Depression. All along, he knew he wanted to eventually become a lawyer. He served for a couple of years in Hawaii before moving to start a law degree at Arizona State University. His law school aspirations were interrupted about two years into the program when he got a notice to report to the Army as a Second Lieutenant. In a 1998 interview with The Colorado Lawyer, Sparks recounted his memories from that time saying prior to arriving at Dachau, he and many of the soldiers he was with had never heard of concentration camps, but even after more than a year of combat, it left them stunned.
Following the war, Sparks went on to finish law school and work in a private firm before becoming Colorado’s District Attorney, eventually sitting on the state’s Supreme Court. All the while, he was still connected to the National Guard in Colorado and even returned as a commander in the 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He retired as a brigadier general in 1979.
When writing about the life of Sparks, Kershaw said that he knew he had to speak with Sparks after he saw an extraordinary photograph of him while liberating Dachau. “He was in a coal-yard at Dachau, which he has just liberated, and some of his men have opened fire on SS soldiers,” Kershaw explained in a 2012 interview with CBS News. “He is firing his pistol and shouting to make them stop. The image captures an amazing moment of incredible humanity when one considers that Sparks had by then spent over 500 days in brutalizing combat…” Kershaw eventually interviewed Sparks the year he passed away in 2007.
The Liberator is now streaming on Netflix.