Sparks, 85, was pronounced dead approximately 7 a.m. at Regional Medical Center, said Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown. Smoke inhalation was the likely cause, he said.
According to Oxford Fire Department Lt. Kyle Macoy, the ignition source was electrical, causing burn damage in a rear living room area and smoke damage throughout.
It was that smoke that apparently killed not only Sparks, who was in an upstairs bedroom, but also the family dog, a 7-year-old Labrador named Boo-Boo Bear. The beloved pet belonged to Patrick Sparks, a son who lived with his father but was away from the house when the fire broke out.
A neighbor phoned the emergency into the fire department at 6:28 a.m.
The flames were under control in 10 minutes — the Friendship fire station wasn’t far away from the home’s Sue Drive address — but it didn’t take long for their effects to take a toll.
Yet if veteran Sparks could have put up a fight, history suggests he surely would have: He had earned his nickname, “Wild Bill,” in Navy training days in the 1940s, through his willingness to spar against enlistees clearly bigger than he was.
Sparks was raised, he told The Star in a 2008 interview, in Marshall County, where boredom came easily to a teenager around 1940-’41. Eager to enlist in the military following Pearl Harbor, he entered the Navy in February 1943, thus beginning a military career that lasted until December 1969. A cap he often wore sported a patch above the brim listing World War II, Korea and Vietnam as conflicts in which he served.
“There’s not too many of us left from three wars,” he said in 2008.
Sparks’ time in service put him on the front line of history at least twice: once when he witnessed a nuclear bomb test in the Bikini Atoll, another when he was in Germany at the time of the Berlin Airlift of 1948-’49.
He was, he said, “the ol’ country boy who always volunteered” for things.
It was in Germany that he met the woman who would become his wife, Heidi. They married in 1948; she died in 2000.
After leaving service, Sparks and his family settled in Calhoun County. He earned a degree from the University of Alabama in 1979.
At the time of his interview, Sparks had been dealing with the hassles of Veterans Administration bureaucracy for a number of years as he tried to maintain his health.
Still, he said, “My country doesn’t owe me anything. If I could go to Iraq, I’d go over there in a minute.”