Chief Ralph Sturges is this kind, elderly man who has led quite an extraordinary life. Born on Christmas Day 1918, in New London, Connecticut, Chief Sturges has fought as a soldier in WWII, become an electrician, a paymaster, a boat designer, and then a sculptor. That’s just to name a few of his many accomplishments. He was named Lifetime Chief of the Mohegan Nation by Gladys Tantaquidgeon and helped them get federally recognized on March 7th, 1994. Even though the tribe is now flourishing with their new casino, Chief Sturges and his wife still live in the same modest house they have resided in for years.
I use to live on Fitch Avenue over here when I was a young kid, and I remember that’s before the streets, Fitch Avenue wasn’t paved then, it was a dirt road. And I remember when it rained, it was one thing I remember when it rained, the gutters would flood, and we use to put sticks and things in there and they’d float down and we’d watch them [laughs] we run along the stream and watch them float. And then there was a down below on the other end of Fitch Avenue there use to be a dump and a laundry and there use to be a stream, a brook, that ran through there, I guess it still runs through there, I don’t know, but remember when we use to go skating down there in the winter in the swamp, around the grass things. And now I guess there’s some houses built in there.
Ralph Sturges joined the army in 1940, a year before the U.S. was to enter into World War II, and fought in the Pacific theatre. He became part a specialist unit that gathered information about the enemy and then used that information to help win the war. He was sent home suffering from variety of ailments in the same month the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Chief Sturges looks at his military experience as an “education” in being self-reliant, but he admits he would not go through it again.
I think it’s an experience that, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it at all. But I would say it was an education. It was an experience that was very valuable in lots of ways, but you wouldn’t want to go through it again. I’d say it was something that I wouldn’t want to risk my life. Its something I wouldn’t want to do again.
Being the only Native American in his unit did not hinder Chief Sturges at all. He says he grew up in a very assimilated place where he went to school with every other kid in his town. Still, Chief Sturges, or Chief G’tine’mong (He who helps thee) remains active within the Mohegan Nation. Chief Sturges takes pride in his Native American heritage and, also, in the impressive war record that American Indians have.
There’s more Indians per capita that served in the services in the wars of the United States then any other group of people. They have a terrific war record, most of them. We had, I don’t know how many, we had quite a few guys that served in the war. [Unclear]. You’ll find the Indians, and you know the odd part of it is, the Indians when they surrendered out in the west they said they would never raise any arms again, so really the Indian didn’t really have to defend this country, they didn’t have to pick up arms again. They never refused to be drafted. They never do.
Chief Sturges offers some advice to the younger generation when he says that army helped him at a time when he was young and out of school. Still going strong at the age of eighty-two, Chief Sturges is a source of wisdom and experience. His unique perspective on the World War II era may help younger generations as they come upon the moment in their lives when they must choose what it is they are to do for the rest of their lives. As a prominent figure in the community, Chief Sturges always finds time to help out those who need it most.
I think one thing we should of done, but we didn’t do, was not to make it military, but I think it would have been good for every kid to go into the service. To become self-reliant, so they would train them and become more reliant on themselves, then to do like they are today, running around with gangs and things like this. I mean kids look for something, kids have a tendency to join things, and if [unclear] draft them and only had the kids go for two years, it would have been a big help to them. I think a lot of kids would have gone in there and become self-reliant and been better citizens when they come out. Because now they don’t have anything, there’s no real way for young kids to get anything, other than sports, there’s no way that these kids can go and have some type of training or understanding. They keep hollering about the failures, its not the failures its so much it is that the kid got out and learn how to become independent. The kid got to be trained somehow…