Regimental Reunion at Gettysburg, PA
September 4 to 8, 2009
Our drive from Cary, NC to
Gettysburg, PA, courtesy of my son Albert P. Panebianco and
daughter, Michele MacDade, was pleasant and enjoyable. We could not
have made the trip without them. The trip was 350 miles and took six
hours. Upon reaching our destination, Country Inn and Suites by
Carlson, the first person I saw was my good friend, LTC, Hugh F.
Foster III (Ret.) who was responsible for the arrangements of this
reunion. Hugh is our Recording Secretary, Historian and Author.
After my absence of nine years from reunions, due to illnesses, we
hugged and were so very happy to see each other. This was one of the
best reunions I attended. The hotel was the greatest and they could
not do enough for us.
After checking in, we went down to
the hospitality room and what a reception we received. My son Al P.,
daughter Michele, Tina and I were very much surprised. This group
was the kindest and most considerate I have ever met. They really
made us feel welcome. The room was well supplied with hoagies ,
beverages and assorted snacks.
The following day we visited the
National Park Visitor Center (movie, museum, cyclorama and lunch).
The movie and cyclorama impressed everyone. The sound and pictures
were excellent. After touring the visitor center, we boarded busses
for the battlefield tour. One would have to spend a day to read all
The next day, we visited the
Eisenhower Farm. His home is beautiful and the surrounding land is
conducive for relaxation. Farming and cattle raising is still very
active on the land by nearby farmers. What a place to relax and just
On our last day, we had our
Memorial Service, business meeting and banquet. During the past
year, 21 veterans of the 157 passed on. At our meeting, it was
decided we will continue on with our reunions and our next one,
2010, will be held in Asheville, NC. It is one of the most
beautiful spots in the country. We had the most delicious banquet
dinner at the Dobbins House. Looked like most of our group could not
finish their meal. There was just too much food on their plate.
I was very happy to see Major
Robert Foster, Hugh’s son. I last saw him in Reipertswiller, France
1989 when he was about age 12. Since that time he has graduated from
West Point, spent some time in Iraq, was seriously wounded and
returned to the U.S. He is now married to Carolyn and they have
been blessed with a handsome son, Kevin.
I want to personally thank Hugh
for taking me to St. Francis Xavier Church on Sunday and then
returned to pick me up after Mass. I might add, this church building
was used to house wounded soldiers of the Civil War. I want to thank
Betsy and Jay Wright for all their help. Being confined to a wheel
chair, these people made this reunion a most enjoyable one for me.
Our hospitality room was enjoyed
by everyone. A great time was had by all. Until we meet again, best
wishes for a healthy and enjoyable year.
One last honor
Felix Sparks, retired brigadier general of the Colorado National
Guard, is nearing 90 years old, and his health is deteriorating
rapidly. But before he dies, his buddies want to give the
"soldier's soldier" a final tribute: the Distinguished
Service Cross, the second-highest medal, next to the Medal of
Honor, for saving three wounded GIs during World War II.
Hidden in the freezing, snowy thicket
of the French forest, the SS machine gunner stood in a foxhole
with his finger on the trigger.
From the hatch of a war-beaten tank,
Lt. Col. Felix Sparks looked out into the trees, near what was
left of his battalion, knowing he was already in the sights of a
Sparks surveyed the forest and figured
that was where he would die.
In the past 19 months, the 27-year-old
had slogged his way through the bloody battles in the torturous
caves of Anzio, Italy - where he was one of only two men in his
company to survive. He had already earned a Silver Star for
bravery and two Purple Hearts after being shot through the stomach
and having his liver lacerated by shrapnel. Since landing in North
Africa nearly two years earlier, he had bonded with a group of
farm boys from Colorado, and watched most of them perish.
Then in January 1945, he found himself
near a place called Reipertswiller, in a battle most Americans
would never hear about, as the Germans struggled to earn a small
victory after their defeat in the Battle of the Bulge.
Even after months of continuous
combat, the fighting in the forest was like nothing Sparks had
ever seen. Searing shrapnel rained from tree bursts - scattering
branches, stumps and jagged hunks of metal as both sides hurled
artillery. He requested permission to withdraw his troops to save
their lives, but the request was denied. His unit was trapped in
the forest, nearly surrounded.
On Jan. 18, Sparks opened the hatch of
his tank and saw two wounded American GIs lying less than 100
yards away. He knew the Germans were within easy firing range, and
if he left the tank, he would be a clear target.
Sparks had seen enough.
He climbed out of the tank and headed
for the wounded men. His only weapon - a .45-caliber pistol -
Camouflaged within the trees, the
German machine gunner with the telltale SS lightning bolts on his
collar was ready to fire.
"Wait," his squad leader
told him in German, as he eyed Sparks through his binoculars.
"Let's see what he's up to."
As the Germans watched, Sparks ran to
one of the wounded soldiers and began dragging him back to the
Two of his soldiers also climbed from
the tank and helped him bring the wounded man onto the bow.
Then Sparks left for the next man,
whose leg had been shattered by a machine-gun round, and dragged
him to the tank, where they made him a splint out of tree
branches, a rifle and a machine-gun belt.
"Can I come out?" another GI
"Make a break for it,"
Sparks shouted back.
After dragging the last man to the
tank, Sparks climbed inside and backed it down to the forward
command post, delivering the three wounded men to medics and
providing cover for other soldiers who followed under the
protection of the tanks.
It was his only success at
In three days of fighting, 158
enlisted soldiers were killed, including six officers. Three
hundred men were wounded and 426 were captured - the worst battle
of the war for the Colorado-based 157th Infantry Regiment.
For much of the rest of his life,
Sparks would wonder about what happened on that hill, how he lost
nearly an entire battalion, and why no bullet ever found him.
"Why?" he would ask himself.
"Why didn't they shoot me?"
More than five decades later, he has
finally found an answer.
I'm still alive'
At 89 years old, Brig. Gen. Felix
Sparks, once again, has seen enough.
"It's hell lying here in bed all
the time," he said from the modest Lakewood home he's owned
for the past 50 years. "This is my life now - not much of
For the most part, those sentiments
fill his days - everything but his mind is frail. His
once-bellowing voice now wavers from bulldog jowls that shake when
he's angry. His bulbous nose is framed by long ears and wisps of
For the past several months, he has
spent nearly all his time in bed, wrapped in flannel sheets,
wearing blue pinstripe pajamas, waiting for the end.
"Most of my men are dead
now," he said. "I'm surprised I'm still alive."
He may be the only one. As everyone
who knows him is well aware, Felix Sparks is somewhat of an expert
on cheating death.
After the battle of Reipertswiller,
Sparks' war was hardly over. He battled all the way to the Dachau
concentration camp, where he was one of the first Americans to see
the horrors that existed there. After surviving more than 500 days
of combat, he would later return to Colorado to personally console
the families of his men - and promise them he would not forget.
A Texas native raised in Arizona,
Sparks admired Colorado before he saw it. During the war, he
reveled in his soldiers' descriptions of their hometowns, the
mountains - and their fortitude. In adopting their home as his
own, he would become a Colorado icon.
After the war, he entered the
University of Colorado, earned a law degree and, at 38, was
appointed as the youngest member of the Colorado Supreme Court. He
went on to serve on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and
continued in the Colorado National Guard until retiring as a
brigadier general in 1977.
To the aging men in the 157th,
however, the general remains "a soldier's soldier" - one
of the few commanders who led from the front. And by forming the
157th Infantry Association, he kept their history alive.
Before he dies, his men say, Felix
Sparks deserves one more honor - one that remains mired in red
tape in Washington, D.C. - 62 years overdue.
Their salvation may come in the
unlikeliest of eyewitnesses: The man with the binoculars in the SS
by the battle
The citation for the Distinguished
Service Cross reads, in part, "Colonel Sparks' gallantry,
courage, fortitude, initiative and complete devotion to the men
under his command reflect the finest traditions of the United
States Army and merit highest commendation."
Despite the recommendation, Sparks
never received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest
military award next to the Medal of Honor.
To him, it doesn't matter.
"Medals, what are they?" he
asked. "I don't need any more."
For decades after the war, Sparks
never displayed his military honors. Only recently, his wife
searched around in his dresser drawers until she found them.
Today, they are mounted in his home
near a plaque that he says is just as important as any battlefield
recognition - one that recognizes the woman who has supported him
for the past 65 years - a plaque dedicated to Mary Sparks that
reads, "Behind every great man there is a great woman."
He looked over at the tiny,
soft-spoken, white-haired woman who stands half his height, but
who he says has just as much strength - a woman whose care, along
with that of his son, Scott, has allowed him to stay at home while
he remains mostly immobile.
"She had a baby the day after I
left (for the war). I didn't see him until he was 2 1/2 years
old," Sparks said. "I wouldn't be here without
In his home, he keeps a replica of the
logo of the 157th Regiment, and the motto the unit has carried
since the Spanish-American War: "Eager for Duty."
When he looks back at his own war, he
still remembers the names of the men he lost in battle and all
their hometowns. Of all the battles, though, he says he will never
shake what he calls the "stupidity" that was the Battle
At the beginning of the battle, Sparks
was directed to take a hill, along with three other battalions.
The 157th was the only one to reach its objective, leaving the men
"I requested permission to
withdraw," Sparks said. "Through the radio, the
transmission came back that the commanding general said, 'No, that
would demonstrate weakness in the face of the enemy.' "
From his bedside, those bulldog jowls
"It would show weakness?" he
nearly shouted. "Jesus Christ! We WERE weak!"
He looked away.
"I lost so damn many men. I lost
the whole battalion. I never really have gotten over it," he
said. "I never should have been in that position. It was a
complete failure - well, except for those three men I got
When he later met the general who
refused to let him withdraw, Sparks, as usual, said exactly what
"I said, 'If I was in that
position again, I would have disobeyed your orders and withdrawn
anyway,' " he said.
He paused, then chuckled.
"Well, I made an enemy
there," he said. "Generals aren't the types to take an
insult from a lieutenant colonel."
Later, that same general denied the
recommendation for the Distinguished Service Cross - a decision
Sparks' men and some military historians say was politically
Instead, the medal for Sparks was
downgraded to a Silver Star.
The argument over the medal didn't
haunt Sparks as much as the battle itself, and that day at the
end, when the Germans didn't kill him.
"They never fired on me. Not a
round. Not a ROUND," he said.
For more than five decades, the answer
remained concealed in a handwritten journal, carried by a man who
would never again don his uniform - a man who could not tell his
own son about his role in the war.
The man had first written his journal
in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp. The memoir begins with his life in
Germany and how he joined the Waffen-SS, Hitler's elite German
combat force, and how he spent most of his time on the Russian
The journal remained concealed until
2002, when, through a connection with a military historian, his
words were published in the book, Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of
Combat and Conscience By A Soldier of the Waffen-SS.
The book details battle after battle,
until, on Page 188, the SS officer recounts an amazing scene from
the forests of Reipertswiller:
"Suddenly, the turret of the
second tank opened and out jumped a single man. Watching through
my binoculars, I thought him to be an officer. Ignoring the danger
he was exposing himself to, he hurried over to the hollow where
the infantry squad was trapped, helped some wounded men to reach
the tank and loaded them on the deck, one after the other.
Stunned, we followed this extraordinary rescue action without
firing a single shot. The officer jumped back into the tank, spun
around on his tracks, and dashed back to the rear. Those of us
witnessing the scene, whether nearby or more distant,
instinctively felt there was no honor to be won by firing on this
death-defying act of comradeship."
In the book, the German soldier says
he joined the SS to battle Bolshevism and had no knowledge of the
atrocities committed by some who wore the uniform - atrocities
that, in the Nuremberg trials, would brand the Waffen-SS as a
Though the man claims he knew about
the concentration camps, he writes that he did not know about the
exterminations of the Jewish people. Still, he wrestles in his
mind about whether he should have been able to make the connection
after seeing hollow-eyed prisoners at a railway station - an image
he says still haunts him. If the common soldier knew of the
atrocities inside the camps, he maintains, they never would have
given their lives for Hitler.
In a telephone interview from his home
in Germany, the man who uses the pen name Johann Voss - he refuses
to allow his -real name to be published for fear of retribution -
said he still remembers the scene at Reipertswiller.
"My (machine gunner) had his
finger on the trigger. But both of us said, 'Wait a minute, wait a
minute, let's see what happens.' We were very much
astonished," Voss said. "One could see he was up to
something, and we didn't know what. Instead of just gunning him
down, we were curious what was going on there.
"When we saw these wounded
dragged from that hollow and put on the deck of the tank, it was
out of the question to open fire on these people struggling for
For those trying to secure Sparks with
evidence to reinstate the Distinguished Service Cross, the words
of the enemy were just the ammunition they needed.
of a medic
Inside the Sparks home in Lakewood,
Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney shook the hand of the man whose footsteps
"How are you doing,
general?" asked Whitney, adjutant general of the Colorado
National Guard, on a recent visit.
"Not too good," Sparks
"You look pretty well," said
Whitney, who is also about to retire from the Guard.
"I might look pretty well, but I
can't walk," Sparks said.
"Well, it's overrated,"
Sparks, who commanded the Colorado
National Guard from 1969 until 1977, is credited with energizing
it with a sense of leadership and history. In 2001, the Guard
dedicated its armory in his honor, creating a museum filled with
artifacts from the 157th Regiment.
"That's where (new soldiers)
receive their initial briefings," Whitney said. "When I
talk to them about some of the things they're becoming a part of,
I tell them about the heritage."
Whitney and his staff - including
public affairs officer Lt. Col. Barbara Wickham - have played a
key role in assembling a request that would reconsider the
Distinguished Service Cross for Sparks.
"It may not mean very much in
terms of having another award to put on a uniform or put in a
shadowbox," Whitney said. "But people should be
recognized for the deeds that they do. It should have been done in
the first place."
Sparks shook his head.
"As far as bravery is concerned,
I had just lost all my men. I didn't care if I got killed or
not," he said. "It was an act of either extreme bravery
or extreme ignorance. God, I was tired. Lack of sleep really got
Still, as he looks back at the Germans
who never fired on him, he can't forget the day they did.
It was in Italy, he said, as Sparks
and his men sought protection behind a stone wall. The Germans
attacked, and Sparks' men shot a German captain, but the man did
not die. Instead, he lay on the ground, moaning.
"My medic, Jack Turner from
Lamar, he said, 'I want to go get him,' " Sparks remembered.
"I said, 'No you're not! No you don't!' "
The German continued to moan.
Eventually, Sparks drifted off to sleep. When he awoke, he saw
Turner scrambling over to help the German captain.
"He had the Red Cross armband on,
and just as he got near that injured German, they gunned him down.
They cut him in half with machine-gun fire. I never will forget
that. They killed him," Sparks said. "I don't know why
he went out there. I don't know why they shot him. Jack Turner.
Killed him deader than hell."
Sparks eyes glistened, as close as he
comes to tears.
"I went down to see his folks
down in Lamar after the war," he said.
"He was a good man."
The two generals sat quietly for a
"Something I often wondered about
in the war," Sparks said. "When I was a company
commander or a battalion commander and we'd been ordered to
attack, each time we made an attack, a lot of the soldiers would
know they would be killed. But, by God, they would go. I told them
to go and they went.
"They just went. Into death. The
Whitney, a Vietnam veteran, nodded at
"I think Robert E. Lee had
something to say about that," he said. "Before
Gettysburg, he said that being a general of an army is probably
the best and worst of all things. Because you have to be willing
to kill that thing that you love the most."
is for the regiment'
The process of the military awards
board involves yet another battle - this time, through forests of
With the new information from Voss'
account, the official reconsideration application was submitted in
May and has since cleared several hurdles. Still, there are
several more to go, and Sparks' friends wonder if he'll last as
long as the process, which could take another year.
Military historian Hugh Foster, a
Vietnam veteran who was made an honorary member of the 157th
Regiment, has spent much of his life since the war securing medals
for service members who never received them.
For Sparks' application, Foster dug up
dozens of pages from the U.S. National Archives to support the
award, including statements from eyewitnesses who have since died.
It's the statement from the living
eyewitness, he said, that stands out.
"I think (Voss' account) adds a
lot to this," said Foster, who is writing a book about the
battle of Reipertswiller. "When he first wrote this stuff
down, he was in a prisoner-of-war camp, just expressing his true
awe. I think it's quite significant."
The paperwork must clear investigative
councils before being approved by a collection of generals, and
finally approved by the secretary of the Army. The application is
sponsored by the office of U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Loveland,
who, according to a spokesman, soon plans to deliver the request
to the top levels of the military in hopes of expediting the
After seeing the camaraderie at the
reunions of the 157th Regiment Association - reunions made
possible by Sparks - Foster says he knows who will appreciate the
award the most.
"This is for the guys. Sparks
couldn't care less. This is for the regiment," Foster said.
"They look at him in awe - absolute awe. He's viewed as an
absolute movie star."
For 86-year-old Jack Hallowell, the
slowness of the process gets more difficult each time he visits
his bedridden former commander.
"It's been hard on me - hard on
all of us," said Hallowell, who served under Sparks in Italy
and has remained his good friend. "We've missed him."
Hallowell is planning for the next
reunion of the 157th - which has roughly 800 members, though only
a handful are left from Colorado, since the bulk of the state's
contingent was killed in Italy - and he says he has one hope when
they meet again in October in Colorado Springs.
"If we can get him that medal, we
can get him in a wheelchair and bring him down there,"
Hallowell said. "Some guys keep saying, 'This is the last
reunion.' We always wonder if it's the last."
Even after his retirement, Sparks
continued to fight.
In the 1990s, he made headlines after
his grandson was killed in a drive-by shooting and Sparks formed
an anti-handgun group and battled the National Rifle Association
to push through strict gun laws for minors that remain on the
After the war, he decided he had seen
enough killing - when his buddies would go deer hunting, he went
along, but he didn't carry a rifle. He remains a critic of the war
Until recently, he also continued to
speak out at Holocaust remembrance ceremonies, challenging deniers
to tell him that what he saw inside Dachau didn't happen.
"Tell that to my face," he would shout.
As for the SS soldier who spared his
life, Sparks has yet to speak to Voss, but says he holds no
grudges toward him - or most of the other Germans on the front.
"I never had any animosity toward
the German soldiers. They were just doing their job," he
said. "It's those sons of bitches like Hitler that were the
Voss said he hopes Sparks receives the
Distinguished Service Cross. Still, he said, he laments that the
dead Germans he fought with on the front will likely remain
"Our world has perished," he
wrote in his memoir from the prisoner-of-war camp.
"A new world dawns, one in
which our values are utterly discredited, and we will be met with
hatred or distinct reserve for our past. Come on, I say, it's not
without reason, let's face it! What counts is our future and what
we are going to do with it. . . . Yet there can be no release from
our loyalty to our dead, from our duty to stand up for them and to
ensure that their remembrance and their honor will remain
untarnished. They, like all the others fallen in the war or
murdered through racial fanaticism, must be remembered as a solemn
warning never to let it happen again. . . . The cause for which
they died may have been corrupt and the symbols under which they
fought may have been vile, but their profound selflessness, their
loyalty to their country, and their final sacrifice possess a
value of their own; it is the spirit of youth without which a
nation cannot live."
In his own epilogue written to the men
of the 157th in one of his newsletters - later published in the
book, Sparks, by Emajean Buechner, the general offered his
"During the course of World
War II, I lived through three traumatic events which still
continue to haunt me - the Battle of Reipertswiller, the Battle at
the Caves of Anzio and the liberation of Dachau. I know that the
other soldiers of the regiment who participated in any or all of
these events must have the same haunting memories. . . . I suppose
that all that can be said at this point in time is that how
fragile is the thread of life and how futile is the waging of
As Sparks laid on his bed, preparing
for his physical therapy, he thought back to the forest.
"I've been back to that hill
three or four times since," he said. "You can still see
the foxholes, spent cartridges and the signs of war, but now it's
a peaceful forest, just peaceful, that's all."
Now that he has the answer to his
lifelong question of why the Germans allowed him to rescue his
men, he doesn't hesitate when asked if the roles were reversed.
What if it were Sparks in the foxhole,
and he had his finger on the trigger? What if it were a German SS
officer jumping off the tank in the war-shredded forest?
"If it were me," Sparks
said, "I would have shot him."
of the 157th Infantry Regiment
1862: Colorado Volunteers help defeat
Confederate soldiers at LaGlorieta Pass, near Santa Fe.
1879: 1st Colorado Infantry Battalion
1898: 1st Colorado Infantry
participates in amphibious assaultsnear Manila during the
1916: The 1st Colorado Infantry is
sent to the border of Arizonaand Mexico, where soldiers battled
Pancho Villa's troops.
1917-1918: 1st Colorado Infantry
officially changes designationto 157th Infantry and is assigned to
79th Infantry Brigade, 40thInfantry Division. The 157th served in
France during World War I as part of the 40th (Sunset) Division.
1940: The regiment-made up primarily
of farm boys from tinytowns throughout Colorado - is folded into
the 45th Infantry Division and mustered into service at Fort Sill,
Okla., and later toCamp Barkley, near Abilene, Texas, to prepare
for action in World War II.
1943: The 157th arrives in North
Africa, and sees its first combat on the beaches of Sicily, then
Salerno, where Cpl. James D. Slaton earned the regiment's first
Medal of Honor by wiping out threeGerman machine gun nests with
rifle fire, hand grenades and hisbayonet.
1944: The regiment suffers heavy
losses in the bloody battlesat "the caves" on the
beachhead of Anzio. Of all the men in E Company - most of them
from Lamar - only Capt. Felix Sparks and oneotherman survived.
That man was later killed in combat. The regimentbattled to Rome,
then through the plains and mountains of France, on its way to
1945: The year started with the
regiment's worst defeat, in abattle near the Alsace village of
Reipertswiller. In April, a group led by Sparks helped liberate
the concentration camp at Dachau.Munich fell the next day. In its
667 days overseas, the regiment wasin battle 511 days. During
World War II, its soldiers were awardedfour Medals of Honor, 20
Distinguished Service Crosses, 376 Silver Stars, 1,054 Bronze
Stars and 1,694 Purple Hearts. On Dec. 7, 1946, the 157th was
deactivated from World War II.
1947: Sparks joins the Colorado
National Guard as the executiveofficer of the 157th Regimental
Combat Team, which soon was renamed the 157th Field Artillery Unit
of the Colorado Army National Guard.
1957: Governor designates U.S. 40
through Colorado as "The 157th Infantry Highway."
1961: The 157th is reactivated under
Sparks during the BerlinCrisis and sent to Fort Sill, Okla.
1968: Sparks once again takes command
of the Colorado ArmyNational Guard, rising to the rank of
brigadier general before retiring in 1977.
2001: In August, the Colorado Army
National Guard dedicates itsnew armory in honor of Felix Sparks.
Twelve days later, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,
soldiers from the 157thbegin aiding in "Operation Noble
Eagle," guarding Denver International Airport and other
2004: The last of more than 400 157th
soldiers are released after a year of guarding Air Force bases and
the Pueblo Chemical Depot.
2006: Soldiers from the 157th spend a
month in New Orleans, helping to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.
2007: Soldiers aid ranchers after a
blizzard strands thousandsof cattle in southeastern Colorado. At
the request of AdjutantGeneral Mason Whitney, a new infantry unit
is expected to re-assembleas part of the Colorado Army National
Guard - much to the delight of Brig. Gen. Sparks. "I went to
hell and back with the infantry," he said. "It will be
good to have them back home."
SOURCES: Sparks: The Combat Diary of a
Battalion Commander (Rifle) WWII by Emajean Buechner (Thunderbird
Press), Lt. Col. Hugh Foster (Ret), Sgt. 1st Class David Schmidt
and Brig. Gen. Felix Sparks.
ASSOCIATION REUNION 2004 DENVER
SEPTEMBER 8 12
Our reunion officially runs
from Wednesday September 8th through Sunday 12th. Room rates are
good for 3 days before and three days after the official reunion program dates, based on
availability. We will be staying at the Four Points Sheraton Denver Cherry Creek
located at 600 S. Colorado Boulevard, Denver, Colorado. For those of you driving to the
reunion the hotel offers plenty of free parking. The room rate is just $79, plus tax per
night which is excellent for this hotel. Please make your hotel reservations NOW by
calling the hotel directly at 303-757-3341. You may request specific room types, handicap
rooms, etc. when you call. Remember the check in time is 3:00 PM; you should not expect to
get into your room before then.
Make your hotel reservations
NOW. We have a limited number of rooms and due to the popularity of this city the hotel
will sell out fast. Be sure to ask for the 157th Infantry reunion rate and
request a specific room if needed. Ask the hotel for directions if you need them. Reunion
forms and a roster of attendees can be found on our private website at:
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 157TH INFANTRY
ASSOCIATION REUNION - VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. 2002
Our 2002 reunion was held 2
6 October at the Holiday Inn Executive Center, Virginia Beach, VA. Seventy
three Association members who are veterans of the Regiment and the 158th
Field Artillery Battalion, most accompanied by wives, children and even a girlfriend or
two (!) were in attendance. Present also and warmly welcomed were 18 family members of
soldiers who were Killed In Action or who died since the war. Seven reenactors joined us
for the entirety of the reunion, and worked tirelessly on a number of difficult projects,
most particularly in manning and stocking the well-used bar in recognition of their
great assistance and deep interest in the history of the regiment and the 158th
FA Battalion, all of them have been inducted as full members of the Association.
All companies and batteries
were represented by those attending, except for C Battery and Service Battery. At least
two first-time attendees surfaced at the reunion, both in the company of their lovely
wives: Mason Miller, who served with the Regimental Band, and Warren Wall, a medic who
served with B Company.
There were a number of
off-site events and tours, including cruises of the Norfolk Harbor and trips to Colonial
Williamsburg and the Norfolk Navy Base. Through it all, Ray and Dixie Casey, of National
Reunion Planners, really took the strain off the attendees, by doing all of the
coordination and most of the administrative work. They were, however, more than ably
assisted by Brenda Baker (daughter of the late Russell Freshour, of C Company), whose tact
and hospitality were sorely tested, but did not fail her in operation of the registration
desk and in the many other duties she took upon herself.
Our banquet was held on
Saturday evening, 5 October, and was attended by well over 200 persons. Following the
posting of the colors by reenactors in WWII uniforms, toasts were given to the Army, the
Regiment, the American soldier, absent comrades and to the ladies. Following an
exceptionally good meal, Van T. Barfoot and our outgoing President, Chan Rogers made brief
remarks. The guest speaker was Navy Captain Mark Nesselrode, Commanding Officer of the
Aegis Class missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG68)
Yet another of the touching
chance encounters that have become frequent at recent reunions took place during the
banquet, though it was unnoticed by most people. During Captain Nesselrodes speech,
our Recording Secretary, Hugh Foster, noticed a lost-looking man peering into
the banquet room through the main door. It turned out that the man was passing by the
hotel on his way home from work and had seen mention of the 157th Infantry
Association on the hotels marquee. On the spur of the moment, he decided to drop in
to see if there was anyone in attendance who knew his father, Pvt. James T. Warnick, of G
Company. Hugh was able to put him in contact with five men of G Company, including Ken
Rogers. The ensuing conversation quickly proved profitable for the junior Warnick, for Ken
was able to relate that his dad and he had been captured together on 4 June 1944 and both
men were among a group who escaped and made it back to the company after several days. It
is, indeed, a small world.
Ralph Fink once again
stepped forward by volunteering to conduct the Memorial Service, in which we remembered
and honored 32 members known to have passed away since our last reunion.
During the business
meeting, the members in attendance voted to hold the next reunion in Tampa, and elected a
new slate of Association officers. Our new President is Gordon Kinley, and Al Panebianco
was elected to the post of Vice President. Treasurer Bill Lyford and Recording Secretary
Hugh Foster both volunteered to remain in their posts and were confirmed in those
positions by unanimous vote.
Pictures Taken at Our Reunion
Left - Dick Wagner, Right - Chan Rogers
Medal of Honor Winner - Van Barfoot
Medal of Honor Winner - Van Barfoot
Ray Casey - Reunion Planner
Barber Shop Quartet
Head table, Left to right
Andy Zappone, Mrs. Lyford, Bill Lyford, Tina & Al
Panebianco, Martha & Captain Mark C. Nesselrode, Van Barfoot, Gordon L. Kinley
Captain Mark C. Nesselrode - Van Barfoot
Left to Right
Al Panebianco, Michael Lipka, Vere Williams
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 157TH REGIMENT
REUNION - DENVER, CO. 2001.
This article appeared in the Denver Post,
August 26, 2001.
THE 157th INFANTRY
(in World War II)
here to see map and details of the 157th and its war action
Number of days in combat: 511
Number of soldiers in the regiment: 12,000 (approximate)
Number killed in action: 1,065
Number wounded in action: 4,330
Missing in action: 143 (22 declared dead)
Prisoners of war: 758
Congressional Medal of Honor recipients: 3 (Almond E. Fisher, James
D. Slaton, Van T. Barfoot)
A SIGN OF THANKS
On Jan. 4, 1957, Colorado Gov. John Vivian signed a proclamation
naming U.S. 40 through Colorado "The 157th Infantry Highway." Nobody ever
bothered to put up a sign, and the designation was largely forgotten. The 157th is now
attempting to raise money to build signs along U.S. 40 as a way to remember the regiment's
sacrifice. To contribute, send checks to The 157th Infantry Association, c/o Colorado
Adjutant General, 6848 S. Revere Parkway, Englewood, CO 80112-6709.
This was the worst.
This was living with death every hour of the day and night, and
as close to hell as any man would want to come.
This was Anzio, and this was the worst.
- from "History of the 157th Infantry"
When the Germans attacked, they came in screaming. Hollering.
Like they were drunk.
On the front line, the men of E Company silenced the shouts with
gunfire. Then they heard another rumble. From his muddy foxhole, a soldier from
southeastern Colorado looked up.
"Tanks," thought Clarence Reissig. "They look like
Many of the soldiers of E Company had known each other since they
were kids, working on the farms in eastern Colorado near Lamar. A few hundred yards back
from the front were the men of F Company, mustered mainly from Boulder, along with
Longmont's G Company. Nearby were groups spanning the state, from Fruita to Burlington,
Brush to Craig. Known as the Colorado National Guard Regiment, they fought as the 157th
Infantry. On their uniforms they wore the same motto: "Eager for Duty."
As the artillery shells fell, the men of the 157th felt the
ground shake inside the foxholes. Some were catapulted out of the holes by the blasts. The
shock was strong enough to cause instant nosebleeds. The earth was torn apart. The men
were torn apart. Supply lines were cut, and thirsty soldiers drank water from red streams,
boiling away the blood.
When E Company began the battle at the Anzio beachhead in Italy,
it was nearly 200 men strong. After more than a week of brutal fighting, only two men
would walk away. One of them would later die in battle. The other would make it all the
way through Germany and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, opening the gates
to new nightmares.
"These guys were really the unsung heroes of World War II
from Colorado," says Flint Whitlock, author of "The Rock of Anzio," a 1998
book that has a history of the regiment. "Not many people outside their families know
what they did."
As the men of the 157th gather this week in Denver, the old
veterans will serve as a living reminder of those stories born in Colorado and played out
during 511 days of combat, as close to hell as any man would want to come.
|Felix Sparks, right, who served with
the 157th Infantry in World War II, and historian Jack Hallowell, also a veteran of the
157th, reflect on their war experiences. The photo behind them shows Capt. Sparks in 1942.
"What a miscalculation'
From a couch at his home in Lakewood, an 84-year-old man in a
Hawaiian shirt takes himself back to the place where a 26-year-old captain lost his entire
"Anzio," Felix Sparks says. "What an abortion.
What a miscalculation."
Following its initial landing in North Africa, the 157th lost men
at Sicily and Salerno. After storming the beachhead at Anzio, Sparks' company held its
ground near a crucial roadway. They were pushed into nearby caves, and at the end of it,
Sparks stumbled out of the fighting almost unrecognizable - muddy, dehydrated and already
growing a thick black beard. The men found him a foxhole and put him to sleep.
"Life is mostly luck. It isn't planned," Sparks says.
"You take what you can, and you take advantage of it."
During an interview in his home that lasts more than six hours,
Sparks never moves from the couch. Despite a slew of health problems over the past few
years, he never tires of the stories. His bulldog jowls shake when he gets mad; he swears
like he's still in the trenches as he recounts military blunders from headquarters that
got his men killed. When he talks of the camaraderie, a growling chuckle shakes his body
with the same intensity.
A Texas native raised in Arizona, he joined the Army because he
thought it was his last hope after the copper mines closed. Likewise, many of the men from
small Colorado towns had joined the National Guard during the Great Depression, thankful
for a couple more dollars a week. During World War II, those burly Colorado farm boys from
the National Guard would form the backbone of the 157th.
When they set sail from Virginia on June 8, 1943, Sparks
estimates that of the 3,200 men in the regiment's initial invasion force, about 2,000 came
from Colorado. Of that number, he figures that about 90 percent were injured, killed or
taken prisoner by the end of the war. Sparks was one of the few to make it all the way, in
the process performing daring battlefield rescues that would earn him Silver Stars for
bravery and two Purple Hearts.
At the end of the initial fighting in Anzio, when Sparks awoke
from the foxhole, the battalion was awarded a presidential citation for its role in saving
the beachhead. He was then given 10 days to train 700 raw recruits from all over the
At the time, D-Day was still months away. In upcoming battles in
France and Germany during the following year, the regiment would leave hundreds of men in
cemeteries that their parents, wives and children would never see. But just as the men
from the 157th would figure the worst was over, that the war was won, they would receive
their last major assignment:
"Tomorrow the notorious concentration camp at Dachau will be
in our zone of action. When captured, nothing is to be disturbed. International
commissions will move in to investigate when the fighting ceases."
|Retired Brig. Gen. Felix Sparks and his
wife of 60 years, Mary, pose with photos taken during his military career. From left, a
1941 wedding portrait, Felix in uniform in 1961 and in 1942.
Boxcars full of bodies
It started with the boxcars, and one dead man among thousands.
"The thing that we saw first was 39 railway cars all full of
dead bodies," Sparks remembers. "We didn't know what the hell they were doing
In an attempt to hide prisoners as the nearby Buchenwald camp was
captured, the prisoners were crammed into the railcars headed for Dachau. Most of them
suffocated along the way.
"One of 'em had had enough strength to crawl out of one of
those boxcars," Sparks says. "A German soldier had crushed his skull with a
rifle butt. His brains were all over. That got a lot of the men mad. Some of them were
crying. Some of them were cussing. But most men didn't say anything. They couldn't believe
what they were seeing.
"That was our initiation. We still had more to come once we
Once inside the gates, the men saw what they called a new level
of hell. Then it all broke loose.
"That was one of the worst days of my life," Sparks
said. "It's like being in a bad dream. All those dead bodies. Maggots. The smell. To
see those naked bodies stacked up like cordwood. It's hard to believe you're actually
For some of the men, emotions boiled to fury. While Sparks was at
another part of the camp, dozens of the SS soldiers were lined up and shot. When he heard
the gunfire, Sparks ran back, firing his pistol in the air to stop the executions.
Though many argued that the SS officers deserved a fate worse
than the firing squad, Sparks was later called into Gen. George Patton's office to answer
for the actions of his men. He recounted the scene in a newsletter for the 157th
Association, beginning with his request to Patton to give his side of the story.
"The general paused for a moment and then said, "There
is no point in an explanation, I have already had these charges investigated and they're a
bunch of crap. I'm going to tear up these g------ papers on you and your men,'"
Sparks recounted. "With a flourish, he tore up the papers lying in front of him and
threw them in the wastebasket.
"He then said, "You have been a damn fine soldier. Now
|Brig. Gen. Felix Sparks is shown at his
retirement from the Army in 1979.
Moved to Colorado
Sparks had never seen Colorado, but he knew what it looked like.
He'd heard his soldiers talking about home.
After the war, he moved his family to the state where so many of
his men never returned, and graduated from CU's law school. He worked as an attorney and
ultimately was named a Colorado Supreme Court justice. He returned to the National Guard,
serving during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, and retired a brigadier general.
In 1993, gunfire once again brought him out of retirement: His grandson was killed in a
drive-by shooting, and Sparks formed a group credited with making it illegal for minors to
On Thursday, the Colorado Army National Guard will dedicate its
Centennial Armory to Sparks. The men of the 157th will be there, as part of their annual
reunion that Sparks started in 1975. Those men - 1,100 at last count - are the last of the
"Numbers don't mean a hell of a lot to anybody anymore. And
there's only a handful of men left here in the state who served with the 157th,"
Sparks says. "Not that many people know (about the regiment). But the people in the
small towns know. There are a lot of widows. A lot of people killed."
For Sparks, those widows' faces reflect in the same pool of
memories as his men. In 1945, when he first saw Colorado, he traveled to the small towns
he had heard about in the foxholes and met the widows.
"There was one widow in Fort Morgan. I went to see her after
her husband was killed. He was a good man. He married a girl he knew in high school. Rose.
Rose was her name," Sparks remembers. "They had two kids in rapid succession,
and then he was killed. I was sitting in the living room, and the two little kids were
there. She said, "This man knows Daddy.' Two little tiny kids. They didn't know what
the hell she was talking about."
For the first time in several hours, the old general closes his
eyes, catching the words in his throat.
"That really got to me," he says finally.
""This man knows Daddy.'"
Got a 'funny feeling' when danger was near
|Vere "Tarzan" Williams
displays his medals outside his home near Grand Junction. He was wounded six times.
As the amphibious boat pulled onto the beach on the southern
coast of France, Vere Williams had one of his funny feelings. Funny in a bad way.
By then Williams had already been wounded four times. Before he
felt hot metal sear his flesh, he would get one of those strange feelings.
"You have the feeling that something's going to
happen," he said. "Even when I was growing up on the farm, I had the same
Back in Snyder in northeastern Colorado, he said, the feeling led
him to jump off tractors just before a bolt was coming loose. On the beach in France, he
convinced his injured comrades to drag themselves away from the area, just before another
explosion obliterated the place where they had been. After another stay in the hospital,
he was back on the front line.
"I don't know," he says. "I figure I must have
three or four guardian angels looking out for me."
On Halloween 1944, 10 miles from the German border, he had the
feeling again. That afternoon, a bullet shattered his arm. He would spend the rest of the
war in a hospital.
These days, he lives in a small trailer home in Whitewater, south
of Grand Junction, where he keeps his stories for anyone who asks. He keeps them near his
"When they brought me onto the ward with the last wound,
they brought me next to the nurse's station," he remembered. "One of the nurses
would come in and talk to me whenever she got a chance. She said, "You know, whenever
I ask the boys what it's like on the front lines, all they say is, "It's hell up
there." Well, I know it's hell up there, I can see what you boys come here looking
like.' But what's it like?'"
Over the next several hours, the next several days, Williams told
her about the fighting, the freezing, and the bodies. He told her how his platoon that
started with 14 men had seen 65 replacement soldiers since the beginning of the war. He
told her about the feeling right before you get shot.
"I told her what happened," Williams said. "She
said, "I can see, now, why they call it hell.'"
Youth from Olathe lost older brother
|Otis Vanderpool holds a photo of the
157th Infantry at his home in Grand Junction.
When Otis and Ervin Vanderpool left the cornfields of Olathe for
the army, they had never traveled beyond western Colorado. At 21 years old, Otis was still
working on the family farm. Ervin, his older brother by 10 years, figured he had better
join alongside his little brother.
Everyone in K Company remembered the Vanderpools. Ervin was known
for buying candy bars at the PX and then reselling them on the battlefield for 5 cents
more than he paid. He was also known for sticking next to his little brother. Otis was
quick and smart for his age and was a sergeant during the bulk of the fighting.
|Otis Vanderpool, shown next to the
157th Infantry flag in 1941, was known as being quick and smart for his age, 21, and was a
sergeant during the bulk of the fighting.
During a battle in the Vosges Mountains of France, near the
German border, battalion commander Felix Sparks heard that K Company was in trouble and
ran over to see what he could do. He rushed up a hill, only to see Otis on a stretcher,
his leg blown off at the knee. When he made it to the front, he never told Ervin about his
brother's injury. He didn't have time. The older brother was shot in the stomach and died
on the battlefield.
"I kick myself for not promoting (Ervin) when I should
have," Sparks said. "If I would have promoted him, he wouldn't have been in that
When Otis hears the story these days, he says Sparks shouldn't
trouble himself. Other officers had also talked of promoting Ervin, sending him to
battalion headquarters, but he refused to listen.
"He wouldn't accept a promotion," Otis said of his
"He wanted to stay near me."
Fate intervened with a typewriter
|Jack Hallowell holds a framed letter he
received from noted war journalist Ernie Pyle in 1944.
Carrying the metallic mouth of a 60mm mortar cannon, Jack
Hallowell made it through the front lines at Sicily and Salerno, and was headed for the
beachhead at Anzio. That's when a Royal portable typewriter saved his life.
"The (commanding officer) said, "Well, we've got a long
war, we should probably have someone writing a history,'" Hallowell says from his
apartment in Lakewood. "They found out I had a journalism degree from the University
of Montana. I wasn't a historian, but writing that history sounded a lot better than
carrying that mortar."
As Hallowell pored through journals at regimental headquarters,
his company was wiped out at Anzio - only two men walked away.
"My fate would have been different if I hadn't been sitting
back there at HQ with a Royal," he says. "I do have some conscience about not
being with them."
But if it weren't for Hallowell and several other men, much of
the history would have been lost. Hallowell followed the 157th from its training in the
United States all the way through to Munich. Along the way, he found plenty of stories,
along with a few mementos.
|Jack Hallowell, historian for the
157th, found this copy of "Mein Kampf' at the Dachau concentration camp. His regiment
commander signed the copy and punched out Hitler's nose.
"How about this?" he says, pulling out a copy of
"Mein Kampf" he took from the Dachau concentration camp. Soldiers from the
regiment signed the book; one of them punched the photo of Hitler in the nose, ripping the
Since the war, he's put his German artifacts to peaceful uses: He
uses an enemy soldier's spoon to eat his breakfast cereal; he uses a Nazi knife to dig up
dandelions in his yard.
And on his table is the work that rests on the shelves of the men
he knew better than any historian, the work that Hallowell clack-clacked out with his
heart and hands: "The History of the 157th Infantry."