The anniversary of the 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor is an opportunity for America to remember those who served their country in the military. All of them are heroes, and perhaps none more so than those who served in World War II.
Author and journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a book calling them “the Greatest Generation,” and few would argue. All they did was survive the Great Depression and then save an entire world from an almost biblical kind of evil.
Today World War II is kept alive by Hollywood and cable channels. The overwhelming majority of Americans are too young to remember it personally, and the numbers of those who served in what they simply called “the war” are dwindling as old age now takes those who battled Germany, Italy and Japan.
One of them was Frank Curre of Waco, Texas, a man who lived a life filled with ironies that began when the Japanese plunged the United States into the war with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Curre joined the Navy in June 1941 because, at the height of the Depression, he and tens of thousands of others simply couldn’t find work. The 17-year-old had to threaten to “bribe a hobo’’ to forge his mother’s name to get her to sign off on his enlistment.
On Dec. 7, 1941, 18-year-old Curre was a cook on the battleship Tennessee at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked, killing over 2,400 Americans. Much later in his life, he spoke numerous times to students at Tennyson Middle School in Waco about the
World War II era. Mary Duty’s seventh and eighth graders were captivated as he described the attack, telling of the “lucky break” he got when a bomb exploded on Tennessee’s deck close to him and literally blew him, unhurt, into the water. He watched moments later as another bomb landed on the exact spot he had been standing on. He called it “pure luck” that he survived
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Curre spent much of the war on the escort carrier Petrof Bay fighting at Truk, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. The ship, called “Double 40” by its crew, was awarded five battle stars and a Presidential Citation
Curre did not know until long after the war that, in another irony, Petrof Bay was helping provide support for his brother Edwin as he went ashore with the third wave of Marines to secure Okinawa in June 1945 – the first capture of what was considered Japanese soil. Neither knew the other was there until it came up in a family conversation.
After the war Curre returned to Waco, married his high school sweetheart Alma, and worked as a newspaper pressman for 60 years. He was considered a spokesman for veterans and was active in veterans groups, notably The American Legion – he especially loved hanging out with the members of Waco Post 121 – and his beloved Pearl Harbor survivors group. The national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association officially disbanded due to dwindling membership on Dec. 31, 2011, but its spirit survives in the Lone Star State. Curre’s death left six members of the Central Texas chapter.
In a final irony, Curre died, at 88, on Dec. 7, 2011 – the 70th anniversary of the attack. He had suffered from mesothelioma caused by his naval service; his disability for it had been approved just the day before.
The half dozen members of the Central Texas chapter had scheduled a visit to Pearl Harbor for December 2011. As president of the group, Curre had planned to go along, but his illness made that impossible. His family contacted Vice President J.C. Alston, and Alston passed the word to the tour bus at Pearl Harbor. The members pulled over and held a moment of silence in Curre’s honor.
The students at Tennyson Middle School won’t forget Curre, either. When, as part of a school project, they set about turning an empty classroom into a Hall of Honor for those who fought in World War II, they named it after him.
Curre and his wife Alma – who died in 1994 – had two daughters, Linda and Peggy. Linda married a Vietnam War veteran who is today suffering the effects of Agent Orange. Curre’s nephew, Army Sgt. 1st Class Mario Alvarez, is a 22-year Army combat veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq. He helped arrange the funeral services with military protocol in mind, and invited the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard – who as usual showed up in droves to honor a fallen hero, as did a biker group of Vietnam veterans. Waco’s congressman, Bill Flores, arranged for a flag to be flown over the U.S. Capitol in Curre’s honor and made sure that the flag was delivered to the family.
Frank Curre always wondered why so many sailors around him died at Pearl Harbor while he survived. Linda replied that God spared him, so that he could come home and tell the story of what some historians call the “last good war.” But he kept things in perspective. While serving as the official grand marshal of Waco’s Veterans Day parade in 2011, he was asked by a reporter what it’s like to be a hero. “I‘m not a hero,” he replied. “They‘re the ones who never made it home.”
Don Bradley is an Air Force veteran and retired broadcasting professional. He currently lives in Waco, Texas.