Neil Sabin US Army 116th Infantry
1ST Lt. Cornelius A. 'Neil' Sabin
Army 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, ETO
Wounded at St Lo, France, July 11, 1944
Recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star

By Brian T. Meehan
The Oregonian
First published June 6, 1994, for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day
Used with permission

Neil Sabin felt a tremendous bolt of relief.  Death was not so bad, not if this was it.  At least not compared to the war.

The lanky second lieutenant floated above the green Normandy orchard and marveled at the awful beauty.  How could this be?  Fear and pain were gone.  He hadn't slept for 30 hours, but weariness ebbed as his blood leaked into French soil.

Except for the dead cows scattered like sofas across the meadow, the scene was almost pastoral.  The French passion for property lines has built perfect forts for German infantry.  The Normandy hedgerows, which hid machine guns as well as 100 years of field rock, had daunted the Allies since the D-Day invasion a month earlier.

He stared wide-eyed as an artillery round burst over the trees.  The explosion didn't scare him.  He felt debris pelt his body like aInfantry Crossed Rifles summer cloudburst and thought of the Fourth of July back home in Tennessee.  Maybe there wouldn't be a homecoming for this Sabin.

Sabin gazed down at his twisted body.  Weird.  His neck was crooked from the first bullet.  The 7.92 millimeter machine-gun round hit him in the left cheek.  It knocked out his upper teeth and came out the back of his neck. Nearly tore his head off.  The German machine-gunner clipped him again when he raised his arm to dress the wound.  Three more bullets pierced his left forearm.

Confusion.  Blue sky and clouds.  He drifted amid shrieks from dying comrades trapped in burning Sherman tanks.  His squad found shelter from the machine gun.  He was alone in the field.  A medic tried to reach him.  The cross on the medic's helmet made a perfect target:; he was shot between the eyes.

Sabin must find cover or die.  As he propped up on one leg, the final burst cut him.  Three rounds shattered his left thigh.  He collapsed.

Was he dead?  As he hovered over his wrecked body, the thought, "It's OK with me."  Then he fell into a spinning aluminum tunnel, and the world turned white.  When he awoke, he was back in the Normandy grass, back in the war, 35 days after D-Day, 1944.

The 27-year  Sabin would undergo 13 operations and spend almost four years in Army hospitals,.  The young man whose family lost everything in the Great Depression would become a college professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.  For his day in the French countryside, his country would award him two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.  But 50 years later, Neil Sabin, like so many of his generation, says he was not a hero.  He wanted only to make his family proud...


They are with us still, though they no longer cut the rakish figures of their youth, all leather helmets and flight goggles pushed up over a toothy grin and a flat belly.  Their hair has turned white or vanished like the Big Bands they danced to when they were young.  They have grown pot bellies, don't see so well, are stooped and gimpy.

But make no mistake.  fifty years ago when the world quaked, when evil was on the march, they filled the breach.  They stood up and sent the enemy to hell.  We owe them a debt than cannot be repaid.

One 77-year old hero lives in the red house on Boones Ferry Road.  Neil Sabin and his wife, Juanita, have been there 40 years.  Sabin taught speech and debate at Lewis & Clark for 30 years.  Today, he doesn't  think of the war much, except every morning when he gets out of bed and his leg throbs from 50-year old woulds.  After he was nearly killed in France, something happened that pointed his way.

He was at Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Ala.  He was in a cast from head to foot, with a pint of whiskey stashed in the arm sling.  One day, Helen Keller visited the ward and talked to Sabin through the translation of her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Sabin marveled at how Keller had overcome blindness and a loss of hearing.  Keller asked if she could run her fingers over his face.  It was how she recognized people.  Sabin told the ladies they were the best thing he'd seen from Scotland since Scotch whiskey.  They all laughed.

Eighteen months later, Sabin hobbled on crutches into the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.  He spotted Keller and Sullivan.

"Wait right here," Sullivan told him, "We'll see if Helen recognizes you."

Aw,  come on, Sabin said.  How is she going to do that?

Helen Keller ran her fingers over Sabin's face.  She tapped out a message.  The translation floored the soldier.

"You were in Ward A16 of the Northington General Hospital," she said.

Sabin blanched, nearly fell over.

"And we made a joke about Scotch whiskey," she added.

"I thought , boy, if you can, do something," says Sabin, his voice clutching as he tells the story half a century later, "So I thought I'd teach then.  I"ll do something that's worthwhile."


Sabin Boys with Maud SabinCornelius Ayer Sabin was born November 9, 1916 in South Carolina. One of seven children, he grew up in Walterboro,
South Carolina and Jonesboro, Tennessee.   He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Science from State Teacher's College (East Tennessee State)  in Johnson City, Tennessee, and completed post graduate work at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois .  He received his PhD at Stanford University.  Jonesboro, Tennessee newspaper article about four of the Sabin brothers in the service.  Picture to left was taken in Jonesboro (Jonesborough), Tennessee around 1933. L-R: Bill Sabin, Neil Sabin, Maud Sabin, Don Sabin, Ellis Sabin.

Summary of Neil Sabin's military occupations from his Army discharge papers: "Infantry Platoon Leader: Ft. Benning, OCS classes - Instructor. Demolition Expert.  Was responsible for administration and training of Infantry Units. Estimated situations and formulated decisions.  Reconnoitered for routes of approach, location of obstacles, and marking of routes through land mine fields.  Had knowledge of antitank tactical and technical operations and was familiar with various types of tanks and explosives and their tactical employment; experienced in use of antitank weapons such as 37 mm and 75 mm guns, rifle, hand grenades and rocket launchers."  Group Photo - Ft. Benning - 2-15-43.

Neil Sabin was attached to the U. S. Army 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, E.T.O., and was critically wounded in Normandy, France on July 11, 1944. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Cross.  He spent almost four years in hospitals, and had thirteen operations.   He was promoted to the rank of Captain, and separated from active duty at Madigan General Hospital, Tacoma, Washington, November 26, 1947. 

On August 6, 1945 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, he married  Juanita Dorothy Bean, a WAVE from Tacoma, Washington.  They settled inJuanita Bean Sabin Portland, Oregon, where for over thirty years  Dr. Neil Sabin was a well respected professor at Lewis and Clark College.  They had two daughters.  After a prolonged illness, Nita Sabin died in 1994. Neil Sabin died June 7, 2003.  

Most of the sources for this biography are primary documents, military records, newspaper articles, etc. provided by Sally Sabin Sandy and other family members. 

Obituary of Neil Sabin, Lewis & Clark College, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 2003


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