Neil Sturgeon was 17 years old when he enlisted.Neil Mosher Sturgeon/ Jason Lemieux
Picture of Neil Sturgeon's Platoon after the attack on the Lamone River. Neil Sturgeon is in the front row, third from the left.Neil Mosher Sturgeon/ Jason Lemieux
Telegram reporting that Neil Sturgeon was missing, December 26, 1944.Neil Mosher Sturgeon/ Jason Lemieux
Telegraph reporting that Neil Sturgeon has been prisoner of war at Camp Stalag, Germany.Neil Mosher Sturgeon/ Jason Lemieux
Inventory of Neil Sturgeon's Personal Effects, March 15, 1945.Neil Mosher Sturgeon/ Jason Lemieux
"I can still remember, the head officer said, “Take them out and we’ll shoot them in the morning for refusing to cooperate.”"
I’ll never forget, it was Friday the 13th of December, this is 1944. So our platoon received orders to advance to go over these canals and establish a bridgehead [defensive post] before the river. And so we advanced in these water logged fields, it was actually supposed to be a surprise attack. But we didn’t know at the time, the Germans were waiting for us. They had the whole German machine gun regiment up on the canal. And we were advancing across these fields and they just opened up their power, fire power with the machine guns just spraying the fields. We were about halfway across the field and my platoon was caught in a tremendous machine gun fire from the Germans.
I remember as we continued to advance, my comrades were falling down around me and of course, your thought in the army, or your instinct, is to hit the ground. And I hit the ground, and the bullets were just going over me and I was lucky because when I fell, it was like a little small ditch, maybe 10 to 19 inches deep, probably a little irrigation ditch, and I was able to keep crawling forward in this ditch, just as the bullets were just stopping over my body. I was able to get up into the canal and I remember we were fighting at close range with the Germans and we got over the canal and to this day, I don’t know how. And got into a farmhouse just across the canals. We got into the farmhouse, there was a few other ones that got in, I don’t know at the time, maybe eight, ten of us. And we were in the farmhouse, returning fire but it was useless. They had just zeroed right in with all that fire power of the mortars and artillery and the fire… As a matter of fact they demolished, it was going into flames and everything.
And I remember in those days in Italy, the barns were attached to the farm and I was in the barn. I remember a big cow right next to me. But anyway, finally, they surrounded us and they hollered at us and actually in English and they said, “Come out with your hands up. We have you surrounded and if you don’t come out, it’ll be the end of you.”
So we come out, I can remember there was about four or five of us that had made it out alive out of that house. From there, they took us back in behind the lines and we were brought into a very bright lit room. That was the German place where they were headquartered, I guess. And I remember there was about four Germans sitting behind the very big officers sitting behind a table and I was brought in but two German soldiers with their rifles on each side of me and stood up before these and they started shouting at me. So the only thing we could do, we were told, just give your name, rank and your army number and the name of your regiment and that’s all. But then they got very mad, they wanted to know basically what regiment was here and what regiment was there and so on, etc. Well, I didn’t give them any of that information, really, I didn’t know that much anyway. But I can still remember, the head officer said, “Take them out and we’ll shoot them in the morning for refusing to cooperate.” So the guards took me out and put me in a small room with straw on the floor for the night but in the morning, thank God, they didn’t shoot me. There was four of us prisoners and they, they started taking us marching us in behind land in the lines. I think we marched for a whole day at least, almost.
On April the 29th, 1945, we could hear shells and bombing that lasted for a few hours. And that was the beginning of our liberation. That was General [George S.] Patton, 14th Armored U.S. 99th Division. And they entered and secured the camp by I think around 2:00 on the afternoon. But I’ll never forget it, who comes driving a convoy of jeeps, entered the camp but General Patton. And he stood up in the back of the jeep and he gave a short speech. And he didn’t mince his words, a lot of profanity. He stated, “We got,” I once quoted him “We’ve got the Germans on the run and we’re going to,” he says, “I’m going to run them right back as far as Russia.” And that was quite a sight to see General Patton standing there with is two pearl handled revolvers and everybody cheered him. And then the Americans brought in some food, I remember they had white bread and I’ll never forget getting a loaf of white bread, it was the best thing.