Earl William Staats Sr., 87, of Sturgeon Bay, passed away at home on Feb. 18, 2014, with family by his side. He was born June 2, 1926, to Albert and Mamie (Beard) Staats on the family farm in the Town of Egg Harbor.
Earl attended Carlsville School. He then left school for the family business. They made fish boxes for the fishing industry in Sturgeon Bay and Algoma. He had a lot of experience with farm equipment, gasoline engines and firearms. At 14 and 15 years old, he found work at the shipyards.
At age 16, Earl went to Milwaukee to join the army. He tried to convince them he was 18. They called his mom and through a misunderstanding she hung up on the Milwaukee Recruiting Office. He was accepted into the U.S. Army.
Basic training was in Blandings Florida. Then off to New York, past the Statue of Liberty and next stop Germany. With his mechanical abilities and his ability to catch-on quickly to new jobs, he found himself in many positions. One position was with A Battery driving a tractor that hauled his Howitzer gun. It was with this equipment that he sustained some of his hearing loss. It also was here that General Patton noticed him and wanted Earl to drive for him. Earl Staats was 1 of 2 men chosen by General Patton to be his personal driver. Earl served 3 years. Earl was also in charge of the motor pool. Keeping track of all vehicles was not easy.
In 1945, Earl’s orders came down. It was time to go home. He was looking forward to going home and Patton said he would be headed back on the same transport as Earl. Patton had just turned in his resignation. Patton still had work to do and choose another man as his driver. Soon after was the accident that took his life. Earl and a handful of others heard the accident. They ran quickly to the scene. Earl did only what officers at the scene would allow him to do. Earl thought he felt a pulse. Patton later was pronounced dead at the hospital. That day and night was devastating to many. Earl went back to his room and cried. So many thoughts filled his head. It was always in the front of his mind for the rest of his life. Earl always wondered if the world would have been different if he had reenlisted like Patton requested. He never would have put Patton in the position of the accident if he had been his driver.
Earl’s decisions in Germany changed his life forever. He vowed to never forget his Commander and to do things that would always make him proud. Earl was asked to lead the funeral procession in Europe. Earl was with the 3rd Army and the 7th Army. With an Honorable discharge, Earl got home in 1946. Coming home was bittersweet. Earl tried to find his new mind-set and move on. Since his return, he had always wanted to tell people his story. A real story. How a four-star general and his driver traveled Europe. How in one brief moment a role model and respected officer lost his life. Every chance he had, Earl shared his stories from Germany with friends and family. It had been his wish to someday talk to groups of people about the General and someday meet his family. In 2005, at the age of 79, Earl had his first speaking engagement. Within six months, Earl was at the Patton Museum Auditorium addressing thousands of people. On November 12, 2013, Earl got to meet Patton’s grandson, George Patton Watters. They exchanged gifts. To quote Earl’s daughter,” My dad is fearless-similar to his role model. He’s my hero.”
After the war, Earl farmed with his dad. He also took classes at the technical school in welding and electrical blueprint reading. He picked up a job at two different shipyards and ended up having a 35 year career with the Door County Highway Department. Earl married JoAnn Robinson in 1952, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Sturgeon Bay.
Some of Earl’s credits include: vehicle painting and repair, welding and burning for county and state jobs (bridges in Door County), carpentry skills, electrical work, engineering & fabrication skills, marksmanship, an eye for detail, plowing snow and hauling wood.
Survivors include his wife, 3 children, Donna Staats (significant other, Brian Conners) Green Bay; Dawn (Michael) Nieft, Green Bay; Earl W. Staats Jr., Sturgeon Bay; “honorary son”, Nathan Copet, Sturgeon Bay; 3 grandchildren, Alissa (Victor) Castro-Estrada, Brandon Weber, and Adam Nieft; 5 great-grandchildren, Quentin, Sebastian, Jayde, Raiden, and Dante; 1 sister, Marie Vertz, Green Bay; nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, a granddaughter, Tayler Nieft, 3 brothers, Harold (Arlyss), Lloyd, and Ernest (Gladys), brother-in-law, Clarence Vertz.
Funeral services with military honors will be conducted at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Sturgeon Bay. Burial will be at Bayside Cemetery. Friends may call on Friday from 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Forbes Funeral Home in Sturgeon Bay and at the church on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until the time of service. Memorials may be directed to a veteran’s organization of your choice. On-line condolences may be offered at www.forbesfuneralhome.com