Last August, a movie captured theater audiences with its gripping story of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team's dangerous mission in the height of World War II. The story behind Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed is a true story, inspired by a book by L. Vaughn Curtis called Letters Home: A Paratrooper's Story.
I based the book on the experiences of my father, Harland "Bud" Curtis, as they were written in 150 preserved letters. When film director Ryan Little came to a reunion of the 517th in 2009, I gave him a copy of the book. Two years later, Little contacted me to ask permission to use parts of the book in a new movie. I am still dumbfounded and it is surreal to see my dad's story come to life in Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed.
A few thoughts of why this story important?
"The men of the 517th were the 9-11 team of their day. They were placed in the heaviest combat areas, but they received no recognition. Lots of others are recognized and portrayed in movies like Band of Brothers, but people need to know about those that performed parachute duty for the country."
As a veteran of 27 years my own military experience influenced my writing.
"When I was young I would go to my dad's mother, my grandmother, and ask why my dad was so tough. She would read me his letters. I got to know more about my dad as a father and husband and what he did in World War II as a paratrooper through those letters. My military experience helped me understand some of the things that he talks about though. For example, when he talked about KP, I knew that KP meant kitchen police. I knew when he talked about the HQ company he meant headquarters and that DZ meant drop zone. My military knowledge allowed me to explain connections and acronyms in the book. It also helped me understand the more poignant moments and experiences in my father's letters."
Most difficult part? "The hardest part was compiling all of the data to go with the letters. I had to take out some that said things like 'Hi Mom, things are great' and make sure the letters I included were meaningful. I also had to check the letters for accuracy in actual history and make sure they fit with the other facts I was connecting."
My Favorite part
"I never would have thought of doing this until I saw the HBO series Band of Brothers with my brother. After we watched it, we thought 'Is this what Dad went through?' so we went home and asked him. He told us that it was and started telling us stories. Before, he never talked about his war experiences. A little while later, my father received an invitation to go to Camp Toccoa, GA where he first trained to be a paratrooper. My brother and I also wanted to take Dad down to where he went to jump school at Fort Benning, GA. Because I was retired military personnel, it was easy to arrange all that. "I just have to tell a short side-story. When we got to Fort Benning, I told the Sergeant Major my name and said I wanted to take my dad to the mess hall so he could experience military dining again. He said no problem. So after we walked around for a bit we went over to the mess hall. There were hundreds of paratroopers waiting in line to eat, and I thought 'I don't know how long we'll be here.' I suggested we just go grab a sandwich from Subway, but my dad said no. My brother was never in the military so it was a fun experience for him, too. After a bit, the paratroopers around started to notice my dad. Once they figured out he was a World War II veteran a Sergeant shouted 'Make a hole and make it wide.' Everyone stood on the sides of the sidewalk and they were all standing at attention. It was neat to see that these men hadn't forgotten what happened in World War II and they recognized my dad as an American war hero. As we approached the mess hall entrance the Battalion Commander of the Jump School was there. He asked my Dad if it would be all right to eat lunch with him. Of course he said yes. It was wonderful to see that even after 60 years, his service was not forgotten and he was still treated with such great respect.
While at Fort Benning, I asked my Dad if he still had the letters he wrote to his mom? As a boy these letters were a treasure to me, but I had forgotten about them until now. Dad went home and found the letters and mailed them to me. As I put them together and tied information in, more and more people, especially other veterans or family members of veterans, wanted a copy. Then I gave a copy to the movie director and you know the rest."
Finally, I want to say to all veterans and service men and women who are serving in the military, I want you to know that this book is meant to honor all of you, not just the paratroopers. It remembers and recognizes the big sacrifices that all of you made and are making to defend and keep our country free. In the words of a paratrooper. "Airborne All the Way!"
My book is available in Barnes and Noble, Deseret Book, Seagull Book, Costco, and online at Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.com. E-book versions are available.
L. Vaughn Curtis, is the oldest son of Harland "Bud" Curtis. Upon completing high school, I joined the United States Marine Corps, serving ten years with service in Vietnam. I obtained my bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. I later returned to active, then reserve, and National Guard duty as a Helicopter pilot serving a total of 27 years. I remain committed to preserving the history of the men of the 517th PRCT. I am a motivational speaker and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.