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Soldiers of Freedom
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World War Two Series #5
Mount Sopris Publishing
9781943593279 / 03/23/2020

Soldiers of Freedom
Patton's Panthers & the Edelweiss Pirates
World War II Series, # 5

by Samuel Marquis

Review & Interview by Elise Cooper

Soldiers of Freedom by Samuel Marquis brings to light the final push by the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany. This novel blends facts and fiction. Readers see a story told through the eyes of William McBurney, a true figure who was a tank gunner in the 761st Tank Battalion, General George S. Patton Jr, commander of the US Third Army, and a fictional character sixteen-year-old German resistance fighter, Angela Lange.

The period covered is from 1944 to 1945, where Patton's forces liberated France and Belgium, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and crossed the Rhine to defeat the Germans. Little known is the Black Panthers, the first African-American tank unit in US history under General Patton's command.

Marquis noted, “I first heard about the Black Panthers after reading basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s book in 2004 on the 761st Tank Battalion that featured McBurney and his good friend Leonard Smith. The book is entitled Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes. Both McBurney and Smith had won a Bronze Star for their courage under enemy fire.”

Marquis argues that neither would have received any combat action had it not been for Patton. “I wanted to show how he was the first Allied commander to incorporate African-American tankers into an army in the field. Patton said, ‘the Negro tank battalion attached to my command fought bravely in the critical Battle of Bastogne.’”

They fought two wars at once: one against the German Army, the other against the racism of their fellow soldiers. The Army did recognize the tankers for their sacrifice by awarding 11 Silver Stars, 70 Bronze Star Medals, and 296 Purple Hearts. However, it took 33 years for the contributions of the unit as a whole to be acknowledged. In 1978 it was belatedly awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for "Extraordinary Heroism."

"Hopefully, it came across in the story I wrote that all they ever wanted was simple human dignity, to be recognized for their abilities as soldiers without being judged by the color of their skin."

The other group highlighted was the Edelweiss Pirates. They engaged in resistance against the Nazi regime. The three real-life figures, Gertrud Koch, Barthel Schink, and Jean Julich, were recognized by Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as "Righteous Among the Nations." Marquis noted, "Their story is largely based upon the real-life experiences of those three you just mentioned. The fictional character Angela Lange is based on Jean Julich. This group actively defied Hitler by hiding their Jewish friends and neighbors, handed out pro-Allied, anti-Nazi propaganda leaflets, wrote anti-Nazi graffiti, committed acts of violence and sabotage against munition factories, trains, and military vehicles, stockpiled illegal weapons, hid army deserters, and provided active aid during the final allied advance."

Contrast them with the Cologne Gestapo Agent Kutter, based on a real ranking figure. “I wrote how the pace of the killings increased dramatically as the Nazis became more paranoid. The murders intensified to the point where Gestapo officers were reduced to executioners. They were second-rate bureaucrats, sadistic torturers, and mass murderers. Kutter remarked, ‘Here we hard work. When prisoners don’t sing we work them over for a long time with our truncheons until they confess.’”

Based on actual history, this historical fiction has twists and turns with a riveting tale. Readers get a real sense of the bravery, determination, will power, and strength of both the Black Panthers and the Edelweiss Pirates.


Elise and MyShelf.com would like to thank Samuel Marquis for joining us at MyShelf.com.


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